Solving the Sleep Dilemma

Have you spent nights tossing and turning without being able to rest? Some people spend every night that way. I’m amazed at how many people tell me that they sleep only one to four hours a night.

When a person doesn’t get enough sleep at night nothing works right. Sleep is necessary for a healthy immune system, normal hormonal function and recovery of the body and mind. Lack of sleep is even connected to an inability to lose weight.

When trying to figure out what is causing the sleep problem, as always it is best to first consider the simplest things. Is there a dietary problem? Do you drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages too late in the day or too much? You may not be aware that they interfere with sleep. One patient I had was drinking a 12pack of coke daily and wondered why he had sleep problems and was always tired? Another patient was drinking a whole pot of coffee every day. Each of these things may not be a part of your awareness because you do it daily so it’s not usually something that comes to mind. Eating too late in the day and too heavy a meal can contribute to sleep problems. One person I know has sensitivity to chocolate (of all things!) can’t sleep on nights when she has eaten it.

Some people get busy at night and just don’t go to bed when they need to. If you don’t go to bed at the right time of night you can throw off your body’s natural sleep cycle. For a person who has difficulty sleeping, going to bed at the same time each night is helpful, it creates a pattern that allows the body to get used to it. Melatonin is the body’s sleep wake cycle hormone. It seems to have a lot to do with changes in sleep patterns and is very effective when you are traveling to a place where the time zone is different.

Hormonal changes as people age contribute to increasing sleep difficulty for many. Progesterone seems to be the main problem here and a low dose of natural progesterone can help resolve it. Each person is different in her needs however and some people can’t sleep because of thyroid, estrogen, cortisol, or testosterone levels being off. We can use hormone tests to evaluate which hormones might be contributing to the problem.

Brain chemistry is another factor that contributes to sleep problems. Serotonin, GABA, epinephrine, and dopamine are just some of the chemicals produced by the brain to affect sleep. We can measure these chemicals now with a simple urine test. Often supplements that include amino acids, vitamins, and herbs will help balance these chemicals naturally.

Sleep apnea is becoming more and more of a concern as people who have sleep difficulties get tested and find that they are not breathing well at night. There are sleep labs where this can be tested and diagnosed. If you have sleep apnea, a machine called a CPAP can help. It is quite loud and cumbersome so it could contribute to sleep disturbance itself but many of my patients find so much relief that the noise doesn’t bother them.

Don’t give up if you’ve tried a few different things for sleep without a solution, there are many options that could help. Angela had difficulty for years, and became addicted to sleep medication. When she came to me, we tested her hormones, and her neurotransmitters. It turned out that she was high in cortisol, low in progesterone, and low in serotonin. She began taking supplements to balance her chemistry. Over the course of a few months she was able to begin going off her medications.

Author's Bio: 

Shiroko Sokitch graduated from University of Washington School of Medicine in 1984 and the Northwest Institute of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in Seattle, WA in 1990. She did two years of a general surgery residency at Swedish Hospital in Seattle before deciding that the surgeon's way of life was not for her. While attending acupuncture school and starting her alternative medical career, she practiced as an emergency medical physician for ten years. Since 1993, she has owned and operated Heart to Heart to Heart Medical Center, a complementary medical center in Santa Rosa, CA. In October of 2009, she opened an office in Novato, CA as well. Since January of 2000, she has also written an alternative medical advice column in the Healdsburg, Windsor, and Sebastopol newspapers. Since March of 2009, she and Sivan Garr have had a public access television show titled, Perspectives on Healing which is now airing in 9 cities in California.