Insomnia and Sleeping Difficulties

There’s often a reason why we’re not sleeping and it generally falls into one of these three categories:

  1. Sleep isn’t a priority but, ‘working hard and playing hard’ is.
  2. Not managing stress, so anxiety and tension take over.
  3. External factors beyond our control, e.g. young children, chronic pain, a partner who snores or menopause.

What happens to us when we don’t sleep?

Most of us have experienced insomnia at some point. Sleep disturbances contribute to low moods, extreme fatigue, poor memory and concentration, muscle tension, headaches and digestive problems. It also plays a role in illnesses like depression, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and cancer.

What’s the right amount of sleep – and when?

Ideally, you want to get between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Most of our restorative and repair processes take place between 10pm and 2am.

I’m ‘too tired’ to sleep!

In naturopathy we often refer to insomnia as the body being ‘too tired’ to sleep. But what does this actually mean?

Sleep comes in ‘waves’. When we miss that first wave of sleep, we often get what feels that ‘second wind’ because the nervous system signals the secretion of more adrenaline late at night, usually around 11pm. This can keep us awake till 3am in the morning! Aim to be in bed and asleep by 10pm, or 10.30 at the latest.

Sleep hormones

When we don’t get enough sleep over a prolonged period, it affects our adrenal gland’s and our body’s ability to regulate two very important hormones:

  1. Cortisol (which gets us up in the morning)
  2. Melatonin (helps us get to sleep and stay asleep)

Not getting enough quality protein and fats along with B vitamins, magnesium and zinc can also alter the production of cortisol and melatonin.

Burning the candle at both ends

‘Burning the candle at both ends’ can start out as fun, but not only does it disrupt our hormones, it also affects our circadian rhythms, which regulate our sleep/wake cycle. Eventually we stop feeling tired and instead we feel hyper-stimulated (‘tired but wired’), even though the body may feel exhausted.

Addictive behaviours

We often resort to poor lifestyle choices and addictive behaviours to cope with insomnia, using one drug (caffeine) to wake up and another (alcohol/sleeping tablet) to wind down.

Unfortunately, self-medicating just keeps us stuck in the insomnia cycle.


Managing sleep disorders can be complex and there’s no such thing as a quick fix. However, just as there’s an ‘insomnia cycle’, there is also a ‘wellbeing’ cycle!

Taking the time to work out the triggers of poor sleep and resetting your body clock (circadian rhythm) is the best way to re-establish a healthy sleeping pattern.

Foods to support restful sleep

Foods for healthy sleep: lean animal protein, essential fatty acids (raw nuts, seeds & oily fish), leafy green vegetables, whole grains and pure water.

Foods to avoid: caffeine, alcohol, high sugar snacks and allergy provoking foods.

Herbal remedies to calm the mind and restore sleep

Herbal sleep remedies such as: chamomile, passionflower, hops and valerian (combined), California poppy, and Zizyphus calm your nervous system and relax your body.

Manage stress and creating balance

Investigate what’s causing you to be ‘un-balanced’ and be honest about changes you can make to re-establish a sense of balance and peace. As a naturopath I investigate how your lifestyle choices affect your health and happiness, and then we work together to realign your goals. From here, restful sleep begins to flow naturally.

10 top tips for restorative sleep

  1. Listen for the sleep signals and catch the wave of sleep. Aim to be in bed (asleep) by 10pm – this may mean going to bed around 9.30.
  2. Get up at the same time every day, even if you’ve had a late night. Don’t stay in bed past 8am.
  3. Thrive on morning exercise, outdoors in the sunlight. Avoid late night exercise.
  4. Practice relaxation techniques throughout the day – not just for a couple of minutes before bed (it won’t work!).
  5. Make your bedroom a sacred space, free from technology.
  6. If any of these are happening; snoring, sleep apnoea, baby not sleeping, restless legs syndrome, seek help!
  7. Aim to eat your last meal no later than 7pm.
  8. Learn to prioritise yourself and say NO. In the long run you will have more to give.
  9. Eat quality protein, fats, whole grains and green veggies.
  10. From midday onwards, avoid over stimulating activities, food and drink.

Bonus tips!

  1. Keep the room in darkness – or try an eye mask.
  2. Keep the room well ventilated.
  3. Avoid daytime naps.
  4. Ensure mattress and pillows are supportive.

Don’t struggle alone. Call Belinda 0400 225 771 today to book a naturopathic consultation or secure your place in one of her 10 week gentle yoga/mindfulness programs.

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