Random Blatherings on Sleep Issues

Some questions to consider if you are suffering from insomnia include, but are not limited to the following: What is your current job? What job did you really want to do when you were younger?? Are you truly happy at work? Are you living with unhappy relationships? And most importantly, how is your relationship with your Self? For many of the clients that I have had the opportunity to work with, sleep is disrupted due to how they perceive their life and its purpose. 

In addition to that, imbalanced cerebral hemispheres are an issue with many of those suffering from insomnia. The majority of individuals are either Left Brain (logical/methodical/ego) or Right Brain (feeling/emotional/intuition) dominant. Strong Left Brainers (like yours truly) are often disconnected from their emotions and they tend to base everything on logic and reason, which works, until it doesn’t. Right brainers can tend to use their emotions as a way to hide from life. In an ideal situation, the Left and Right hemispheres of the brain are balanced – obviously. What is interesting here is that when under chronic stress, the non-dominant hemisphere shuts down almost completely. This obviously perpetuates the imbalance in the brain which can alter just about anything you can think of in the human body. If the cerebral hemispheres are not balanced, the pineal gland will be negatively affected and that can lead to depression and OCD- type behavior. There are repatterning exercises and infant development work that can be implemented into a properly designed corrective exercise program that can help “rebalance” the cerebral hemispheres and, in turn, help improve sleep quality.

If the individual in question is a regular exerciser, you must be careful that s/he does not have an exercise that is saggital plane dominant. Many of these exercises utilize what is known as Homologuous movements and overexposure to those types of exercises (bilateral rowing, cycling, and movements that are same arm –same leg, etc.) can actually create and perpetuate cerebral hemisphere imbalance and dysfunction and can “lock” people into Left or Right brain dominance. 

When looking at someone’s overall sleeping pattern disorder, it is important to know when the sleep patterns are disrupted. What time someone’s sleep is disturbed can give you a real indication as to the etiology of their insomnia. For example, if you frequently wake between 1 and 3 a.m., this is the peak qi cycle for the liver in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). The individual in question may have an overloaded liver and detoxification system for any number of reasons (poor quality food, drugs, food intolerances, gut/digestive issues, etc.) which is waking him or her up. If s/he is waking after 3 a.m., I would suspect unresolved emotional issues somewhere in life. 3-5 a.m. is the peak qi cycle for the lungs in TCM and the lungs typically store grief. Every organ “holds” an emotion. The liver “holds” anger. So if sleep is disrupted between certain times you can ask relevant questions that provide insight into the individual’s emotional health and well-being.

Overexposure to EMF’s, and blue light – such as television, computer/phone screens, iPads, bright fluorescent lights, etc. anytime past 8:30 – 9 p.m. will disrupt the pineal gland’s melatonin production and drain your body systems of energy. Anything with an electromagnetic field can create this type of circadian stress (alarm clocks, televisions, poor wiring in the house or room that you sleep in, etc.).  I would recommend removing anything that plugs into the wall or at the very least place these items far away from your head when you are sleeping. There are EMF detectors that you can buy that are pretty inexpensive which can help you identify EMF overload in any given room. 

Some people travel quite a bit crossing time zones which disrupts circadian rhythm and pineal gland function. The pineal gland produces melatonin which is a sleep hormone that helps prepare our body for sleep. Melatonin is made from serotonin, most of which is actually produced in the gut. Hence, if someone has gut and/or digestive issues, it will affect neurotransmitter balance in the brain, and this can easily lead to sleep issues – among many other things. Heal the brain through the gut. 

Just about everyone with sleep issues has a blood sugar regulation problem. When blood sugar is fluctuating throughout the day (secondary to poor food choices and/or poor nutrient timing, etc.), cortisol levels are also fluctuating. Elevated levels of cortisol during the day often prevent you from entering the restorative phase of sleep, or R.E.M. If blood sugar drops in the middle of the night – sometimes referred to as reactive/nocturnal hypoglycemia, cortisol will rise and wake you up. 

Fungal and parasite infections can also be implicated in sleep disruption. Worms love to keep people mentally agitated and most parasites are nocturnal so their high noon is our midnight. An interesting clue about parasites and sleep is teeth grinding – check for TMJ problems. Due to the fact that parasites are nocturnal, their increased metabolic activity at this time winds up the system and one of the easiest ways to alleviate the energy is to activate mastication. Many people grind their teeth at night and have no realization of this fact.  Assessing for parasites can get a little complicated as there are many types of worms that prefer the upper end of the intestinal tract and may not show up in traditional stool cultures. A lab assessment that assesses for DNA of parasitic species is useful here. Metametrix Labs has a great assessment for this. It also helps to keep in mind that there are over 1,000 parasites that can infect a human being, but most labs can only assess for a couple of dozen of them. 

If you suffer from disturbed sleep or any degree of insomnia, there is a good chance that you may be zinc deficient. To connect the dots here, the pineal gland produces melatonin which prepares the body for sleep. The pineal requires zinc for optimal production of melatonin. 

Dehydration can also be an issue for obvious reasons. Be sure you are drinking at least 2-3 liters of clean water each day. Chronic dehydration can be at the core of many sleep maladies.

Adrenal stress can be a part of a sleeping problem as well. Having said that, if you have gut issues, blood sugar handling problems, detoxification overload, pancreatic insufficiency, thyroid dysfunction, structural issues, etc. – these things can all drive adrenal issues so in many cases you must identify the primary forms of stress (keeping in mind that it may be mental and/or emotional) and focus your efforts there in order to truly resolve adrenal issues. 

Tips to Improve Sleep

1. Rehydrate yourself

If you are dehydrated, one of the first areas that the body will “steal” water from is the Central Nervous System (CNS). This can lead to an “irritation” in the system and be a potential cause of a fragmented sleeping pattern due to muscle spasms, restless legs and arms, altered neurotransmitter imbalances, a hyper-excited mind, and on and on.

2. Regulate your blood sugar

If your blood sugar is on a proverbial roller coaster ride, then so too will your hormones be. This is particularly true of your cortisol levels.  Fluctuating cortisol levels have been shown to make it extremely difficult to enter the restorative phase of sleep. Dysglycemia (blood sugar handling issues) can lead to decreased SIgA in the gut, inhibit T4 to T3 conversion, decrease the liver’s ability to detoxify estrogen, etc., in addition to disrupting sleep.  It is easy to end up on the insulin-cortisol see-saw and have compromised sleep due to dysglycemia.

3. Restore magnesium levels

Being deficient in magnesium, which according to C. Norm Shealy, M.D. estimates that 83% of the population is deficient, it will make it difficult typically to fall asleep. Incidentally, staying asleep may be related to issues with imbalances within the calcium-magnesium wheel in physiology.

4. Sleep in complete darkness

The body is equipped with certain types of cells that carry sunlight (or any other form of light for that matter) to centers of the brain that activate the Reticular Activating System (RAS) which is the system that wakes you up. Being exposed to light of any kind, will tend to stimulate that system and keep you awake.  As the sun goes down, begin dimming your lights and stay off of laptops, iPhones, iPads, etc. for at least 2 hours prior to bed.

5. Participate in bedtime journaling

This is something that works to help calm “monkey mind.” If you are the type of person that has a difficult time calming the mind, particularly at night, journaling may help. I recommend journaling specifically about all of the things that you are thankful/grateful for.  Make an effort to write about 10 things for which you are grateful. This will likely have a strong benefit on your quality of sleep and overall outlook on life.

6. Eat some fat before bedtime

In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) fat is very grounding (because it is “heavy”). As such, it can have the effect of “sedating” the nervous system and allowing you to calm down and fall asleep with greater ease.

7. Establish regular sleep-wake rhythm

The human body is especially responsive to rhythms. Setting regular sleep and wake times are best for optimizing sleep. Try your best to be asleep by 10:30 p.m. and do not wake up before 6 a.m. if at all possible.

8. Decrease EMF exposure

Remove all EMF stressors (cell phones, alarm clocks, TV’s, radios, computers) from the room that you sleep in. EMF’s can also stimulate the pineal plexus and activate the RAS.

9. Optimize detoxification function

In TCM the peak qi hours for the liver is between 1-3 a.m. If the liver, and other detoxification organs, are overloaded for any reason (medical drugs, petrochemicals, OTC meds, Rx meds, chemical residues on crappy food, and on and on), you may find yourself waking between 1 and 3 a.m. very frequently. This can also happen if you are dealing with excessive oxidative stress.

10. Balance the Acupuncture Meridian System

Get some great Acupuncture done.  This will help decrease Sympathetic Nervous System tone and may allow you to actually RELAX.

11. Adhere to the 15% rule

This rule states that 15% of the time that you are awake needs to be solely dedicated to doing things that make YOU happy. As an example, if you are awake for a typical 16 hour day, roughly 2.4 hours in that day need to be set aside to do what makes YOU happy. This will have a profound impact, not only on your sleep quality, but on your overall quality of and outlook on life.

12. Avoid caffeine after 2 p.m.

Depending on the rate at which your liver can detoxify caffeine, consuming caffeine after 2 p.m. can significantly disrupt your anabolic repair cycles as well as your sleep. The detoxification capacity can vary greatly from person to person.Consider that Roger J. Williams, PhD, demonstrated as much as a 1000% variance in the liver’s ability to detoxify alcohol amongst members of the same family.

This is by far not a comprehensive list of things that can disrupt optimal sleep patterns, but it will help point some of you in the right direction for additional research and investigation. You can also review a previous post I have entitled Get Some Sleep for additional information on sleep. I hope some of you found this useful. Use what resonates with you and throw the rest to the curb.


Recommended Reading:

  1. 1.      Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival by T.S. Wiley
  2. 2.      The Body Clock Guide to Better Health by Michael Smolensky, PhD and Lynne Lamberg
  3. 3.      The Promise of Sleep by William C. Dement

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