5 Essential Strategies for Insomnia
Insomnia and mania will both respond to these natural solutions.
Posted Dec 16, 2016
Our brain-mind is regulated by the light and dark cycle and given how disrupted those cycles are in our modern life is it any wonder that insomnia plagues our clients? Insomnia is characterized by either the inability to fall asleep or waking in the middle of the night and not easily returning to slumber. It is important to distinguish which one is the problem in order to identify which of the following strategies will help.
Our brains are designed to wake with the light and sleep with the dark; this is called the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle or circadian rhythm. We see the imbalance of this rhythm in insomnia, depression, PTSD, Bi-Polar, fibromyalgia, PMS and aging. In order to address these symptoms successfully, we need to balance the underlying problem; disruption of circadian rhythm. Indeed, the reliance on pharmaceuticals only worsens the rhythm and disrupts brain function so your clients will be grateful if you provide these alternatives.
Strategy 1: Blue Light Blocking Glasses
The blue-green wavelength of the light spectrum is the most important wave to depress melatonin, the sleep hormone that is released upon exposure to dark. This is why watching television, reading late, or working on the computer, (all of which streams the blue-green light directly to the brain via the eyes) is stimulating and contributes to insomnia. This is also why we apply bright light and blue light exposure during the morning in order to wake the brain and to treat SAD and depression.
However, if we want to sleep soundly, this light wave must be blocked at night. As we age we have less melatonin so the challenge increases. Special amber tinted Blue Light Blocking Glasses that block the blue wave of the light spectrum have been demonstrated to improve sleep onset. I recommend these glasses to my clients (including teens with the Diagnosis of ADHD) to use 1 hour before they wish to fall asleep. This also allows them to continue doing what they wish to with light on yet still reap the benefits. Use the glasses for at least 3 nights in a row before determining their efficacy for you.
Strategy 2: Add Melatonin
These individuals may also benefit from 0.5 mg of melatonin an hour before bed. Beware: Many people take too much of this important hormone. Do not go above 0.5mg and I do not recommend it to anyone under the age of 40 except on an occasional basis.
Strategy 3: Blue Light Blocking Glasses for Symptoms of Mania
Bi Polar is now understood to occur as a disruption of circadian rhythm. Hence, natural approaches to reregulating this rhythm will help to reduce symptoms. Improving symptoms can be done effectively with blue light blocking glasses and nutritional support. In one study, participants wore glasses between 6 pm-8 am daily, removing the glasses for sleep and ensuring no light exposure until 8 am. The use of glasses in this cohort demonstrated reduction of symptoms based on the Young Mania Rating Scale.
Strategy 4: Natural Lithium
Lithium Carbonate is well known as a medication beneficial for reducing symptoms of bi polar but it also has terrible side effects which require that we seek alternatives. However, the mineral lithium (Lithium orotate) is a natural, side effect-free alternative which is very useful for helping to re-regulate circadian rhythms and the sleep-wake cycle. Recommended dose can range from 15-150 mg a day for severe depression. It is always advisable to work with a knowledgeable clinician who can provide personalized care and testing.
Strategy 5. Eat Before Bed? Yes!
Sleep onset challenges are one type of insomnia but what if you fall asleep easily but awake a few hours after going to sleep? You may benefit from blue-light blocking glasses and many people with mood lability or an older brain will benefit from Lithium orotate, but the missing piece here may be the need to stabilize blood glucose levels to help maintain sleep. To test whether this will help, just eat an ounce or so of animal protein or raw nuts and an ounce of a starchy carbohydrate just before going to sleep. Do this for several nights before determining efficacy. You may notice a slow but steady improvement.
Improving sleep is a process. Sleep usually improves by enacting several self-care strategies simultaneously. In future posts, I will explore further other methods to support light-dark rhythms, and hence sleep.
Rhythms of Recovery: Trauma Nature and the Body
Interested in knowing more about circadian rhythm and trauma? My clinical book Rhythms of Recovery: Trauma, Nature and the Body explores this and other integrative medicine for mental health strategies that work!
Henriksen TE, Skrede S, Fasmer OB, et al. Blue-blocking glasses as additive treatment for mania: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Bipolar Disord. 2016;18:221-232.
Ward Dean MD and Jim English Lithium Orotate: The Unique, Safe Mineral with Multiple Uses https://nutritionreview.org/2013/04/lithium-orotate/