Sleep is one of the body’s basic requirements. At some point in their lives, most people have gotten too little sleep and felt the effects the following day. But what happens when you miss sleep on a daily basis? If you’re someone that can never seem to get to sleep at night or can’t stay asleep for the requisite 7-9 hours, you may have insomnia. Insomnia and the resulting sleep deprivation are growing conditions in our modern society. The tricky thing about insomnia, however, is that it’s not a single problem. Each case of insomnia can have its own unique set of causes.
What Can Cause Insomnia?
Even though it can be caused by a number of factors, there are some common causes. They can be grouped into 3 general categories.
Psychological Causes: Stress, anxiety, depression or recent trauma can all keep your mind in a space that’s not conducive to sleep. These are often the most common causes. The mind can start racing at night when all the lights are off and there’s no stimuli fighting for our attention.
Medical Causes: Many medical conditions can cause insomnia. These can include, but aren’t limited to respiratory problems like allergies and asthma, neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, or chronic pain from an injury.
Environmental Causes: These are often the most preventable and include inconsistent sleep habits, late night computer or TV viewing or working “graveyard” shifts. Something as simple as having a poorly designed sleep environment can cause insomnia too. A room that’s too bright, noisy or uncomfortable can prevent you from fully settling.
The Dangers of Sleep Drugs
Big pharmaceutical companies are constantly pushing ads for drugs like Ambien and Lunesta to help treat insomnia. Of couse, there are drawbacks to using drugs this strong. The nightmares people report from Ambien, the number one sleep aid, are very real. On the FDA’s Ambien medication guide the warning states:
“After taking AMBIEN, you may get up out of bed while not being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are doing. The next morning, you may not remember that you did anything during the night. Reported activities include: driving a car (“sleep-driving”), making and eating food, talking on the phone, having sex, sleep-walking”
Clearly there’s a case to avoid strong sleep-inducing drugs.
Treat Insomnia Naturally
So, how can you combat insomnia without worrying about waking up in a McDonald’s drive-thru? The process starts by analyzing your environment. Is your room dark and quiet? Is your bed comfortable? Make sure you’re not watching TV or using the computer too close to bed time. After you’ve addressed these issues, the next step is to look into some supplements to help you fall asleep faster and get natural, sustained, restful sleep.
Supplements to Treat Insomnia
- L-theanine: This supplement has fantastic benefits for both day and night users. The same effects that help improve a calm state while awake and combat stress can also help ease the mind and body before bed. A placebo-controlled Japanese study showed a 70% improvement in a number of sleep quality factors after using l-theanine.
Choline: Choline is a precursor to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that has significantly higher production during REM cycles. Inadequate levels of acetylcholine have been linked to sleep deprivation in multiple studies. Taking choline before bed can help ensure you’re getting the right amount of acetylcholine production during the night.
GABA: GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that has been directly linked to insomnia. In general, it works by slowing down certain parts of the brain at the right time so when levels are low, the brain will keep working just as it was during the waking state and it’s harder to fall asleep and get the right amount of deep sleep required to fully recover.
Melatonin: Melatonin, a hormone naturally produced in the body, is nature’s sleep regulator. At night, undisturbed by outside light sources like TV, Computers, Phones, Lamps, etc the body raises melatonin production and you get sleepy. Obviously, this can become problematic in the modern world where people are glued to a screen all the time. Without natural light signals, the body doesn’t fully know when to “shut down” and technically thinks it’s still daytime. Melatonin supplements before bed can help offset this and kickstart the sleep process.
Each of these supplements can be an effective weapon against insomnia. What’s even more important is that they can each be used safely and won’t leave you feeling hungover or groggy the next day. If a proper supplementation regime is combined with proper sleep habits, stress management, and nutrition and exercise, most common insomnia cases would likely be eliminated.