Having problems with sleep is one of the most common conditions that we treat in the Natural Health Clinic.
Experiencing these symptoms?
Sleep is an essential process, and vital for maintaining good mental and physical health. During sleep we undergo a number of processes that help us to function during the daytime. We process information, consolidate memories – and our bodies and brains restore. Without good quality sleep, we cannot function effectively. (Mental Health Foundation, 2011)
Sleep is a complex process that is not completely understood, but we know that the body goes through a variety of sleep stages and that good quality sleep is likely to be the result of spending sufficient time in all of the stages. (Mental Health Foundation, 2011)
According to a 2011 report by the Mental Health Foundation, the consequences of poor sleep should be taken seriously in healthcare, education, and society generally, as lack of sleep, or poor quality sleep over a period of time leads to problems such as irritability , poor concentration, fatigue and even mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
How much sleep is enough?
The simple answer is however much sleep you NEED. This will vary from person to person. Children and adolescents need more sleep because they have so much more going on in their bodies. By the time we reach adulthood, we require 7-8 hours sleep a night (generally). This diminishes as we move towards old age. (NationalSleepFoundation, 2019)
If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we end up with a sleep debt that needs to be repaid, or our ability to function effectively becomes impaired. Even those suffering from conditions such as bi-polar, which in its manic phase, lessens the need for sleep, are still building a sleep debt and at some point, the need for sleep will “catch up” with them. (Mental Health Foundation, 2011)
Your circadian rhythm
Your circadian rhythm is a natural, internal system that regulates sleep and wakefulness patterns over a 24-hour period. The circadian rhythm is managed by an area of the brain that responds to light, which is why we are generally more alert when there is a lot of light and ready to sleep when it becomes dark.
Understanding your circadian rhythm is an important part of good sleep hygiene. It is a very sensitive thing and easily influenced by various factors.(Council, 2019)
Working against your natural circadian rhythm can cause disrupted sleep; for example, people who do shift work or those who work on board international flights on a regular basis are at greater risk of health problems relating to circadian rhythm disturbance, as humans are not designed to be asleep during the day and working throughout the night.(Rondanelli et al., 2013)
Serotonin is a “feel good” chemical produced by the brain. Lack of Serotonin is often associated with mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression and Seasonally Affected Disorder (SAD) – but it also has an effect on the circadian rhythm and therefore our sleep patterns.
Serotonin levels are highest during our waking hours and when it is light. By the time daylight disappears, we start to feel tired and our serotonin levels decrease. (Imeri and Opp, 2009).
Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland and helps to control your sleep cycle.
Your circadian rhythm helps influence how much melatonin your pineal gland makes; as does how much light you are exposed to. During the winter when days are shorter, your melatonin production may be affected, which in turn can disturb your sleep cycle; causing fatigue and low moods (Seasonal Affective Disorder). (sleep.org, 2019)
Nutrition and sleep
Westernised diets that are high in processed foods, simple carbohydrates and damaged fats can disrupt gut bacteria, which may directly influence your circadian rhythm and therefore disrupt your sleep, as well as potentially contribute to Irritable Bowel Disease. (Voigt et al., 2014)
Medications and sleep
Certain medications can disrupt our natural sleep, particularly if they contain caffeine and/or opiates (a popular combination in some painkillers). Recreational drug use and alcohol can also affect the circadian rhythm. For some, this may seem strange as the use of a moderate amount of alcohol or certain recreational drugs can promote sleep; however, long term use will disrupt the circadian rhythm for some time after the substance has left the body (Hasler et al., 2012)
Hormones and sleep
Women may suffer from temporary insomnia before their period; similarly, as menopause approaches, there is a big impact from the loss of hormones, which can affect sleep to the point where it impacts on a woman’s quality of life.
Stress, trauma and sleep
Stress and trauma have a huge impact on health. When we are affected by stress, certain hormones, such as cortisol, start to increase. Not only does this affect our sleep/wake pattern, but can also contribute to some very worrying physical problems, such as high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome.
Long term stress can cause dysregulation of the Automatic Nervous System, the effects of which can last for a lot longer than the cause of the stress (McClung and Becker-Krail, 2016)
If you have problems with sleep and have spoke with your GP, you may have been prescribed a short dose of sleeping tablets to help re-set your sleep pattern. Patients who come to see us who have had sleeping tablets worry that they won’t be able to sleep without them, but there is a lot that can be done naturally.
How we can help
Herbal Medicine, homeopathy and / or nutritional therapy are extremely effective in supporting sleep problems. A full consultation will help us to resolve underlying issues and help to re-set the circadian rhythm. Even if you do have to work night shifts, or difficult hours, it is still possible to have restful sleep.
Iridology can help to support any physical or emotional potentials that may influence your sleep and Live Blood Analysis, together with Nutritional Therapy and Herbal Medication can help to ensure that your digestive system is working well and not impairing sleep.
A bespoke Herbal or Homeopathic Medication can be prepared for you to address any issues that may be affecting your sleep, such as hormones or stress. As qualified Medical Herbalists, we are able to treat you alongside any medications that your doctor may have prescribed. It is always preferable that we can have an open dialogue with your doctor and inform them of your treatment plan with us; however, this is only done with your written permission.
Why not call us for a free initial telephone conversation and see how we can help improve your sleep?