For those sleepless nights: dealing with insomnia

You don't always have to count sheep to get to sleep.

You don't always have to count sheep to get to sleep.

We've all experienced those nights where no matter how hard we try, we simply can't shut our minds off and get to sleep.  What's worse is too many of those sleepless nights can lead to daytime fatigue, a dampened immune system and decreased cognitive function.  In other words, you're not able to run at 100%.  Here are a few tips that can help stave off insomnia:

1. Identify food sensitivities.  

Insomnia may be your only clue of a food sensitivity but it can also be paired with other conditions such as autoimmune disease, gut disorders, mood and behaviour imbalances or hormonal fluctuations.  The most common culprits include gluten, dairy, soy and eggs.  A simple way of finding out food sensitivities is a simple finger prick test that can help identify elevated levels of immunoglobulin G in your system.  Want to learn more about IgG food sensitivities?  Read this: http://rmalab.com/medical-laboratory-tests/allergy/igg-sensitivity

2. Correct nutrient deficiencies.  

Vitamin B-12 works closely in the body with melatonin.  If B-12 levels in the body aren't adequate, it's less likely your body will be able to produce enough melatonin.  This can lead to a disturbed sleep-wake cycle, meaning insomnia and daytime fatigue.  Not to mention a terribly low mood.

Magnesium is another nutrient that when deficient can cause sleep disturbances.  Magnesium is a natural NMDA receptor antagonist and GABA agonist, meaning it's pretty effective at calming the brain down so sleep onset is easier to achieve and maintain.

An easy way of correcting nutrient deficiencies is with nutritional IV therapy.  Intravenous nutrients are an efficient way to boost tissue stores of various vitamins and minerals.  IV therapy is also a clever way of bypassing the digestive system, which can sometimes block the absorption of nutrients when digestive health isn't optimal.  Not to mention with IV therapy, it's possible to get to therapeutic doses of various nutrients without causing the common gut disturbances (like having to hang out by a washroom all day!). 

3. Consider Mindfulness technique.

Mindfulness is a technique used to bring awareness to one's state in the present moment.  If you're a person where a running mind is the main culprit for insomnia, practicing mindfulness may be a useful tool for you.  Mindfulness means acceptance from a non-judgmental place within yourself, towards yourself - a little something we could all use.  If you'd like to learn more about mindfulness technique or give it a try, I recommend checking out Andy Puddicombe's Headspace website.

5. Improve sleep hygiene. 

From my experience in working with patients with mild insomnia concerns, sleep hygiene can make a drastic difference in sleep quality.  I advise limiting screen time (ex. TV, laptops, iPads, iPhones, iPods...basically anything made by Apple unfortunately) at least an hour before bed.  The exposure of artificial light impedes our body's natural ability to produce melatonin.  It's also important to keep bright lights away from the bedroom.  Light bulbs with less than 60 LUX won't mess with melatonin production (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1186%2F1740-3391-2-4).

6. Nix the caffeine...before noon at least.  

We all know caffeine is a stimulant, but what most of us don't know is caffeine's half life in the body is about 5-6 hours.  That's just to get rid of half of the caffeine in your system!  Now think about it if you are a person who is particularly sensitive to caffeine, you'll be getting the stimulating effects of caffeine for far longer than the half life time.  I usually recommend patients limit caffeine intake to 1-2 cups of coffee daily (as in no more than 200mg of caffeine a day) and abstain from coffee or caffeinated tea intake after noon (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/285194.php). 

As always, it's best to consult your physician if you've been experiencing insomnia that is significantly impacting your mood or ability to function in daily life.  Chronic sleep problems can be a symptom of an underlying issue that should be appropriately addressed.