Wouldn’t we all like to sleep like a baby! However a large portion of our
population suffer from sleep deficit. There can be many reasons for this, but
the outcome in all situations is that we do not function at our optimum
potential. Which is sad, because we could all enjoy life so much more and
achieve so much more. Also, not only does sleep deprivation mean that we don’t
enjoy life to the full it also means that our overall health is compromised.
Normal sleep consists of various stages through which the sleeper progresses from wakefulness to deepest sleep and back again to light sleep.
On reaching light sleep however the sleeper should not wake up but instead enter a further stage of sleep called ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ (REM) sleep.
It is during REM sleep that most dreaming takes place. The entire cycle takes
about 90 minutes and is repeated during the night 6-8 times.
The presise function of REM sleep is unclear but there is indirect evidence that it helps
maintain the responsiveness of the brain and aids the body in coping with the
load of stimulation recieved during waking hours.
If deprived of REM sleep the body automatically compensates for the loss at the next opportunity, the sleeper spending twice as much time in this stage as he/she normally would – this is called REM rebound.
When sedatives or alcohol are used to try and aid sleep then the REM stage is decreased and sleep becomes unrefreshing.
Similarly when the sleeper is disturbed for other reasons such as stress, pain, bladder
irritability or children waking.
I have found over the years that among the many ‘sleep’ remedies that are
available there are some that function so much better than others.
One of these is Adenosine, which is a natural hormone that your brain
manufactures in order to put the brain into an ‘Alpha’ state in readiness for
sleep. The brain calms down and all the ‘busyness’ clears away and the body
Some researchers think that Adenosine (a neurochemical) accumulates in
the brain during awake hours and at a certain threshold adenosine receptors are
triggered and initiate a slowing of brain activity that leads to sleep.
Caffeine blocks these receptors and prevents the sleep signal from being transmitted. So
be warned coffee drinkers!
Adenosine is not however a muscle relaxant and does not work if the body is tense for any reason (for example, if there is spinal pain or misalignment or stress within the life style.)
In these situations you need to either have the spine checked and rebalanced so that the body can relax or failing this if there is tension for any other reason then herbs such as Valerian need to be used.
Valerian is a muscle relaxing herb as is Kavakava. Often reasonably high doses have to be used in order for them to have the desired effect so they are best used under a natural
Adenosine on the other hand only needs a very low dose, but is a ‘practitioner only’ item so may not be available in health shops. Note that a dose that is too high often leads to prolonged ‘REM’ sleep which is the part of the sleep pattern in which you dream. So a dose that is too high may lead to excess dreaming!
5HTP has been shown to be beneficial in teating insomnia and improving sleep quality. Often I would be recommending 5HTP be used in conjunction with herbs such as perhaps Californian Poppy or Mexican Valerian, Hops and Passiflora which can support the body, help relaxation and aid the sleep process.
You might want to read the page on ‘Antidepressants vs 5HTP’
Also when you are suffering from sleep deficit your body will need to make up
this deficit before it returns to a proper sleep pattern.
Sleep deficit occurs over time as your body keeps a ‘record’ of how much sleep you have missed. So when the body is given the chance to rest properly often you will feel as if you
have overslept and woken up feeling ‘zonked out’!
In actual fact the body still needs more rest and the feeling may repeat itself until the body has ‘caught-up’ and a new sleep pattern is established.
However there is always a reason for the body not being able to rest and these need to be attended to.
Stress of any kind will disrupt the ability to sleep soundly. look to the cause of the problem and try and find a solution. If this is not possible, then simple remedies such as a warm glass of milk prior to bed time can do wonders.
It is now known that there is some basis for this traditional home remedy as modern research has found a unique peptide fraction in milk that is protective of sleep disturbance.
Also herbs such as those mentioned above (Valerian and Kavakava) plus others such as Passiflora, Chamomile, Oats and Hops have long been used to promote sleep and others such as American Ginseng (Panax notoginseng), Bacopa, Withania, Saint John’s Wort, Evening primrose Oil are often used to help the body cope with the stresses of life.
Spinal misalignment is usually an obvious reason but not so obvious if there is no back pain, and this can often be the case. Restless legs, cramping or hot burning feet at night can all be signs of spinal nerve impingement.
Inflammation any where in the body can disrupt the sleep cycle. This thought to be because the body produces cortisol in response to inflammation which in turn reduces Serotonin levels (Serotonin is needed for sleep to occur naturally). The use of anti-inflammatory drugs or herbs often leads to improved sleep.
A herb that I have found very effective in this regard is Tart Cherry.
Tart Cherry is a very strong anti-oxidant and appears to help ease inflammatory responses as well as improving sleep.
See on-line shop.
Magnesium deficiency is also not always obvious but means that the body is in a constant state of tension and unable to rest.
See page on Magnesium.
Alcohol, while often appearing to induce sleep often disrupts deeper sleep cycles.
Nicotine, may also appear to be calming but in actual fact is a potent neurostimulant and can cause sleep problems as can caffeine.
Hormonal changes (as in menopause) can cause huge sleep disruption. This usually needs treatment with hormonal balancing herbs and/or the addition of Bio-identical progesterone cream.
Adenosine and herbs such as Valerian can be used in conjunction as hormones can take some time to balance effectively.
See page on ‘Menopause – Symptoms and Treatment’.
Indigestion, breathing problems, some medications, street
lights outside a bedroom window as well as many forms of anxiety and
stresses will all contribute to problems with sleep.
So if trying to get a better nights sleep, get to the cause of the problem and be patient with the remedy!