When we start looking at what interferes with sleep, it is a surprise that any of us still sleep at all.
The opposite of sleep – insomnia
Medical reasons for insomnia includes chronic pain, an overactive thyroid, asthma, gastro-eosophageal reflux disease, heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and cancer.
Then there are mental health disorders like depression and anxiety that interfere with either falling asleep or staying asleep. Some of the medications taken for these conditions then interfere with sleep even more.
And we haven’t touched on the ageing process, hormonal changes, sleep-related disorders like sleep-apnea, restless leg syndrome, or my favourite — primary insomnia. This condition exists where no medication or above factors are present and yet you don’t sleep like a normal person. It can be triggered by emotional stress, time lag changes, changes in your sleep routine — but then it persists after these things have normalised.
How to induce better sleep
There are basic changes you can make to induce better sleep.
Use your bed as a place to sleep only. Do not watch television in bed or use your smart phone an hour before you would like to fall asleep. Unwind at a set bedtime and listen to soothing music, read something relaxing and use a bed lamp rather than a bright overhead light.
Imagine that sleeping is preparing for an opening night with you in the main role and you need to set the stage.
Set the stage for good sleep
Eat at least three hours before bedtime and avoid caffeinated beverages after 4pm. Nicotine is a stimulant that will interfere with your sleep, so will alcohol. Even though initially alcohol will allow you to relax and go to sleep, it will wake you in your middle sleep.
If you battle to sleep, avoid daytime naps. Exercise daily for between 20 and 30 minutes.
It becomes much more challenging with an underlying medical condition.
Asthma and heart conditions can be aggravated at night by changes in circadian rhythms and medication prescribed for asthma, high blood pressure, and attention deficit disorder.
Caffeine in cold and flu medications can aggravate insomnia, as can depression. When you have chronic pain it will wake you in the middle of the night, but the corticosteroids prescribed to manage the pain often interfere with sleep.
If this is all sounding quite bleak, maybe it is. In a perfect world we would all take regular holidays, manage our stress perfectly and exercise in clean air and natural light, on a regular basis and in a calm manner.
What is the solution?
The adaptability of human beings is profound. We cope with so much, and unfortunately it is often like the frog in the pot of boiling water — we only realise the harm when it is too late.
Obviously first practise good sleep hygiene and make the changes in your diet that will facilitate sleep.
When treating primary insomnia, consider herbs like sceletium, passion flower, valerian, chamomile, scullcap, schizandra and St John’s Wart (do not use in conjunction with the oral contraceptive pill).
Essential oils like lavender, neroli, jasmine, sandalwood, mandarin and rose can be considered. Homeopathically, the person is treated in totality and a remedy is decided upon by matching many symptoms and characteristics.
Commercially available homeopathic formulations are Nervuton 2 by Natura for worry and work stress, Nerva 2 by Natura for nervous tension, and Nerva 3 by Natura for feeling sad after loss. The Bach flower remedy, white chestnut helps to calm a overactive mind, elm helps for acute stress and exhaustion and olive for when you feel weak and exhausted yet cannot sleep.
Choose colours like beige, green and pink as these have soothing effects in a bedroom. Daily meditation should be considered as well. Supplements like magnesium, GABA, and vitamin B12 are also worth investigating.
When insomnia is caused by medication or as a result of other medical conditions, it becomes more complicated. Your first stop is with the practitioner who is treating these conditions with the goal in mind to manage the condition. They can do this by changing some medication around to have the fewest side effects or to add something to assist with sleep if there are no other options.
An approach to consider is to work with your primary health care practitioner and add other elements in an integrative approach to manage the condition in a more holistic, yet safe and controlled manner.
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