Insomnia. I bet most of us have struggled with this at least a few times in our lives.
As we age, insomnia can get worse. There is nothing worse than struggling through the day on a poor night’s sleep, especially if it happens over and over.
Poor sleep can increase stress, cause weight gain, contribute to irritation, anxiety and depression, and even put a strain on relationships.
Let’s talk about some of the causes of insomnia and how you can fix these.
1. Activity levels
Ever noticed after a day of hard exercise or physical work, that you can just fall into bed and sleep like a rock? Exercise definitely helps you sleep more deeply and more soundly, but keep in mind, exercise late at night can rev up your body and make it hard to relax into sleep. However, soaking in an Epsom salts bath or just taking a long, hot shower can actually help relax your body and help you get ready to sleep. Here is an amazing article on 17 unique uses for epsom salts.
Definitely try to get some form of exercise everyday—whether it’s walking, running, gardening, housework, weight lifting, moving furniture, or anything that gets you moving and working your muscles.
You may be aware that you cannot drink a cup of coffee in the evening, but did you know that that caffeine has a 6 hour half-life. That means in 6 hours you still have half as much in your system, and that can still be pretty substantial.
For example, a cup of coffee contains, on average, 100mg of caffeine. Six hours later that means you still 50mg in your body, and six hours after that, 30mg. So beware if you drink that espresso at noon—it may be keeping you up at night.
Also, decaf coffee still contains a decent amount of caffeine as well. In fact, one cup of decaf from Dunkin Donuts has shown that it contains about 32 milligrams of caffeine while another cup of decaf from Seattle’s Best packed 29 milligrams. And, some of us are actually genetically slower at processing caffeine, or very sensitive to caffeine, so it could take even longer for your body to process the caffeine out.
While coffee does contain caffeine, it also has some amazing health benefits. Coffee can be good for your body!
Other drinks may contain sneaky amounts of caffeine as well. These include sports drinks, energy drinks, many flavored waters and even energy bars and snacks.
Don’t overlook chocolate, especially dark chocolate. Caffeine occurs naturally in cocoa beans, as does the compound theobromine, which also acts as a stimulant. Even a cup of hot chocolate can contain a fair amount of caffeine and theobromine.
Keep in mind too, the average cup of iced tea contains 70 mg or so of caffeine (almost as much as coffee) and most sodas contain around 50 mg of caffeine. Pay attention to those sneaky caffeine drinks and avoid them after noon or before. Better yet, drink water!
Speaking of water…
You don’t have to be dying of thirst for this to keep you awake. Dehydration occurs more frequently in the summer than we probably realize, and can definitely keep you awake.
Going for that cold beer or sipping a margarita after activity outside sounds tempting, but unless you have replaced fluids lost from sweat, and then replaced the fluids lost from the alcohol, you have created a double whammy that will dehydrate your body quickly!
And, pay attention to allergy medicine. Many allergy medications are designed to dry you out, so an antihistamine or decongestant or any one of a huge variety of over-the-counter or prescription medicines will definitely dry out not only your nose, but the rest of your body as well.
How does dehydration affect sleep, you ask? When the body is dehydrated, our blood volume drops. Our hearts are made to optimally pump a specific amount of blood volume, and slight variations in this volume can have a big effect. Your blood actually becomes thicker when you are dehydrated.
When the optimal amount of blood volume drops, then the heart must pump even harder to distribute the blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Combine a hot sweaty day, not enough to fluids drink, and too many diuretic substances (caffeine, alcohol, antihistamines, etc), and the heart has to work a lot harder. Result–when you try to relax at night, your heart may be pounding and this will make it harder to sleep.
Be sure to drink plenty of water during the day to stay hydrated. Drinking lots of water before bed will have you up all night, going to the bathroom.
That includes things like cold and allergy medicines, thyroid medications, blood pressure medicine, cortisone, and ADD medication. Ask your doctor if any of your prescription meds can be affecting your sleep.
Alcohol, which is also a drug, can make you sleepy, but too much of it disrupts your normal sleep cycle as well. You may sleep for a few hours, but then wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to go back to sleep. Limit yourself to 1-2 drinks if you want to ensure that you get a good night’s sleep—and to protect your health.
5. Junk food, preservatives and additives
Eating junky processed foods before bed can not only elevate blood sugar, but keep your digestive system working late into the night as well. Of course, starchy, sugary foods right before bed can wreak havoc, by elevating the blood sugar too much, and then a resulting crash in the middle of the night.
Not only does that lead to excess fat storage (you won’t burn those calories off while sleeping!) but you also will probably feel groggy, tired and irritable in the morning, as you will wake with lower than normal blood sugar, and the buzz you may get from the sugar high may also keep you awake instead of sending you off to dreamland.
In addition, artificial preservatives, sweeteners and other chemical additives can actually cause your brain and nervous system to go haywire, totally disrupting your normal sleep rhythm and ability to relax.
Of course, we all encounter stress to some degree or another and yes, it can definitely keep you up at night. What can we do about stress? Well of course, exercise helps. And so does meditation.
Meditation is not that fancy. It’s simply a matter of being still, relaxing and allowing your thoughts to flow past, while you try to quiet your mind. Meditation is extremely helpful at helping you clear your mind, become present, feel gratitude and to relax. If you find you cannot shut your mind off at night, try clearing your head with meditation. It doesn’t have to be a complicated process and a mere 10 minutes a day can actually do wonders.
There are many helpful apps you can get on your phone that will guide you through this process.
7. Hormone Fluctuations
As we get older, declining levels of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone in women, and lowered levels of testosterone in men can take away from a good night’s sleep.
The body’s natural progesterone levels begin to drop and fluctuating levels of estrogen can cause hot flashes at night, as well as restlessness. For women, progesterone declines first and even if you are years away from menopause, declining levels of progesterone can cause anxiety, tension and restlessness.
And for men over the age of 40, declining levels of testosterone can also cause insomnia, so be sure to have your hormone levels checked and see if you need supplemental testosterone.
In addition, thyroid hormone problems can cause jitteriness and nervousness or, excessive fatigue and sleepiness during the day. A couple of suggestions on this:
• Have a Doctor check all hormone levels and if they are low, your best bet is bioidentical hormones as in estradiol and micronized progesterone to balance your missing hormones.
• Have your thyroid levels (T3 and T4) checked and take the thyroid medication that best suits your needs. A natural, bioidentical thyroid supplement usually works best for most.
Nine Natural Solutions to a Good Night’s Sleep
Certainly, prescription sleeping pills are not the best answer. Sleeping pills can cause a variety of unpleasant side effects from headaches and hangovers to nausea, irritability, and dizziness. Ambien has also been shown to decrease cognitive performance and increase sleepiness the next morning. Sleeping pills can also cause you to do crazy things like raid the fridge at night while in a medicated, sleep-induced state, drive in your sleep, grind your teeth or have sleep apnea, rearrange furniture and more.
Ever been around a fidgety person? Usually, one of the issues is that they need magnesium. People who are low on magnesium have a hard time being calm and their nervous system can’t stop firing. Not only does magnesium help with over 300 different body reactions, but it also helps your body convert protein to muscle, improves nerve function, blood glucose, and blood pressure. Magnesium is also required for energy production, developing and strengthening bones, and helping to synthesize DNA and RNA. Magnesium also helps with nerve impulse conduction, muscle contraction and a steady heartbeat.
Magnesium helps everyone relax better, sleep more soundly and feel more calm. But as we age, even if we are healthy, we tend to sleep less deeply. Magnesium helps with that age-related decline in sleep quality. If interested in learning more on how important Magnesium is to your body, check out Top 7 Benefits of Magnesium.
Theanine is a natural chemical that helps calm down the activity in the brain. Theanine helps to increase serotonin (a relaxing, feel good brain chemical), GABA (a calming neurotransmitter) and glycine in the brain. These neurotransmitters all help you sleep better. Theanine helps you relax and let go of stress, without feeling groggy or drowsy. Theanine is found mainly in green tea, so be careful–green tea (unless it is decaffeinated) contains caffeine which will keep you wide awake.
I recently discovered the benefits of theanine and find that it helps me work better and be more focused during the day, as well as sleep more soundly at night.
Melatonin is a natural brain chemical that is affected by natural light. When the brain sees that it is getting dark outside, it starts to pump out a hormone called melatonin. This helps to initiate sleep and regulate your natural sleep/waking cycle.
Melatonin is available in supplements and which can help initiate sleep. The difficulty however, is that the body naturally makes a continuous supply of melatonin during sleep. Supplemental melatonin will wear off and while it can help you fall asleep easily, you may wake up in the middle of the night once the melatonin is gone.
Melatonin works best if you take it only on occasion, and in a time release form, so it releases slowly. Take melatonin with you when traveling and changing time zones to adjust more quickly. Take melatonin if you happen to drink a little too much, since alcohol tends to suppress melatonin, and it’s also effective if you’ve been staring at your computer screen a little too long late at night.
Have you ever had a nice steaming mug of collagen/bone broth before bed? The main amino acid in collagen/bone broth is glycine, which can be very effective for inducing sleep. Glycine actually also helps to lower body temperature, which is key to help induce sleep. (This is also why a hot bath is good before bedtime, as your body temperature comes down, you fall asleep.) Glycine is also very effective to restore a natural REM pattern to your sleep as well.
While everyone raves about the health benefits of bone broth and collagen for joints, hair and skin, glycine remains a healthy alternative for aiding sleep as well.
Check out some of the additional Healing Benefits of Bone Broth, especially for your gut and joint health.
5. CBD Oil
CBD or cannabidiol is the non-psychoactive ingredient in either hemp or marijuana. In other words, CBD will not get you ‘high’, and is legal. According to a 2013 study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, CBD benefits include anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, antioxidant, anti-nausea, anti-anxiety, and even antipsychotic. It has been used very effectively to treat cancer, nerve inflammation and pain (peripheral neuropathy), epilepsy, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, schizophrenia and more.
CBD can help to stimulate melatonin production by boosting tryptophan in the bloodstream. Trytophan, you may remember, is one of those amino acids (like in turkey) that helps promote sleepiness. CBD also helps to improve serotonin production as well, a key brain ingredient to a happy, calm state.
CBD is also great at battling inflammation and pain, so if you happen to have health issues that cause these things that interfere with sleep, CBD will come to the rescue for both! This study of insomnia patients, showed that 160 mg/day of CBD increased sleep time and reduced the number of arousals during the night.
If you do decide to take CBD oil for its amazing health benefits, check out this amazing offer from our friends at HealthyLivingNutritionals.
6. Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Did you realize that the blue light emitted from your computer, pad device or cell phone at night can suppress melatonin in your body? This turns off your body’s natural ability to recognize bedtime and become sleepy. Blocking this blue light in the evening with a pair of orange goggles will prevent this from happening. OR—did you know that the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin which are carotenoids found in colorful veggies can also help this?
Human studies show that taking lutein and zeaxanthin on a regular basis will improve sleep quality, reduce sleep disturbances, and lower your dependence on supplemental or pharmaceutical sleep aids. There are plenty of supplements available (generally labeled as being good for your vision) that contain lutein and zeaxanthin—also great for sleep.
7. Progesterone (for women)
Menopause and peri-menopause are brought about by the decline in production of hormones, especially estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. These hormones work together to regulate a woman’s reproductive function and menstrual cycle. They also affect mood, energy, sexual drive, cognitive and emotional abilities—and sleep.
While estrogen falls most sharply after menopause, progesterone can begin to decline years before menopause comes about. Progesterone works to offset and balance out estrogen, and promotes the growth of bone tissue to offset osteoporosis, among other things.
I think of progesterone as largely a sleep-promoting, “feel good” hormone for women. Higher levels of progesterone tend to promote a sense of calm, boosting relaxation and facilitating sleep. Progesterone increases production of GABA, the neurotransmitter that helps promote sleep. Low progesterone can cause anxiety and insomnia, including a tendency wake frequently at night. Progesterone is safe and easy to use. You can purchase it in an over-the-counter natural cream and apply before bed.
Choline is another important nutrient in food that plays a role in sleep. It’s the primary building block for acetylcholine … the neurotransmitter that affects thought, memory, sleep … even muscle control and balance.
Lots of acetylcholine helps make your mind sharp, your memory clear, and gives you energy. As you age, though choline drops, and one of the most noticeable symptoms of low choline is problems with falling asleep and staying asleep. Other symptoms include lack of energy, brain fog and confusion, irritability, and memory loss. Choline can be found in whole pastured eggs, organic/free-range chicken and turkey livers, and naturally raised pork and beef.
If these things don’t help, it may be worth a visit to the doctor to have some blood work done to check hormone and thyroid levels, and to rule out any other health conditions. Some hormones are best prescribed by a doctor, especially when it comes to estrogen, testosterone and thyroid hormones.
One last thing that is very effective for a sound night’s sleep—sex. It doesn’t have to be wild, hanging on the chandelier sex, just a normal, healthy sex life. Sex stimulates endorphins, oxytocin and vasopressin in men and women, which serve to create feelings of attachment, security, and relaxation. Sex gets rid of anxiety and stress, and also goes to help promote a healthier relationship with your significant other. So when all else fails, tap your partner on the shoulder and see if they are interested in contributing to a good night’s sleep.
If none of these things help, it may be worth a visit to the doctor to have some blood work done to check hormone and thyroid levels, and to rule out any other health conditions. Some hormones are best prescribed by a doctor, especially when it comes to estrogen, testosterone and thyroid hormones.
Here’s to a deep and restful night’s sleep!
And speaking of better QUALITY sleep (we’re talking blissful sleep where you wake up refreshed and feeling amazing every day), here’s another great article laying out ONE simple method you can do every night before bed to sleep better than you have in years…
> Do THIS 1hr before bed to get PERFECT sleep & balance your hormones (Cuts your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc)