Get some Sleep
Causes and Cures for Insomnia
By Dr. Len Lopez
Nutrition and fitness expert
Sleep, or the lack of sleep, is a huge problem that affects our overall health. Many problems, including fatigue, weight gain, and mood swings are associated with a poor night’s sleep. Sleep is when we repair and recharge ourselves. It is when we release our growth hormones, when our immune system kicks in, and when we recharge our proverbial “batteries.”
When people tell me they have problems sleeping, I always ask if they are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. This helps determine if their diet and blood sugar are part of the problem.
Over-Stimulating Our Brains
The biggest reason people are having a hard time falling asleep is that their brain is being over-stimulated. In Ecclesiastes 2:23, it talks about how even at night the mind does not rest. How can you expect to fall asleep when your brain is being triggered to produce more ‘stimulatory’ brain messengers?
We’ve heard for years that we should stay away from caffeinated drinks (coffee, energy drinks, and soft drinks), which stimulate our brain. However, the problem is more than what we drink or eat.
Stress and the hurry-up lifestyle many of us follow trigger the body to produce more ‘stimulatory’ neurotransmitters (brain messengers) such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine (adrenaline). These ‘stimulatory’ brain messengers do just that – stimulate us!
The problem is that many people are stimulating their brains late into the evening by answering e-mails, playing video games, watching television, searching the Internet, working late at night, and the list goes on. These are the same people who are reaching for some type of sleeping pill that will counteract all that stimulation they brought upon themselves. Unfortunately, like any drug, there are side effects.
When we look back at history, we see that when the sun went down, people began to unwind and gradually prepare for bedtime. There was nothing else to do. They relaxed, talked with their families, read -- they did all types of things that allowed their bodies and brains to calm down and relax. This is the way the Good Lord intended it to be.
Winding down in the evening was very important because it did a couple of very important things. First, because there weren’t a zillion things to do – they weren’t overproducing so many ‘stimulatory’ brain messengers. But, more importantly, slowing their day down allowed the production of ‘inhibitory’ brain messengers.
The ‘inhibitory’ brain messengers are designed to calm and relax the body. The imbalance of these two types of neurotransmitters (stimulatory and inhibitory) have been directly associated with insomnia, depression, anxiety, PMS, cravings, and weight loss. Drug manufacturers recognize this and earn billions of dollars selling sleeping pills, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs, weight-loss drugs, and other medications that manipulate these brain chemicals.
The simple fact is this: if your body can’t make enough ‘inhibitory’ brain messengers to counteract or balance out all the ‘stimulatory’ brain messengers, you won’t get a good night’s sleep. This is why it is important to slow down at the end of the day. Try spending some time in God’s Word, praying, deep breathing, and a little light stretching to unwind and slow down.
Some people say they have no problem falling asleep, but they wake up a few hours later and can’t fall back asleep. This may just be a blood sugar problem, caused by poor diet. But it can also be associated with stress and adrenal fatigue, which is why they can fall asleep without any problem. (They’re exhausted!) Unfortunately, after going to sleep, their adrenals can’t keep their blood sugar stable throughout the night. Therefore, their bodies give them an emergency shot of adrenaline to restore blood sugar levels, and that wakes them up.
The primary source of fuel for the brain is carbohydrates (sugar/glucose). When our blood sugar drops due to missing a meal or eating too many refined sugars, our adrenal glands are designed to produce cortisol and/or adrenaline to raise blood sugar. This is a normal response and NOT a problem… when it occurs during the day. But it is a problem if it happens in the middle of the night!
Simple Steps to Get Rest
Sleeping pills are designed to manipulate our brain chemistry so we can fall asleep. But, as with all medications, there are various side effects. It’s possible to balance those brain messengers without using drugs. Here are some simple suggestions:
Determine if stress is part of your problem. Stress is a major contributor to sleep problems. Take our online Stress Test to see if stress and adrenal fatigue are part of your problem.
The simplest and best thing we can do is STOP over-stimulating ourselves late in the evening. Yes, caffeine is a problem for many people, but constantly being on the go into the evening can trigger ‘stimulatory’ hormones equal to a good cup of coffee.
Nourish the depleted adrenal glands with vitamin C, vitamin B, zinc, and specific adaptogenic herbs such as rhodiola, ashwagandha, cordyceps, and ginseng.
Raise those inhibitory brain messengers, which help us unwind and fall asleep. This is what the drugs are trying to do, but we can get the same effect by adding things like magnesium, glycine, GABA, 5-HTP, L-theanine, and glutamine to naturally help increase the levels of our ‘inhibitory’ neurotransmitters.
Keep in mind the drugs don’t cause your body to produce more ‘inhibitory’ brain messengers. They merely manipulate how your body uses what little you are producing. Proper nutrition and supplementation will increase those ‘inhibitory’ brain messengers on its own. This is why various teas such as chamomile and valerian root are great for calming and relaxing the body at the end of the day.
For those who can’t stay asleep, you definitely need to pay attention to your diet and make sure your adrenals aren’t fatigued. A healthy dinner that includes a good portion of protein and good fats goes a long way in keeping your blood sugar stable for hours. You might also consider having a snack or something before bed that will help keep your blood sugar stable throughout the night. I’m a big fan of almond butter or fruits. Stay away from anything that is made with refined, processed sugar.
If your adrenals are exhausted, you need to properly nourish them as described above because every person I have seen with sleep problems also has some degree of adrenal burnout. Once you start following these simple steps and begin getting a good night’s sleep, you will be amazed how much better you feel and how much better your day becomes!
Learn more about getting a good night's sleep by listening to Dr. Len's Action Steps for Health.
Dr. Len Lopez is a nutrition and fitness expert and creator of The Work Horse Trainer. He speaks extensively on diet, exercise, and how stress can affect your overall health and wellness.
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