by Dr. Ron Steriti
Have you ever woken feeling completely exhausted after using sleeping medications?
Insomnia is a frustrating problem for many people because most of the drugs donít work very well. Some of them will work for a while and then stop working completely. Some drugs get you to sleep, but cause extreme drowsiness during the day.
Unfortunately this may also be true of some of the nutritional supplements for insomnia.
Take, for instance, melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates sleep. It increases at night causing you to feel drowsy. If you take melatonin at bedtime it will certainly help you fall asleep. But suppose your body makes enough melatonin?†In that case, after a few days of taking melatonin your body will automatically stop making itís own melatonin and it wonít work any more.
One of the central themes in naturopathic medicine is to identify and treat the cause.
The Causes of Insomnia
Insomnia is a broad term for difficulties with sleep, including the inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep. Brief periods of insomnia are common, and it is estimated that one-third of adults suffer from some form of insomnia.
About half of all cases of insomnia do not have an identifiable cause (i.e. idiopathic insomnia).
Insomnia can be caused by substance abuse: caffeine, alcohol, recreational drugs, long-term sedative use, stimulants, decongestants, and bronchodilators.
Insomnia can also be caused by disruption of circadian rhythms, usually caused by working late-night shifts or travel across time zones;
Medical illness can cause insomnia. Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), fibromyalgia, hyperthyroidism, dementia, arthritis and other painful conditions are associated with insomnia.
Transient situational insomnia is caused by stress at work or school, or by family illness. Insomnia may also be caused by hormonal imbalances in cortisol and melatonin. Melatonin is formed from serotonin, which is formed from tryptophan or 5-HTP.
Insomnia is present in 30-40% of menopausal women.
Cortisol secretions are characterized by a steep increase in the morning, peaking at approximately 8 a.m., followed by a gradual tapering off until about midnight, when circulating levels are at their lowest. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occurs primarily when cortisol levels are decreasing, and wakefulness and Stage 1 sleep are associated with increased plasma cortisol concentrations.
Melatonin is the main modulator of neuroendocrine function and regulates the Hypothyroid-Pituitary-Adrenal axis. Patients with low cortisol exhibit decreased melatonin levels with a disrupted circadian rhythm. Melatonin has a pivotal role in regulating body temperature, the sleep-wake cycle, female reproductive hormones, and cardiovascular function. Hence disrupted secretion rhythms are widespread in many degenerative illnesses.
Conventional Lab Tests
There are no specific lab tests for insomnia. Diagnosis can be confirmed by polysomnography, particularly if sleep apnea is suspected.
Specialty Lab Tests
The Adrenocortex Stress Profile evaluates bioactive levels of the body's important stress hormones, cortisol and DHEA. This profile serves as a critical tool for uncovering biochemical imbalances that can underlie anxiety, chronic fatigue, obesity, diabetes and a host of other clinical conditions. Four salivary samples of cortisol are taken over a 24-hour period.
The Comprehensive Melatonin Profile analyzes 3 saliva samples for the secretion pattern of melatonin. Melatonin imbalance has been associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder, infertility, sleep disorders, and compromised immune function.
The Menopause Profile examines four salivary samples over a 2-week period to determine levels of Ŗ-estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone for women who are peri- or post-menopausal.
Natural Products for Insomnia
There are several general products that you can try.
Garum armoricum (blue fish) has been shown to have a beneficial effect on stress. Stabillium by Allergy Research contains Garum armoricum (blue fish) (210 mg), Sunflower oil (170 mg), and Lecithin (20 mg)
Skullcap and Valerian are herbs that promote relaxation and deeper sleep.