6 Causes of Insomnia and 6 Natural Tips to Overcome It
March 11th, 2020
It’s the end of another long, hectic day when it hits you: insomnia. No matter how burnt out or tired you are, it seems the minute your head hits the pillow you are wide awake. Nothing can lull you to sleep. You want a natural solution so you try listening to music, reading a book, or meditating, yet you can’t find a way to get the rest you need. You are both “tired and wired,” tossing and turning all night until the sun comes up and the cycle starts all over again.
If you’re someone who deals with chronic insomnia, you know what a torment it is to lie awake night after night, crazed with exhaustion yet unable to fall asleep. Insomnia can be extremely frustrating and, without adequate, restful sleep, it could also be putting you at an increased risk for numerous medical conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
What you may not realize is that there are certain underlying health problems that could be behind your inability to fall asleep, your problems with staying asleep, or your habit of waking up too early. The key to overcoming insomnia is to identify the root causes that are keeping you from a night-long, restful sleep. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most common causes of insomnia. Then I’ll share some simple strategies for addressing the underlying issues keeping you from getting the quality, restorative sleep you need.
1. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) causes heartburn and acid reflux, both of which can interrupt sound sleep. In fact, three out of four people experience disrupted sleep due to GERD symptoms.2 That’s because the backflow of acid and food into the esophagus can worsen heartburn when you lie down, particularly if you are a late-night snacker.
This exacerbates GERD symptoms such as coughing and choking, which can lead to insomnia, sleep apnea, and daytime sleepiness. Reflux is often caused by food sensitivities, a poor diet, too little stomach acid, stress, or gut infections such as SIBO. The key to overcoming GERD is to pinpoint and address the root cause behind your symptoms.
It’s estimated that between 3 and 10 million people suffer from an overactive thyroid, known as hyperthyroidism. I was diagnosed with the autoimmune form of hyperthyroidism called Graves’ disease during my second year of medical school, so I know how it affects sleep! Hyperthyroidism ramps up all of your metabolic processes and overstimulates your nervous system, leading to tremors, night sweats, a racing heart, and anxiety — a perfect storm for insomnia. If you suspect hyperthyroidism is at the root of your sleep problems, check out my book The Thyroid Connection for a comprehensive guide to getting your life back.
3. Neurological Conditions
Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis are linked to increased incidences of insomnia. Nearly everyone with Parkinson’s has insomnia, and those with multiple sclerosis are three times as likely to have sleep disturbances or poor quality sleep.3 Sleep disruption is partly due to pain, tremors, or spasticity, though insomnia also seems to be a symptom of the neurological disorder itself. Additionally, medications prescribed for these conditions can interrupt REM cycles and cause severe nightmares, thereby worsening the cycle of daytime fatigue and sleepless nights.1
4. Musculoskeletal Disorders
If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or fibromyalgia, it’s likely that these disorders are keeping you awake at night. The musculoskeletal pain from these disorders can make it difficult to sleep. Often those with fibromyalgia experience other conditions such as restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea, which can compound insomnia. In turn, poor sleep can increase stress hormones, causing flare-ups for those with RA and leading to worsened joint pain and depression — not exactly a recipe for a restful night!
5. Respiratory Problems
Asthma, sleep apnea, and other respiratory issues could be behind your insomnia. Difficulty breathing while lying down — and the accompanying anxiety of having an asthma attack while asleep — can cause sleep disruption for many people with these issues. Steroids and other medications for respiratory problems have a stimulating effect akin to caffeine, making it more difficult to fall asleep in the first place. Plus, circadian-related changes in the tone of the muscles surrounding the airways cause breathing airways to constrict at night, raising the chance of an asthma attack.
6. Anxiety and Depression
Many of the conditions above can cause you to feel anxiousness or experience depression. Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or having fitful nights where you feel even more exhausted come morning are hallmarks of these psychological issues. An astounding 90% of people with depression experience insomnia. The persistent worrying and tension associated with anxiety can keep you up all night as you are plagued by thoughts about situations beyond your control.
How to Overcome Insomnia and Promote Restful Sleep
Now the good news: people with insomnia are not doomed to a lifelong struggle! Once you’ve figured out the root cause of your insomnia, you can work on incorporating some of the following strategies for promoting better-quality, more restful sleep.
1. Optimize your diet, especially for bed.
If you have GERD or other GI issues that are causing your insomnia, it is critical to optimize your diet to reduce reflux and other symptoms. Fried foods and other heavy, fatty, and spicy meals can exacerbate acid reflux, especially when consumed in large quantities right before bedtime. Drinking a lot before bed can also disrupt sleep due to frequent trips to the bathroom during the night. These interruptions could keep you from ever entering REM sleep, the most restorative type of sleep.
Limit or abstain from alcohol and caffeine if you struggle with insomnia. Alcohol disrupts sleep and increases the number of sleep apnea events. The acidity of alcoholic and caffeinated beverages can worsen GERD. Caffeine also delays your circadian rhythm and exacerbates anxiety, while alcohol can lead to depression, which we know is a major factor in insomnia.
2. Reduce your inflammation.
Most chronic illnesses, including many of the conditions listed above, are caused by systemic inflammation. Our modern-day diets are full of toxic foods (including sugar, alcohol, and processed junk) and inflammatory foods (gluten and dairy in particular) that trigger or worsen the symptoms of these conditions. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet and taking supplements such as curcumin that support a healthy inflammatory response can help you work your way down the autoimmune spectrum. You can reverse the painful symptoms of autoimmunity and other inflammatory conditions including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and GERD.
3. Go for a walk.
Studies have shown that moderate-intensity exercise significantly improves the sleep of those with chronic insomnia. Staying active during the day (not right before bed!) reduces the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and increases the duration of sleep. Walking, in particular, can help with stress relief and management. Gentle exercise is also beneficial for depression, anxiety, and joint pain, all of which interfere with quality sleep. Interestingly, high-intensity exercise and lifting weights have no effect on insomnia, so keep it nice and easy with a long, brisk walk!
4. Develop good sleep hygiene habits.
Unsurprisingly, what you do during the day has a huge effect on how well you sleep. If your sleep schedule is all over the place (staying up until 2 a.m. binge-watching your favorite show, taking naps in the afternoon) your body will be unable to regulate its internal clock. Your circadian rhythm can be thrown off by caffeine, blue light exposure from fluorescent lighting, computers, and TVs, and a lack of natural sunlight throughout the day.
Keep a strict schedule of going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. Try getting outside early in the morning to stimulate melatonin production. Limit or eliminate caffeine, which can throw off your internal clock, and skip the catnap and late-night screen time. If you can’t avoid working on a device before bed, invest in a pair of amber glasses to help block out the blue light. Create a supportive sleep environment with a cool, quiet room darkened with blackout curtains.
5. Try aromatherapy.
Putting a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow could have a profound impact on your sleep. Lavender has a long anecdotal tradition as a natural remedy for insomnia, and scientific research supports those claims. Studies have demonstrated lavender essential oil’s ability to decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression. What’s more, using lavender for aromatherapy reduces restlessness and disturbed sleep, and has a beneficial influence on general well-being.
6. Support Sleep with Natural Supplements.
I custom-formulated my Rest and Restore™ to support falling asleep fast AND to encourage deep and restful sleep so that your neurotransmitters, hormones, and your entire body have ample opportunity to replenish and rejuvenate overnight. Reaching those lower levels of sleep is vital to maintaining optimal health and feeling your best every day so when you wake up, you’re ready to tackle the new day ahead.
It includes magnesium glycinate, a powerful combination of the elemental mineral, magnesium, and the amino acid, glycine. Magnesium is vital to help relax stiff and tense muscles, and it is involved in over 300 chemical reactions in your body (many that are associated with sleep!). Glycine is an amino acid that can act as a neurotransmitter inhibitor in your brain, helping to support a calm and relaxed mood, a sense of well being, and a healthy night’s sleep.
I also made sure this natural sleep formula includes L-theanine, a unique amino acid found in green tea. I source mine from decaffeinated green tea leaves. When your brain is in a beta brainwave pattern, you are more likely to feel energized, tense, stressed, fearful, or anxious. L-theanine helps promote an alpha brainwave pattern that is often associated with a state of calm, such as you may experience while meditating or reading a good book on your day off.
GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a powerful and effective neurotransmitter inhibitor that has been the subject of many impressive clinical trials. The pharma GABA® I use in my supplement has been shown in clinical trials to help increase the production of alpha brain waves in your brain. It creates a profound sense of physical relaxation so you can finally relax before bed.
Because magnesium helps relax occasional muscle tension, and L-theanine & GABA both encourage an alpha brainwave pattern that promotes physical and mental relaxation, Rest and Restore™ is the perfect supplement to support a calm and relaxed mood during the daytime as well as in the evening to ensure you get the rest you need — and deserve!