Struggle With Insomnia? Read This.
Do you pass out as soon as your head hits the pillow? Or do you toss and turn for hours on end? If you're having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, you may be struggling with insomnia... and a quick google search will probably suggest a solution called melatonin. But what IS melatonin, and can it really help you sleep? Let me explain...
Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle in the brain. It's produced at night which is the reason you start to feel tired after sundown. And there are MANY reasons why you may have low levels of melatonin at night which is disrupting your sleep. Factors like aging, affective disorders (like depression), delayed sleep-phase disorder, and jet lag can play a huge role in your brain's melatonin production.
So, taking melatonin before bedtime may help restimulate your natural circadian rhythm and make it easier to sleep at night, and stay awake during the day. However, if your struggle to get a good night's rest isn't caused by a disrupted rhythm, melatonin might not help.
Some other common causes of insomnia include:
- Stress and anxiety
- Poor sleep habits
- Eating late in the evening
- Leaky Gut
- Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol
The good news is, for most people, insomnia only lasts a few weeks… and it can often be addressed with lifestyle changes.
My #1 suggestion to my patients:
Turn off the TV and put away other devices (like your cell phone) at least an hour before bed. Even if your circadian rhythm hasn't been disrupted by travel or an unusual schedule, screens can confuse your body and mimic the symptoms of jumping between time zones. (Experts call this "social jet-lag.")
You can also try adding these to your nightly routine to combat insomnia:
- Lavender oil
- Light therapy
However, in more severe cases, insomnia can last for months...and become a chronic problem that isn't as easy to kick. If you have trouble sleeping for more than a few weeks, talk to your doctor. It could be a sign of something more serious, like a sleep disorder, primary insomnia, or a problem with one (or more) of your medications.
Some of my patients have used a sleep journal to track their habits… and, in many cases, it's helped me find the cause(s) of their insomnia. Try recording your nighttime routine, including anything you had to eat or drink, and any medications you take. You can share this journal with your doctor, and work to find the root of your sleep troubles.
It may also help to have a plan for what to do when you can’t sleep. Try relaxing in bed with a book, listening to calming music, or practicing yoga. Everyone is different, so find the method that works for you.
Wishing you the best of health,
Dr. Vincent Pedre, MD