Why do you wake up in the middle of the night? Insomnia is more than just frustrating, it can be life-altering!
Without proper sleep, you can’t think well, you tend to crave carbs for energy, your reaction time is slower, your temper is shorter and studies now show that you don’t convert short term memory to long term memory without proper sleep.
Insomnia can lead to stress, anxiety and depression as well.
Drugs Aren’t the Solution for Many People
Drugs like Ambien have been known to cause ‘anterograde amnesia’. The drug makes it temporarily harder for the brain to make new short-term memories. So you don’t remember that you tossed and turned during the night. And serious problems can occur when people taking Ambien get up out of bed during the night.
OTC (over-the-counter) sleep aids like Unisom and Nytol were meant for short term use only. They can cause side effects such as:
- Moderate to severe drowsiness the next day
- Dizziness and forgetfulness
- Clumsiness, feeling off balance
- Constipation and urinary retention
- Blurred vision
- Dry mouth and throat
Pharmaceutical drugs may be helpful for some people as a short-term solution. Finding and addressing the underlying reason for your insomnia is the best long-term solution.
Top Nine Causes for Insomnia
As wonderful as it would be to find a magic supplement that would help you sleep all night, every night, it’s not that simple.
Because there are so many different reasons why we don’t sleep well. Here are the top reasons we can’t stay asleep:
- Blood sugar dysregulation
- Pain and inflammation
- Circadian rhythm out of sync
- HPA axis disorder
- Thyroid disorder
- Food allergies or sensitivities
- Poor digestion
- Sleep lifestyle habits
- Stress and Anxiety
The trick is to figure out which one or ones are YOUR nemesis. Tick them off one by one.
For an indepth look at solutions for insomnia, check out my ebook “Why Can’t I Sleep? A Proven Guide to Defeating Insomnia“.
Insomnia is one of our specialties at Mind Blowing Wellness. We can help you find the root cause of your insomnia. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Blood Sugar Dysregulation
Cause: Blood sugar issues are probably the most common reason for waking up in the 1 am to 4 am time frame. If your blood sugar handling system is out of whack, your body may need sugar (aka glucose) for energy every few hours. If it doesn’t get the glucose it needs from the liver, your body is awakened by the hormones secreted by its ‘back-up plan’, your adrenal glands. If you wake up in the night and you are fully awake, the hormone, cortisol, from the adrenal glands is probably high.
Test: Head straight to your healthcare practitioner or you can order an HgbA1C also known as Hemoglobin A1C test yourself. The test gives an average of your blood sugar levels over the pasty ninety days (because the average red blood cell lives about 90 days).
Solution: Switch your body from a sugar-burner to a fat-burner. A Sugar Detox program can help you make that switch in as little as two weeks.
Did you Know?…Lab Testing is Now Unbundled!
Did you know that there are many lab tests that you can order yourself? Many times this is a cheaper (and quicker) option than doing the 3-step process at your doctor’s office (1st step, pay a deductible for an office visit; 2nd step, go to a lab for the test; 3rd step, pay a deductible to get the results from your doctor).
Note that medical insurance does not cover lab tests ordered directly by the patient.
For example, an HgbA1C (blood sugar test), is $21 with UltaLabs.com. You go to a designated lab in your area and the results are emailed directly to you. That would be a much cheaper and quicker option than the 3-step process.
2. Pain and Inflammation
Cause: Pain and inflammation can be caused by many things: injuries, surgery, infections, parasites, autoimmune diseases, imbalances of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and amino acids.
Tests: If you don’t know the cause of your pain, find out. We recommend the following lab tests as a first pass to determine why you are inflamed. Contact me for information about ordering these tests yourself.
- CBC – Complete Blood Count w/Differentials and Platelets
- CMP – Comprehensive Metabolic Panel
- Lipids – Cholesterol and Triglycerides
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D – 25OH test
- Thyroid Function – with Antibodies – see the list of markers to test for at the link
- Micronutrients – Vitamins and Minerals (Spectracell has a well-known panel)
- Fatty Acids – Omega-3, 6 and 9 fatty acids that regulate inflammation
- Homocysteine – identifies B12 or Folic Acid Deficiency
- MTHFR – methylation genetic test
- Hs-CRP – High Sensitive C-Reactive Protein
- CDSA – Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis, a poop test looking for parasites and bad bacteria
Solution: Your test results will determine the best course of action to take to address your pain. However, if you know what is causing your pain, these natural supplements can help with inflammation:
- Curcumin (from the spice Turmeric, always take with piperine)
- Astaxanthin (a carotenoid that acts as an antioxidant, it’s also the stuff that makes flamingos pink!)
- Boswellia Serrata (Indian Frankincense)
- Cod Liver Oil (best source of Vitamin A, plus a small amount of D and Omega-3 Fatty Acids)
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids (Fish oil or Krill Oil– good sources of EPA and DHA anti-inflammatory pathway)
- Vitamin D3 (best to take it with Magnesium, Calcium, and Vitamin K2–caution for those on blood thinners)
- Evening Primrose Oil or Black Currant Seed or Borage Oil (good sources for GLA anti-inflammatory pathway)
- Flax Seed or Hemp Seed (good sources for ALA to EPA anti-inflammatory pathway)
- Vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin is the recommended version)
Contact me for brand recommendations. The quality of these supplements is paramount. Don’t buy them from the drugstore, grocery store, or big box store!
3. Circadian Rhythm
Cause: Our sleep cycles are totally dependent on light and dark. This Circadian Rhythm is built deeply into our genetics. As Dr. Joseph Mercola explains, “All life evolved in response to predictable patterns of light and darkness, called circadian rhythms. Modern day electrical lighting has significantly betrayed your inner clock by disrupting your natural rhythms.”
A combination of light deficiency during the day and excessive light exposure at night creates a tough situation for your internal clock.
By getting outdoor light in the daytime, you ‘anchor’ your internal clock. That way, indoor light at night has less of an ability to shift your rhythm.
Solution: To reset your circadian rhythm, use all of these tips.
- Get bright light exposure during the day. Outdoor light is best for about 30 minutes per day, preferably at noon.
Find a sunny window to enjoy breakfast or lunch if you cannot get outside. You don’t have to be in direct sunlight, just exposed to the light.
- If the weather is not conducive or you cannot get outside, purchase a blue-light emitter like this one.
It’s a light therapy device you can keep on your desk. Basically it’s a special type of lamp. Use it for 15 minutes twice a day during the daytime. The blue light has been found to be particularly beneficial for boosting your mood. Blue light is prevalent in outdoor light.
Light Therapy can be very effective for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) too, a disorder of the ‘blues’, fatigue, and even depression that occurs each winter as sunlight grows scarce.
- Remove these light emitting devices from the bedroom: TV, laptop, cellphones, cordless phones, electronic readers, and electronic tablets. The blue light depresses melatonin production, preventing you from feeling sleepy.
- Wear blue light blocking glasses in the evening and be cool like Bono from U2.
By blocking the blue light at night, you can still see but your brain doesn’t think its daytime. It thinks it’s in darkness. The glasses are orange, not blue.
- Move your alarm clock across the room and be sure the light on it is red or amber, not blue.
- Cover your smoke detector or burglar alarm keypad if they emit light.
- Make your room as dark as possible with the use of blinds, room darkening curtains, or a simple sleep mask.
The translucent skin on our eyelids can still absorb light even with our eyes closed.
- Use a low wattage amber, yellow, orange, or red light at night or a salt lamp. Use these lights if you need to guide your way to the bathroom at night.
Red and amber lights (long wavelengths) will not suppress melatonin production while blue, green, and white lights (short wavelength) will.
4. HPA Axis Disorder
Cause: Formerly known as ‘adrenal fatigue’ and now known as Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) Axis Disorder, scientists now recognize that all three glands are involved in the feedback loop that causes this disorder.
Chronic stress on the body, whether it is physical or emotional, can lead to HPA axis dysfunction. It may start with a “wired and tired” feeling and can progress to total exhaustion if left unchecked.
Note: Thyroid disease can look a lot like HPA Axis disorder. Get this checked out too.
Test: A salivary cortisol test such as the Adrenal Stress Index test from DiagnosTechs can be ordered by your healthcare practitioner and is one of the best tests for this disorder.
Solution: You will want to work with a healthcare practitioner who is experienced with treating adrenal fatigue. Check out Dr. Sarah Ballantyne’s 3-part series on Adrenal Fatigue. The further that adrenal fatigue progresses, the harder it is to manage. Here are some tips to start working on HPA Axis disorder:
- Remove the source of the chronic stress, if at all possible. Throw the bum out, quit the stressful job, move away from the in-laws, whatever it takes!
- Sleep as much as possible. Don’t feel guilty about it, you need to heal yourself.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet such as the Paleo Diet or an Auto-immune Protocol.
- Avoid Xenohormones which are any type of external hormone that can affect the HPA Axis. Xenohormones are in the meats we eat that have been given hormones. Eat organic, grass-fed meat only. Xenohormones are in phytoestrogens found in soy, legumes, some nuts and seeds. They are common in body products and makeup and in some detergents, pesticides and plastics (make your own body products or buy them from sources like Thrive Market).
- Cut out caffeine in all its forms. Caffeine is a known stimulant of the immune system and adrenal glands. Consuming it leads to an increase in our daily release of cortisol and is known to increase psychological symptoms such as anxiety. Let your body be tired, so you can sleep.
- Use gentle exercise like yoga, Tai Chi, or walking. Meditation works wonders. Over-exertion will only make adrenal fatigue worse.
- Basic supplements to support adrenal function are: Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin C, Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid), Vitamin B12 (Methylcobalamin). Whole food sources of these nutrients are better assimilated than supplements, but supplements may be necessary to alleviate deficiencies of these nutrients.
- Adrenal support supplements such as dessicated adrenal gland and the hormone Pregnenolone. While Pregnenolone is available without a prescription, you should never take any hormone without consulting with a healthcare practitioner.
- Herbal support (and especially adaptogenic herbs used for their normalizing effects) can be very effective and includes: Ashwaganda, Licorice Root, Gotu Kola, Siberian Ginseng, Asian Ginseng, American Ginseng and Golden Root. Contact me for brand recommendations.
5. Thyroid Disorder
Cause: An overactive thyroid (Hyperthyroidism) can cause insomnia, but so can the autoimmune thyroid disease known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is much more common than you think. Hashimoto’s is not actually a thyroid disorder, but an autoimmune condition where the body attacks the thyroid gland.
Test: Many doctors rely solely on the TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels to determine if a patient has a thyroid imbalance. This is a short-sighted practice. Measuring TSH alone does not measure pituitary function, whether the thyroid hormones are actually working normally or whether there is an autoimmune disorder. Ask your healthcare provider for ALL of these markers when they order a thyroid test.
- Total T4 (TT4)
- Free T4 (FT4)
- Free T4 Index (FTI)
- Free T3
- Resin T3 uptake
- Reverse T3
- Thyroid Antibodies (TPO Ab and TBG Ab)–used to determine autoimmune Hashimoto’s disorder
- TSH Antibodies (TSH Ab or TSI)–used to determine hyperthyroidsim or Grave’s disease.
For more information about Thyroid testing and what optimal ranges should be, see my article “Still Have Thyroid Symptoms when TSH is Normal?“
Solution: If your lab results indicate that you have Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune protocol is the answer for managing your symptoms and keeping inflammation down. Unfortunately, there is no cure for autoimmune disease currently.
If you do not have an autoimmune condition, you will want to determine which type of thyroid dysfunction you have to determine a course of treatment. Dr. Datis Kharrazian has identified 22 patterns of thyroid dysfunction in his book, Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms?.
His research shows that only one pattern of thyroid disorder can be managed with thyroid replacement hormones. The others can be managed with amino acids, minerals, herbs, glandulars and other nutritional compounds.
6. Food Allergies or Sensitivities
Cause: We think of food allergies as something that causes a rash or sneezing or even as dangerous as anaphylactic shock, but outward symptoms of food allergies or sensitivities may not always be evident. Many food sensitivity symptoms go unnoticed or we don’t associate the symptom with a food.
For example, the little puffy bags under some people’s eyes are frequently caused by an allergy to dairy.
A food allergy is technically a reaction to a protein whereas a food sensitivity is a reaction to a non-protein. In either case, there can be a whole litany of different symptoms and many can cause insomnia.
Test: Food sensitivity testing has come a long way. There are a whole host of labs that test for food allergies and sensitivities using different methods, many of which you can order yourself. Contact me for recommendations.
A simple method you can employ at home (or anywhere) is the Coca Pulse Test to test one food at a time.
An elimination diet is the simplest (and cheapest) way to determine what foods you are sensitive to. You eliminate the most common food allergens and then one by one add those foods back into your regimen to gauge your reaction. A good elimination diet is discussed in The Elimination Diet by Tom Malterre or a quick overview by Dr. Axe.
Solution: Avoid the foods you are sensitive to. Duh! Many people find after eliminating those foods they can re-introduce them later. For some, permanent elimination is the only way to avoid their symptoms.
7. Poor Digestion
Causes: There are a myriad of reasons why digestion can affect our sleep. And even more digestive disorders that can interrupt sleep like GERD, Small Intestine Bowel Overgrowth (SIBO), Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease, Colitis, Pancreatitis, Gallbladder disease, etc. Here are some of the most important causes:
- Not chewing our food properly–Your mother was right. Chewing your food starts the whole process of digestion and triggers the release of enzymes that begins the digestive process. A stomach full of undigested food will definitely wake you up at night.
- Low HCL—hydrochloric acid is critical for breaking down our food. Most of us don’t make enough HCL, which is the typical cause of GERD/acid reflux/heartburn. If our food is not broken down properly, nutrients aren’t absorbed in the small intestine. HCL is also responsible for disinfecting our stomach, killing off the bad guys.
- Avoiding fat–A low fat diet or poor quality fats do not keep the bile flowing freely from the liver and gallbladder. Thick, stagnant bile causes pain, not to mention fats aren’t digested properly.
- Unhealthy bowel flora–We need good bacteria in the stomach and colon (not so much in the small intestine, in fact, too much causes SIBO). Antibiotics wipe out our healthy bowel flora.
- Food quantity–Overeating, eating too late at night or not eating enough can wake you.
- Dehydration–The digestion system, as well as our entire body, requires plain water. Dehydration can cause headaches, joint pain, back pain, constipation and cramps. That’ll keep you up at night.
- Food quality–The Standard American Diet (SAD) is heavy on processed carbohydrates. We need a majority of healthy carbohydrates on our plate like vegetables and fruit; high quality fats from healthy cooking oils, nuts/seeds; and protein from high quality meat and seafood. If your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs, it’s going to let you know about it even at night!
- Chew your food. Approximately 30 seconds.
- Avoid antacids and Proton Pump Inhibitors. Test yourself for low stomach acid and take the HCL Dosing Challenge.
- Avoid these unhealthy cooking oils and use these healthy cooking oils. Reintroduce healthy fats into your diet slowly.
- Take a high quality probiotic. Contact me for brand recommendations.
- Drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day. Factor in diuretics in your calculations.
- Ditch the processed food (anything in a bag, package or box) and load up on organic veggies, organic fruit, grass-fed meat, wild-caught seafood, pasture-raised eggs, and soaked and sprouted nuts/seeds.
- Use your hands as a tool to determine how much food you should eat.
- Eat as many vegetables per meal that will fit in your hand with the hand and fingers open.
- Protein (meats, nuts, eggs, beans) should be no more than the palm of your hand.
- Grains/Potatoes and Fruit should be no more than the size of your fist each meal, less if you are trying to lose weight.
- Dairy (cheese, yogurt, milk products and dessert) should be no more than your thumb each meal (if you tolerate dairy).
8. Sleep Lifestyle Habits
Causes: Poor habits involving our sleep environment, preparation and rituals can be a direct cause of insomnia. The good news is that these habits can be corrected easily. They fall into 3 categories:
Noise Pollution: Many times we wake up at night and don’t realize that what woke us up was an unexpected noise. Light-sleepers can be plagued by noise at night.
- Look throughout your home for gadgets, appliances, pets, and outside influences that can potentially make noise at night.
- Don’t use the delayed start cycle on your dishwasher.
- Check your automatic lawn sprinklers to be sure they are not timed to come on at night.
- Turn off your icemaker in your refrigerator at night.
- Remove all noise-producing gadgets from the bedroom such as the TV, cellphone, iPod, etc. You may be able to fall asleep with the sound of the TV or music, but you will not likely stay asleep while your brain is processing all it hears. Or you may awaken when the gadget suddenly shuts off and not realize that was what woke you.
- Avoid the use of a ‘white noise’ machine. White noise is actually machine generated static that combines all the frequencies we can hear into one tone. It’s not music, it’s a wall of sound that has been embedded with sound clips of waves or rain to make it easier to listen to than just scratchy static.
- Use earplugs.
Sleep Sanctuary: Prepare your bedroom so that it is conducive to sleep.
- Turn down the temperature to between 60 and 68 degrees ideally. A cooler bedroom mimics your body’s natural temperature drop and may be most conducive to sleep.
- Invest in a good mattress and pillow.
- Use only natural fibers in your bedding, pillows, and sheets. Natural fibers are absorbent. Synthetic fibers lack the breathability that allows air in and body moisture out.
- Be mindful of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in your bedroom. EMFs can disrupt your pineal gland and its melatonin production as well as other biological effects. Turn off any electronics in your bedroom including your wireless router.
- Add some aromatherapy to your sleep routine. Essential oils such as lavender or wild orange have proven benefits of relaxation.
Preparing for Bed: Routines and rituals to prepare your body and mind for sleep.
- Start turning down the lights throughout your home after dinner. This signals your brain that it is night time and you are preparing for sleep.
- Take a hot shower or preferably, a bath, 90-120 minutes before bed. A hot bath or shower raises the core temperature of your body. When you get out of the bath, it drops abruptly, signaling your body that you’re ready for sleep. Helps with pain too.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time seven days a week. Many people with adrenal fatigue find that they get a second wind about 11 pm. Be sure to be in bed by 10:30 in order to avoid your adrenal glands going into overdrive.
- Use a fitness tracker (such as Fit Bit or Jawbone’s UP) to help you get to bed on time and track how much sleep you are actually getting.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster but it makes sleep more fragmented, less restorative, and interferes with REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
- Avoid watching TV or using your computer at least an hour before bed. These devices emit blue light (and EMFs) which may stifle your melatonin (and serotonin) production tricking your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. Automatically dim your monitor or screen in the evening with an app like F.lux.
- Establish a relaxing pre-bedtime routine. For example, reading a book, journaling, listening to calming music, light stretches, or yoga can help you shut your mind off and signal that it’s time for bed.
- Get up if you lie awake for more than 20-30 minutes. Leave your bed and read a book or magazine or make a warm cup of herbal tea or milk, but stay warm, until you feel sleepy, then return to bed. Associate your bed with sleeping, not sleeplessness.
9. Stress and Anxiety
Cause: Life brings stress and anxiety. Nothing new there. How you manage it makes all the difference. This is our wheelhouse at Mind Blowing Wellness.
Test: Check out our Stress Self-Assessment Test to determine what type of support best suits your needs.
Solutions: Take the test and once you determine which areas need support, follow the recommendations for each area that applies to you:
- Serotonin: Lifting the Dark Cloud
- GABA: Stressed Mess
- Catecholamines: Blasting the Blahs
- Endorphins: Overly Sensitive
The truth is most mood and emotional symptoms are caused by a PHYSICAL imbalance. You have to dig deep to find it.
If you are ready to get to the root of your moods, once and for all, sign up for a free chat or jump right in and sign up for one of our one-on-one sessions to reclaim your emotions.
Be well. Sleep well.
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Joli Tripp and Mind Blowing Wellness are not medical doctors nor licensed medical professionals. No comment or recommendation should be construed as being a medical diagnosis. If you suffer from a medical or pathological condition, you should consult an appropriate healthcare provider.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.
Mind Blowing Wellness is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Mind Blowing Wellness is also an affiliate for Thrive Market receiving a small commission for new memberships.
Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms?, Datis Kharrazian, DC, DHSc, MS, 2010