The Cause: Allergies – Allergies are more common than you think. In fact, just about everyone is allergic to something. Allergies affect sleep because they promote inflammation and muscle tension. This frequently translates into sinus congestion, which affects breathing, and tight, restless muscles. There are two kinds of allergies. The one most of us are familiar with is the Type 1 allergy, which is characterized by very obvious symptoms such as sneezing or rashes fairly immediately after ingesting the food or being exposed to the offending inhalant. Type 1 allergies are more commonly associated with environmental substances such as pollen or pet dander.
The more common, but less known allergy is the Type 2 or delayed onset allergy. These reactions can occur within hours or even days after ingesting an offending food. The most common food allergies things we eat too much of, like wheat (bread, pasta, cereal, etc.) and milk (cheese, yogurt, etc.). Other common ones are soy, corn, and eggs. There are blood tests for these allergies, but the best way to identify one is by eliminating the suspected food entirely from the diet for 3-4 weeks and reintroducing it to look for reactions.
1. Avoid foods that contain gluten – Gluten is one of the more common food allergens. It is the protein in wheat, oat, rye, barley, and spelt. This includes most foods made with flour, such as bread, cereal, crackers, bagels, pasta, cous cous, and many packaged foods, including some salad dressings.
2. Avoid milk and products containing milk – This includes yogurt, cheese, many dressings, and packaged foods. Read your labels. Look for milk powder, skim milk powder, and casein—a milk protein. Generally speaking, the other protein in milk—whey—is rarely problematic.
3. Rotate Your Foods – Avoid eating the same foods every day to reduce the chance of developing a Type 2 food allergy. Variety is the key.
4. Keep windows closed at night – This will reduce the amount of pollen and other offending pollutants that promote your allergic response.
5. Keep your bedroom clean – Vacuum and dust your sleeping space frequently to cut down on airborne pollutants. You can also get hypoallergenic pillow cases that create an impermeable barrier between your head and the mites and dander that can hide out in your pillow.
The Cause: Acid Reflux – This is another way of saying Gastrointestinal Esophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD). This condition affects sleep because it irritates the esophagus and promotes breathing difficulty and restlessness. It is not always heartburn. Heartburn is a common feeling or symptoms associated with GERD, but this condition is often more subtle and sometimes unrecognizable. In fact, many people have acid reflux and don’t even feel it or know it. Basically, GERD occurs when gastric juices from the stomach are kicked back up into the esophagus, causing irritation and eventually damage to the esophageal lining.
Despite the typical medical response, the cause is typically not excess stomach acid. It is insufficient stomach acid which leads to undigested food that sits in the stomach too long and the juices from that food, combined with the gastric juices produced by the body to attempt to break down that food refluxes back up past the lower esophageal sphincter muscle or valve.
Doctors will commonly prescribe antacids and proton pump inhibitors to neutralize the stomach acid, but that only deals with the symptom and actually exacerbates the cause, which is stomach acid deficiency. Without that stomach acid, you can’t break down your proteins and fats.
1. Drink Plenty of Filtered Water – We all know water as the most essential nutrient. But most of us are not drinking enough water, and this disrupts the body’s ability to produce adequate gastric juices and to enhance motility of the foods we eat through our gastrointestinal tract. The minimum daily requirement for water should be ½ ounce per pound of body weight. This means a 150 pound person needs at least 75 ounces per day. And tap water should be avoided because it contains excess minerals and other irritants to our digestive tracts, such as chlorine and fluoride.
2. Avoid processed grains and refined sugars – These foods inhibit digestion by disrupting the mucosal lining of the stomach and small intestine and promoting gut flora imbalances.
3. Betaine Hydrochloride – Hydrochloric acid (HCL) is essentially what our stomach naturally produce whenever we eat primarily to break down the proteins and fats in our food. It also is essential for neutralizing harmful bacteria that may be present in the food we eat. When our body’s ability to produce adequate stomach acid is compromised, as with chronic stress or an unhealthy diet, our foods are not properly digested and GERD is one of the many complications associated with indigestion. This can be taken in supplemental for with meals. Increase the dose until the discomfort subsides. Do not take HCL on an empty stomach.
4. Fresh Garlic – Many people with GERD are also infected with H.Pylori, which can lead to stomach ulcers and exacerbate the reflux issue. Garlic is a natural anti-bacterial and anti-viral, but only when eaten fresh and slightly crushed. The garlic pills aren’t the same.
5. DGL – This is short for deglycyrrhizinated licorice. This form of licorice extract promotes mucus production in the stomach lining and can prevent the stomach burn that often accompanies reflux. Glycyrrhizin is the component of licorice that can raise blood pressure in people with already high blood pressure. DGL does not contain this substance. It comes in a chewable tablet and should be taken 20-30 minutes prior to meals.
6. Probiotics – People who suffer from sleep disorders often have an imbalance in gut bacteria (flora). The good bacteria in our GI system is essential for proper digestion, immune function, and the production of essential nutrients like B vitamins. These can be supplemented in many forms, but capsules appear to be best. Take the does recommended on the label with breakfast and dinner and keep these supplements refrigerated.
7. Orange Peel Extract – This has been shown in recent studies to prevent GERD and even heal the esophageal lining. It need only be taken for a short period.
The Cause: Sleep Apnea – This is when airflow from the nose and mouth to the lungs is restricted during sleep, causing the person to stop breathing for up to one minute, sometimes hundreds of times a night. And most people who have it don’t know it until someone else points it out. Kind of like snoring, and actually they sound very much alike. There are many theories as to its cause, including depression (psychological) and obesity. While it is true that these are contributing factors, the more common cause is probably diet related. In fact, many cases of apnea are related to food allergies.
Apnea is often treated with the prescribed use of a CPAP machine (Nasal continuous positive airway pressure), where the patient wears a mask over the nose during sleep, and pressure from an air blower forces air through the nasal passages, preventing airway closure. While this tool is effective, it is very awkward and only works when used properly and constantly.
1. Eliminate Food Allergens – Especially grains and milk. See above section for more on food allergies.
2. Reduce Body Fat Composition – This requires a combination of regular exercise and proper diet.
3. Use a Cervical Neck Pillow – Sometimes it’s simply a matter of head position and the cervical roll, which slips right inside your pillow case, supports the natural curve on your neck while you sleep, allowing for optimal airflow.
The Cause: Acute Stress/Anxiety – Unlike chronic stress (see above), acute stress is more of a temporary, situational condition. Tough day or week at work, performance tests, family in town, financial woes, etc. However, if acute stress levels get intense or high enough, they can be overwhelming, resulting in panic or anxiety attacks. While there are plenty of drugs on the market, like valium and prozac to address this condition, there are some natural alternatives, which get to the cause. You see, even acute stress can promote chemical imbalances in the brain, and a preexisting chemical imbalance can make one more susceptible to bouts of anxiety. In any event, when one is stressed, the entire body is affected, from bowel function to muscle tension.
1. GABA – Gamma-aminobutyric acid is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system. It is the body’s natural anti-anxiety substance. Many people are deficient in this substance. One cause is the inability to convert from L-Theanine, the primary amino acid precursor to GABA. The best way to take GABA is in a sublingual form (a lozenge), which means under the tongue. Simply dissolve a lozenge under the tongue so it goes directly into the bloodstream and is less likely to get lost in the GI system. This will also be more useful to fend off an acute anxiety attack.
2. Magnesium – This essential mineral is a natural muscle relaxant. In fact, magnesium can be so effective that in higher doses it can cure constipation. Start with 300mg near bedtime and increase dose to bowel tolerance, just like vitamin C (see above).
3. Journal – Journaling can help you to empty your head of stressful thoughts or to-do lists, allowing your brain to take a break.
4. Avoid Watching Television Near Bedtime – T.V. actually has an excitatory effect on the brain. Avoid it for at least one hour before bedtime, and by all means get the T.V. out of the bedroom.
5. Read non-stimulating material at bedtime – The murder mysteries and horror novels are not helping you relax.
6. Meditate – Practice at least 10-15 minutes of meditation or conscious breathing near bedtime. This will slow respiration, pulse, blood pressure and calm the mind. If clearing your mind of conscious thought is difficult, use a guided meditation CD or tape to assist you.
If none of these suggestions bring you better sleep, than you may have unresolved emotional issues that may be causing your stress and promoting insomnia. In this case, there are various other, less direct, methods of dealing with the issue or issues, but they should be attempted only under the supervision of a qualified mental health professional. Of these are Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), acupuncture, cranial sacral therapy, reiki, dream therapy, traditional psychotherapy, and a fast-growing field called ecotherapy. No matter what other factors may be contributing to your sleep problems, if the emotional issue is not addressed, any success reached by incorporating other techniques described in this article will be short-lived. This is by far the most significant factor.
If you are unsure about the causes and solutions for your sleep issue, don’t hesitate to contact me and we’ll figure it out together.
Good luck and sweet dreams!