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Can’t Sleep At Night? Understanding Insomnia

What is Insomnia

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can seriously impact people’s daily functioning and overall quality of life. It is characterized by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. People suffering from insomnia often experience disturbed sleep patterns, fatigue, irritability, poor concentration, and low energy levels during the day.

Insomnia has been linked to an increased risk of health problems such as high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety. Furthermore, insomnia can lead to decreased cognitive ability and increased daytime accidents due to a lack of alertness or concentration. It is estimated that around 30-35% of adults will eventually experience insomnia.

It is important to seek medical help if symptoms persist for over a few weeks, as they can be managed with lifestyle changes and medications prescribed by a physician for short-term relief.

What Causes Insomnia

Insomnia affects millions of Americans each year. Sleep problems are more likely to happen as we age due to stress and hormone changes. The lack of hormones like progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, growth hormone, and melatonin can cause insomnia. 

Chronic medical conditions and their treatments cause insomnia. Medications that can cause insomnia include antidepressants, cold and flu medicines that contain alcohol, pain relievers that have caffeine (Midol, Excedrin), diuretics, corticosteroids, thyroid hormone, and high blood pressure medications.

Elevated nighttime cortisol is a major cause of insomnia. Cortisol, a hormone, is made by the adrenal glands, which are small organs on top of the kidneys. Stress and medical illnesses can cause the adrenal glands to produce large amounts of cortisol at bedtime, resulting in difficulty sleeping. Elevated cortisol levels can leave you feeling wired and anxious, leading to racing thoughts or the inability to quiet your thoughts at bedtime. Fortunately, high cortisol levels can be returned to normal with a supplement, phosphatidylserine, which is readily available online. Phosphatidylserine aids the brain’s response to stress and can promote mental calmness, relaxation, and sleep

Another hormone that is important for sleep is melatonin. It is produced by the pineal gland, located in the brain. Melatonin is released at night and plays an important role in our sleep. Melatonin, the sleep hormone, can also be produced in the eyes, bone marrow, and gut. Melatonin supplements can help improve melatonin levelsMelatonin may help reduce the time needed to fall asleep and increase sleep duration.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is important for sleep. It decreases with age, stress, and depression. Serotonin may positively increase the REM cycle. Serotonin-boosting supplements may improve sleep.

Sleep problems can also be associated with medications or drugs like alcohol, nicotine, energy drinks, and caffeine. Low vitamin D and obesity is also associated with sleep problems.

Consequences of Poor Sleep

Poor sleep can lead to fatigue, daytime sleepiness, lack of motivation, irritability, depression, and sexual dysfunction. Insomnia can worsen medical conditions and increase your risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. There are two types of insomnia. Primary insomnia is not associated with other health problems, while secondary insomnia occurs with medical conditions such as depression, anxiety, pain, asthma, and other acute and chronic illnesses.

Identifying the cause of insomnia is important in finding the right treatment for your sleep problem.  Holistic doctors can get to the root of your insomnia by using salivary and blood testing to help identify the cause of your insomnia. 

Tips for combating insomnia include:

  • Regular bedtime schedule.
  • Avoid naps.
  • Limit or avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol late at night.
  • Consider hormone replacement if you are in perimenopause, menopause, or andropause. 
  • Use supplements that boost melatonin levels and lower cortisol levels.  Natural supplements that contain phosphatidylserine lower nighttime cortisol levels and promote restful sleep. . 
  • Regular exercise during the day reduces stress and cortisol levels.
  • Increase vitamin D levels by Increasing your light exposure during the day
  • Avoid heavy late-night meals
  • Eat a small bedtime snack like a glass of milk or cheese high in tryptophan.
  • Use blackout curtains or sleep masks to avoid awakening due to sunlight.
  • Use earplugs or white noise machines to drown out disturbing sounds.
  • Limit artificial light by avoiding electronics like iPads, cell phones, and televisions at bedtime, which might overstimulate you.
  • Make your bed comfortable with a good mattress and pillow.
  • Read a book, listen to music, or take a bath before bedtime to relax before you sleep.
  • Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep or sex.
  • If you can’t sleep, get up and read, listen to soft music or do something that is not overly stimulating.
  • Avoid worrying at night by making a to-do list before you go to bed.

About Author

Picture of  Ava Bell-Taylor, M.D

Ava Bell-Taylor, M.D

Ava Bell-Taylor, M.D., originally from Atlanta, Georgia, received her Bachelor of Science degree from Spelman College. She later received her medical degree from Morehouse School of Medicine. She completed her Family Practice training at Floyd Medical Center in Rome, Georgia and her psychiatry residency at Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Bell-Taylor has extensive post-graduate medical training in Functional, Integrative, and Anti-Aging Medicine. She is certified in Functional Medicine. Ava Bell-Taylor, M.D. is a holistic doctor with a focus on functional and integrative medicine. Combining functional medicine with her knowledge of conventional medicine has enabled Dr. Bell-Taylor to help many patients suffering from depression, anxiety, insomnia, attention-deficient, dementia, and eating disorders. Dr. Bell-Taylor specializes in functional medicine with a special emphasis on how hormone disorders, environmental factors, lifestyle choices, and nutritional deficiencies contribute to brain dysfunction, like depression, attention deficiency, anxiety, insomnia, dementia, and other chronic medical illnesses. Dr. Ava Bell- Taylor is the co-author with her husband, Eldred B, Taylor, M.D, of two must-read books, Are Your Hormone Making You Sick? and The Stress Connection: How Adrenal Gland Dysfunction Effects Your Health.

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