The surest way to make sure that sleep-natural remedies work is by understanding why you can’t sleep well at night.
It’s common to believe that we just need to sedate ourselves in order to go to sleep, but what we need to understand is why exactly our body and mind refuse to surrender so we can fall asleep and stay asleep easily.
Over the past decade of clinical practice, I have found certain imbalances come up over and over again with people struggling to get good, consistent sleep. When you understand these issues, then you can apply sleep-natural remedies that actually work.
If you want to check your sleep hygiene and bedtime routine habits, check out my article called “9 Tips for Sleep Hygiene that Actually Work.”
Sleep-natural remedies that work
Let’s explore a few issues that are at the root of why sleepless nights happen and what to do so you can start sleeping better. I know sleeping poorly is incredibly hard for many and it makes life more stressful, which in turn makes the sleep issue worse.
As we explore these root causes for sleep issues and some natural remedies, remember that you are your own, unique individual, and that you may have a combination of these issues. Therefore, working with a medical provider may be the best next step, after taking into consideration the rest of this article.
Cortisol issues causing sleep issues
Cortisol is a hormone, and it is nature’s built-in alarm system. As you can imagine, sleeping through a loud alarm is not easy. So we want to shut it off to begin with, but it’s an absolute must that we figure out why it has gone off to begin with. Just like you would if your fire alarm has gone off in the middle of the night at your house.
In a healthy individual, cortisol reaches its peak between 6 and 8am. That’s what gives you the wonderful oomph in the morning. It then gradually drops, especially after 2pm, and reaches a low point around 8pm and for the duration of the night. Chronic stress tends to create a disruption in this natural rhythm.
Chronic stress comes in different forms. It can be from daily mental and emotional stress, but it can also come from the root causes I am mentioning in the rest of this article, such as inflammatory foods and gut infections.
Cortisol testing can be done through saliva or urine and can give us insight into how to choose the best natural remedies. Of course, identifying why the cortisol levels are imbalanced is crucial. Sleep-natural remedies for imbalanced cortisol levels that are generally safe to use even before testing further are herbs such as holy basil, ashwagandha, and rhodiola. In addition, acupuncture supports the healing process and balances the cortisol levels. You can read more about cortisol and sleep and how to balance its levels.
Imbalanced brain neurotransmitters sleep-natural remedies
Neurotransmitters are the body’s chemical messengers. Some of the neurotransmitters are inhibitory (calming), some are excitatory.
The inhibitory neurotransmitters act as the brakes in the car (and the oil I’d like to say): in balanced amounts, they calm you down, soothe you, and keep you happy, content, and sleeping well. Two of the most well-known calming neurotransmitters are GABA and serotonin.
Low GABA may show symptoms such as physical tension, unwanted thoughts, ruminating thoughts, or the need to self-medicate in order to feel calm (such as with alcohol). Taking GABA as a supplement can be beneficial. Foods that are rich in B complex are helpful, along with L-theanine (found in green tea). Testing for this neurotransmitter can be helpful because it can give us a much more complete picture of its levels along with other neurotransmitters such as glutamate (which is closely related to GABA).
Low serotonin may be accompanied by a busy mind, anxiety (but also reprocessing), sugar cravings in the evening, PMS, hormonal imbalances, irritability, winter blues, impostor syndrome, or anger.
About 90 percent of serotonin is produced in the gut; therefore the health of the gut is crucial for serotonin production. Serotonin comes from the amino acid tryptophan, which is found in food. Natural remedies that we can modulate through diet are wonderful because eating is something we already do every day, so it’s easier to seamlessly implement good changes. Read more about foods high in tryptophan here.
In addition, if low in serotonin, supplementing with 5 HTP can be supportive (talk to your doctor first if you are on an SSRI medication).
Excitatory neurotransmitters can keep you up if they are too elevated. Examples of such neurotransmitters are norepinephrine, glutamine, and histamine.
As some of these neurotransmitters break down to be eliminated out of the body, sometimes they can take certain routes that are more inflammatory. When that happens, sleep issues can also be common.
This is just a glimpse into the complex world of neurotransmitters. Testing can be crucial to identify where the issues are. Since the neurotransmitter testing can be controversial, I wrote an article about this.
Imbalanced sex hormones in sleep issues and natural remedies
Hormonal changes are one of the most common culprits for sleep troubles, especially for women over 30. Hormone fluctuation during reproductive years, and perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause, can influence the quality of your sleep greatly.
One of the most common scenarios is having a higher estrogen and lower progesterone. This imbalanced ratio between the two can cause sleep issues, especially premenstrually. That means you may sleep well or have mild sleep issues the entire month, but it can get even worse a week or so before you bleed.
Testing is important to figure out why exactly this imbalance is happening, but acupuncture and herbs such as Vitex can help boost up progesterone. The excess estrogen can be supported by working on detoxing your liver, minimizing environmental toxins, and decreasing stress. A supplement that can be supportive for excess estrogen (if you have seen this to be true in a test) is DIM or diindolylmethane, which is found in cruciferous vegetables. As a natural remedy for sleep in relation to excess estrogen, eating more of these vegetables, such as broccoli, broccoli sprouts, or cabbage, can be helpful.
Having both low estrogen and progesterone can be another way in which your sleep issues can flare up. Estrogen supports the calming neurotransmitter mentioned earlier, serotonin, while progesterone supports the other calming neurotransmitter I’ve mentioned, GABA. This can be particularly impactful in perimenopause and postmenopausal years as we produce lower levels of these hormones.
When the ovaries stop producing hormones at menopause, the adrenals still produce a small amount that just enough to maintain a certain level of wellbeing. However, if you’ve been stressed and your adrenal function is somewhat lowered, your sex hormones are affected, and therefore your sleep can be less than ideal.
Working on your daily stress levels, doing mild to moderate exercise, taking a 30-minute nap or rest between 1 and 3pm, having a relaxing winding-down session in the evening, and using adaptogenic herbs such as aswhagandha, holy basil, or rhodiola can support your adrenal glands, so in turn the sex hormones production is supported.
Lastly, high testosterone can often show up as the culprit for insomnia and can especially cause trouble falling asleep. There are natural remedies that can help with this but it’s important to understand why the testosterone is high to begin with, in order to use natural remedies effectively.
Gut infections causing sleep issues and natural remedies that you can use
Gut infections are one of the main imbalances that come up often with my patients. We are not talking about acute infections that send you to the ER, but chronic low-grade infections that cause inflammation and don’t allow you to fully thrive in your life.
To give you an example, H. Pylori bacteria is often overgrown in my patients. This bacteria is commonly found in most of the human population, as normal growth in the stomach. However, when overgrown (which we test through a stool or breath test) it’s inflammatory and it’s stressful to the human body, which affects how well we settle into sleep at night. This is true especially because people with H Pylori overgrowth can sometimes suffer from acid reflux, especially at night.
This is one of the most common infections I see in my patients. Traditionally, the treatment is the use of antibiotics, but herbs and supplements such as DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) and mastic gum, used over two months, can be highly effective at lowering this growth.
The gut is closely connected to the brain and they literally talk to each other. When there is inflammation in the gut because of infections and/or imbalanced bacteria, your body and mind can’t fully settle into sleep. One of the most common sleep issues I see with gut issues is trouble falling asleep with overthinking, or being up all night, or being in light sleep, or waking up an hour or two too early.
In order to know which infections need to be treated, a comprehensive stool test is recommended. This can offer valuable information so then you can use natural remedies that actually help you.
More insomnia and sleep-natural remedies
Read Part II of this article, I’m exploring five more root causes for sleep issues and natural remedies to support your sleep and overall health.
If this article sparked questions for you, I invite you to make an appointment for a free consultation or for an initial session so I can answer your questions.