When you fail to sleep you probably feel lifeless. Chronic sleep deprivation deflates your mood, makes you crave junk food and causes you to skip your exercise routine, exacerbating that down-and-out lifeless feeling.
The only real way to address sleep issues is to find out why it’s occurring in the first place. Don’t take sleeping pills to knock yourself out, instead consider the impediments to sleeping like a baby and fix ‘em! Right now I’ll go through some overlooked causes for why you don’t sleep like a baby (when you could!)
1. Timing of Meds.
If you’re accidentally taking stimulating medication at night instead of in the morning, you could feel wired at night. One friend told me she takes her Synthroid (a thyroid hormone) at bedtime and another friend uses inhales his Albuterol (asthma inhaler) at bedtime.
Both of these medications are ideally taken in the morning because they are somewhat stimulating and could caue you to feel awake at night. That said, I want you to be smart, so if you wake up at night with chest tightness, or bronchospasm, I want you to go ahead and use that inhaler as directed, but I’m just letting you know that for general maintenance, these drugs are best taken during daytime hours (because they can be stimulating). Other medications that should be taken in the morning include those to treat ADHD like Concerta, Ritalin or Adderall; as well as decongestants, steroids, Provigil, and SSRI/SNRI antidepressants.
2. Medical Conditions.
What if you have Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease? Both of these conditions cause erratic changes in thyroid hormone which can impact your sleep. When thyroid swings high, you feel awake, if not hyper, so it could interfere with bedtime. Acid reflux is another medical cause for poor, unrefreshing sleep. Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are brain-related disorders known to cause disruptions in the natural sleep-wake cycle over time. Type 2 diabetes will disturb your sleep due to the thirst, the frequent urges to urinate or nerve pain.
3. Sleep Apnea.
Research has shown that sleep apnea increases your risk for feeling hungry and developing insulin resistance, and many other type 2 diabetes symptoms. As you might expect, treating sleep apnea will not only give you better sleep, but it will improve your symptoms of type 2 diabetes. You will need a sleep doctor or practitioner that specializes in sleep disorders in order to help you with this one, it cannot be fixed with pills, supplements or a food elimination (for example, soy or gluten). Going on a diet can be helpful though because being overweight is one contributing factor to sleep apnea.
You might think I’m simply referring to pollen or gluten, but I’m really not. While that certainly can spark allergies, I’m thinking a tad bigger. When I say “allergies,” in this case, I mean everything (ANYTHING) that could possibly annoy your immune system. For example:
- The warm milk you drank before bedtime in an effort to rest easy. Dairy impacts sleep.
- Your snuggly goose down duvet. Do you sneeze when you get into bed or start sniffling. You might need a goose down alternative fiber.
- Your flannel sheets – some people are sensitive to flannel.
- The polyester rug under your bed – polyester is a potent sensitizer as are adhesives and synthetic fibers under the rug.
- The dust on your fan blades and dust mites in general. This is a big one that most people do not even think about. Eliminate as much dust from your bedroom as possible.
- Fur and dander from your beloved family pet – Pets are like family members, but you can be very sensitive (and not know it) to their saliva, your fur, or shampoo and tick/flea spray. These compounds affect your endocrine system and could wire you via release of all kinds of stimulating compounds, namely histamine.
Histamine will prevent you from resting easy at night, plus it along with leukotrienes will unleash a whole host of miserable itchy, sneezy, coughy, stimulating symptoms. If you get itchy eyes or a scratchy throat and it keeps you up at night, you’ll need to sort out what’s triggering you. It’s probably in your bedroom. I hope you use my list above to figure out what’s triggering you.
For me, if it’s too hot, I can’t sleep. I like the bedroom cold, but Sam likes it warm and cozy, so on cold snowy Colorado nights I leave our window open but I give Sam a microwaveable hot pack. During summer, I sometimes tuck in with a soft gel ice pack.
6. Chronic pain.
This one’s a no-brainer. According to the National Sleep Foundation, only 36 percent of chronic pain sufferers enjoy regular, quality, restorative sleep. Obviously if you hurt, you can’t rest easy.
7. Green Tea.
Though I loooove green tea and write about its health benefits often, it does make some people alert due to the minor caffeine content. If you are sensitive to caffeine, you may wish to cut off your tea habit before noon. Try an herbal in the evening instead- my personal favorite night-time sipper is Lavender Rose Tea. CLICK HERE if you’d like the recipe!
Some of you have a hard time relaxing because you don’t take full, satisfying breaths. Shallow breathing doesn’t serve you. Take 5 to 10 nice, slow full breaths while imagining your hands warming up by an imaginary fire. You’ll relax a bit faster than running through your to-do list and breathing shallow.
9. Drinking coffee.
Most of you know not to drink coffee at night for obvious reasons (the caffeine), but what you don’t know is that coffee is a drug mugger of magnesium. This mineral is a natural chill pill, and it helps support muscle structure and function.
Magnesium is considered a ‘calm’ mineral so java junkies are up against potential mag deficiency. That type of deficiency makes one more prone to problems in the head (like headaches/migraines) as well as sleep challenges, muscle concerns and melancholy. Switching to decaf coffee won’t help much because even decaf contains chlorogenic acid, and it’s that compound that is the drug mugger of magnesium, not the coffee per se.
My advice, for those of you (and my own self, ha!) is to consume more leafy greens like kale, salad, greens or other magnesium-rich leafy greens. Those are your best food sources for magnesium.
Incorporating these habits into your daily (and nightly) routine will help you rest easy tonight, and reduce some of the bedlam in the bedroom. Here’s wishing you many nights of blissful slumber!
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.