Sussex Health: Insomnia & Getting to Sleep

Insomnia is difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning. It is a common problem thought to regularly affect around one in every three people in the UK and is particularly common in elderly people. So this month, our Sussex Exclusive health consultant takes a look at the causes, as well as what you can do to help yourself enjoy a better night’s sleep.

Sussex health advice

Psychological causes

  • Anxiety
  • Stress, or how effectively a person copes with any emotional, physical, social or economic change
  • Depression.

Ironically, a lack of a good night’s sleep can lead to these very same psychological states, setting up a vicious cycle.

Physical causes

  • Hormonal changes in women – including PMS, pregnancy and menopause
  • Decreasing production of melatonin (the “sleep” hormone) – this occurs inevitably with age so that, by 60, the body produces very little melatonin
  • Medical conditions – including allergies, arthritis, asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism and Parkinson’s disease
  • Pain – this is one of the most common causes of a disturbed night’s sleep
  • Other sleep disorders – including sleep apnoea (whereby a person temporarily stops breathing during sleep) and periodic leg and arm movements during sleep (“restless leg syndrome”).

Temporary events and other contributing factors

  • Adjustment sleep disorder – this may be caused by a traumatic event such as an illness or loss of a loved one, or a minor event such as a change in the weather, or even just an argument with someone
  • Jet lag – most people who have travelled across time zones will have experienced brief bouts of insomnia
  • Working night shifts or long shifts – night shifts can lead to sleep pattern disorders. Generally, a person who works regular night shifts is able to adapt over time. Those working a “floating” shift pattern (such as police officers) will struggle much more with insomnia
  • Medications – insomnia can be a side effect of various medications, both prescription and over-the-counter
  • Overuse of caffeine and alcohol – caffeine can disrupt sleep even when consumed 12 hours or more prior to bed. Whilst alcohol before bed may help a person relax, it can also lead to fragmented sleep and wakefulness a few hours later
  • Environmental noise, extreme temperature changes
  • Media technology in the bedroom – research suggests that using devices with screens before bed can cause a loss of sleep, particularly in young people.

Sussex health advice

Effects of insomnia

The impaired mental function caused by insomnia can: 

  • Affect concentration and memory, and can affect one’s ability to perform daily tasks
  • Cause accidents – insomnia is a common cause of traffic and industrial accidents. Police statistics show that fatigue contributes to about 4% of fatal road crashes and 2% of all collisions in Britain
  • Cause stress and depression – insomnia increases the activity of the hormones and pathways in the brain that cause stress; and research shows that changes in sleep patterns have significant effects on mood
  • Contribute to heart disease – research indicates that people with chronic insomnia have signs of heart and nervous system activity that might put them at risk for heart disease.

Insomnia may also play a role in the development of chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

Lifestyle modification

  • Adopt a regular sleeping and eating routine combined with caffeine avoidance. Avoid going to bed hungry
  • The use of behavioural therapy, relaxation tapes, breathing exercises and mindfulness can also be helpful
  • Keep telephones and other devices outside of the bedroom
  • Ensure that the room is a comfortable temperature before bedtime
  • Use blackout blinds or curtains to eliminate all external light sources
  • Studies have shown that in as little as four weeks, individuals with chronic insomnia who begin regular exercise can fall asleep up to 13 minutes faster and stay asleep 18 minutes longer. In fact, research indicates that exercise was just as effective as prescription drugs in relieving insomnia
  • A hot bath before bedtime will aid sleep, since melatonin production increases with rising body temperature, thereby inducing a state of sleepiness.

Nutritional supplement treatment options

5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) has been used successfully for people with insomnia, as it converts to the chemical messenger, serotonin. (Serotonin is the “Happy Hormone” that stabilizes mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness; as well as helping to regulate appetite, digestion, sleep and memory). 5-HTP supplementation has been shown to particularly improve sleep patterns in those that wake repeatedly during the night. It has also been shown to improve sleep quality in people suffering with fibromyalgia.

Magnesium is known to have a sedative effect on the body and helps to relax muscles and induce sleep. This is partly due to its ability to regulate the production of melatonin. Magnesium also appears to increase levels of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain messenger with calming effects. It has also been shown to significantly improve sleep quality in people suffering with Restless Leg Syndrome.

GABA (Gamma Amino-Butyric Acid) is the main inhibitory and sedative chemical in the brain. It assists in inducing sleep, uplifting mood and reducing anxiety. Many B vitamins – B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 – as well as zinc are required in the production of GABA.

Sussex Health advice

Botanical treatment options

Valerian root makes getting to sleep easier and increases deep sleep and dreaming. Additionally, Valerian does not cause a morning “hangover,” which is a common side effect of prescription drugs. Valerian root can be combined with other mildly sedating herbs e.g. Chamomile, Hops, Lemon Balm and Catnip.

CBD Oil – Research shows that CBD has a calming effect on the nervous system and can also alter mood because it affects the function of serotonin. Research suggests CBD can help with a number of sleep disorders, including insomnia, REM sleep behaviour disorder and excessive daytime sleepiness disorder. Additional research suggests CBD can also help to improve general sleep patterns and reduce anxiety.

Montmorency Tart Cherry has the highest naturally occurring content of melatonin. It helps to raise melatonin blood levels and can assist in a more rapid sleep onset and improved sleep quality. Montmorency tart cherry also supplies anthocyanin antioxidants, which relieve muscle and joint aches that can make it hard to fall asleep, or may wake you in the middle of the night.

Lavender oil contains many medicinal compounds that are known to be calming and may therefore be helpful in treating insomnia. Research has suggested that inhaling lavender oil before bed can improve the quality of sleep and can even be as effective as some commonly prescribed sleep medications. Lavender oil can either be used in a diffuser near your bed or by placing a few drops on your pillowcase. (Apply to the underside of your pillow, as lavender oil can cause sensitivity to the skin and eyes if applied directly).

Sussex health advice

Article contributed by Dr Tracy S Gates, DO, DIBAK, L.C.P.H., Consultant, Pure Bio Ltd. Copyright © Pure Bio Ltd 2021. All rights reserved

 Pure Bio Ltd are a leading UK supplier of the highest quality PURE nutritional supplements, based in Horsham, West Sussex. Visit www.purebio.co.uk  for all your nutritional supplement needs

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