We are a sleepless nation. According to the National Institute of Health, “50 to 70 million Americans chronically suffer from a disorder of sleep and wakefulness, hindering daily functioning and adversely affecting health and longevity.” In fact, sleep shortages contribute to mental health issues, inflammation, heart disease, metabolic consequences, lowered immunity, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, among other ills. And those of us with sleepless children can attest to how torturous it can be. The most frequent sleep problems noted for kids are a difficulty falling asleep, restless sleep, not falling asleep in their own bed, nightmares and frequent waking.
So, how much sleep do we need?
Children ages 1-3 = 12-14 hours per night
Children ages 3-5 = 11-13 hours per night
Children ages 5-11 = 10-11 hours per night
Persons over 11 = 8.5 -9.5 hours per night
When we aren’t sleeping, we desperately seek help from our conventional doctors. They look inside their toolbox and offer medication that only masks symptoms and comes with side-effects. Unfortunately, they are trained to virtually ignore nutritional requirements, holistic approaches and natural remedies—even when the latter aren’t only cheaper and more effective, but sometimes the only good option.
It is estimated that approximately one-third of those diagnosed with a sleeping disorder start taking a medication like Ambien or Belsomra. About half of us have with sleeplessness report using an over-the-counter medication (nightly) for a year or longer. And others, take a very powerful hormone supplement called melatonin.
These practices are extremely alarming. Some become very dependent on sleep medication while others report changes in behavior, irritability, digestive woes, nervousness, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, memory loss, hallucinations, and even paralysis.
What about melatonin supplements?
Even though supplements are often recommended, we must realize that melatonin is a sleep and body clock regulator – and NOT a sleeping pill. Melatonin also carries many risks. Melatonin is a hormone derived from serotonin and produced by the pineal gland that plays a role in sleep, aging, and reproduction in mammals. Vitamin B3, B6, B9 and the amino acid tryptophan trigger the production of serotonin, which then triggers the production of melatonin in the brain. I say, give the body the co-factors the brain needs to make it. Otherwise we risk increased seizure activity, testicular atrophy (reduced testicle size and/or loss of function), and increased risk of type 2 diabetes, agitation, nightmares, constipation, and other behavioral changes. Also, giving melatonin supplementation could mess with our natural circadian rhythm and signal the brain to stop making it naturally.
So, what should a sleepless person do?
It is important to seek out a physician that will dig deeper. I have found the most helpful physicians were homeopathic practitioners, doctors of naturopathic medicine, as well as Integrative and Functional Medicine Doctors. Practitioners of Functional and Integrative Medicine take the whole person into account (body, mind, and spirit), and makes use of all appropriate therapies, both conventional and alternative. The Functional Medicine model considers the diagnosis, of course, but also seeks to answer the question, “Why does this person have this illness?”
My book titled, Healing without Hurting goes into great detail about the numerous non-medication recommendations, but here is a quick checklist of possible reasons “why” a person may suffer with insomnia, sleep apnea and restlessness. If you suffer from a sleep disorder, I would highly recommend you investigate these possible contributors with your health practitioner.
18 Reasons You Aren't Sleeping
Adrenal fatigue and low cortisol.
Hormone imbalances causing anxiety.
Food sensitivities, reflux and other negative food reactions.
Eating protein too close to bedtime which keeps the digestive system active.
Drinking caffeine and taking SSRIs and stimulant medication.
Drinking alcohol or taking other drugs.
Taking over-the-counter cold medication and blood pressure medication.
Exercising too late in the day.
Vitamin B3, B5, B6 and/or B9 deficiency.
Vitamin D deficiency.
Amino acid deficiency or imbalance. Look into GABA and tryptophan levels.
Deficiency of important minerals such as iron, magnesium, zinc and calcium.
Obesity, Hypoglycemia and imbalanced sugar levels.
Large adenoids and tonsils, which may require medical attention.
Habits such as taking naps during the day, watching television, and playing on the computer late at night instead of taking time to wind down in the evening.
A highly stressful lifestyle.