By Carol L. Roberts, MD, ABIHM
Sleep disturbances are a normal part of a normal life. We all have bad nights once in a while.
But when sleep becomes an elusive goal most nights, when we lie in bed staring at the ceiling half the night, when we wake too early or fall asleep too late – our body suffers.
So often, patients’ biggest complaint is lack of sleep, especially later in life.
As we age, we are told “Oh you don’t need as much sleep at your age!” If that were true, why do we fall asleep in the chair watching TV, or nearly crash the car because we can barely keep our eyes open? This is not normal at any age.
Some of the reasons we don’t sleep are easy to fix – eating too late at night can give us heartburn, the fix is obvious.
Alcohol will make us sleepy, but also tends to wake us in the night when it wears off. Don’t drink most nights.
Time in front of television screens, computers or even our mobile devices can disrupt our sleep. Put away your phone and turn off the TV late at night…this is in our capacity to fix without needing a doctor.
Inactivity can be a source of restlessness. The body needs movement. People who live in their heads, thinking too much, and not using their body in a healthy way, will have a tough time shutting off that busy mind at night. The best remedy is an enjoyable activity that gets you huffing and sweating – a least a little bit! The activity doesn’t have to be bone crunching exercise, it could be a half hour of dancing or pickle ball or whatever brings you pleasure, earlier in the day. It’s not good to get the blood flowing right before you try to sleep. Better to take a hot bath instead, right before bedtime. Add some Epsom salts to relax those great muscles you were building earlier in the day.
The prime cause of insomnia in my patients is hormone deficiencies and imbalances.
Low thyroid function can keep you awake at night and exhausted during the day. Try using iodized salt, or taking an iodine supplement to improve thyroid function. Iodine is crucial for normal hormone function, for brain function, and for prostate and breast cancer prevention, but few doctors remember that. We are surrounded by minerals like fluoride, chloride and bromide, that can replace what little iodine we get from shellfish, seaweed and (if we still use salt) iodized salt. Most Americans are very deficient in iodine and don’t even know what that is or why it’s important. Replacing iodine in the diet can often fix low thyroid function (with its attendant insomnia). Beyond that easy fix, you would need a doctor to help regulate your thyroid.
The sex hormones are crucial for normal brain function, including sleep. Women do well with progesterone replacement after menopause, with little to no risk of cancer (it’s the Pharma version of fake progesterone that increases risk of cancer). You can buy over the counter progesterone topical cream, but for proper hormone replacement therapy please see a knowledgeable physician who uses bio identical hormones. Sometimes different forms of this hormone are required, and any menopausal lady who wants to be young, juicy, and well rested as long as possible will need the help of a hormone savvy practitioner.
Men are a lot less complicated hormonally. They need testosterone as they age. Poor sleep is one clue that a man might be needing more testosterone. Also, sexual dysfunction, loss of interest in sex, a growing waistline and “man boobs” are a sure sign of testosterone deficiency. Men also tend to get grumpy without their favorite hormone, so testosterone it is definitely a brain support treatment (and marriage support too) for men as they age.
Melatonin is a hormone regulated by our biological clock. It is produced by the pineal gland at night from the same nutritional factors as serotonin which is made in the daytime. Melatonin is cancer preventative and immune system boosting. It is so safe that, no matter how much was given, researchers were unable to kill a mouse with melatonin. I like to take 5-10mg at night for those reasons. This is also a good strategy for insomniacs.
Learning techniques for shutting off the “busy mind” is always in order. Meditation, spending quiet time in nature, reading an actual book at night are all good practices to adopt. So is a little homeopathic remedy called Coffee Cruda, made from raw coffee beans. In homeopathy, often the substance that would “cause” a problem is given in special form (homeopathically prepared) to neutralize those very symptoms. Caffeine would keep you awake, but Coffee Cruda calms down a racing mind. It can be taken in the daytime for too much stress, it is not a knockout pill, it is simply the song of a relaxed state of being.
Finally, here’s the fun part.
For those of us who don’t have a warm body to cuddle with at night, and our cats or dogs won’t stay spooning very long, I recommend buying a large, fuzzy fun stuffed animal to hold close at night. This may sound odd, but there is something primal about clutching something to your heart at night. Make sure it’s not an allergy attractor for you, if so, a pillow might do the job just fine.
Just don’t tell the neighbors, they might not understand!
Happy good night’s sleep!
This article was featured in the Summer 2021 issue of Essential Naples Magazine.
Dr. Carol L. Roberts is medical director at Naples Center for Functional Medicine and author of “Good Medicine: A Return to Common Sense.” Dr. Roberts has practiced functional, integrative and holistic medicine for nearly 30 years.