Some people are able to go to sleep without thinking about it. The sun goes down, it gets dark outside, fatigue sets in and they go to bed. Others have to resort to medication, supplements and the use of background noise to get to sleep. Sleep is an extremely complex process driven by changing states of concioussness that are easily measured by an electroencephalogram, a meter that monitors brain wave activity. A multitude of sleep studies have allowed researchers to correllate brain wave activity with restful sleep and we are just now learning how restful sleep relates to overall health.
In order for sleep to occur:
- Your brain activity needs to slow down;
- Your body needs to be nourished and hydrated;
- You need to supply the brain and the body with a continuous adequate supply of oxygen.
I’ve listed some of the main reasons people don’t sleep well below:
You take medications that disrupt sleep
Medications should always be at the top of the list of potential reasons why people don’t sleep. If you are taking 1-2 medications there is a good chance that your sleep may be affected in some way. If you take three medications, then chaos theory comes into play and nobody can accurately predict the effects on the body.
You eat too late in the evening
This is a culturally relevant statement for Western diets, and for work and sleep schedules. Some foods can be sedative but this is a general rule for most things we eat. Some people are very sensitive to eating food too close to bedtime and this can be caused by low serotonin and GABA levels in the brain.
Screen time and bedtime don’t mix
Screens with articificial light and stimuli increase the release of cortisol and decrease the release of melatonin. At bedtime, we want cortisol levels to be low and melatonin to be elevated.
You don’t get enough oxygen during the day
What this really means is you don’t exercise. During exercise our body demands more oxygen, and fuel. Exercise stimulates metabolism which places a greater demand on the body for rest and recovery.
You don’t get enough oxygen at night
There are many reasons for this one. Lack of exercise, obesity, obstructions in the airway, brain-based imbalances reduce oxygen intake, and smoking. All of these problems are preventable and reversible.
Stimulant use combined with low serotonin and GABA are bad combinations
Ingestion of caffeine, sugar, and other stimulants cause the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, glutamate, and cortisol, all neurochemicals that are part of the excitatory nervous system. Serotonin and GABA are inhibitory neurotransmitters. Serotonin is responsible for producing melatonin, the sleep hormone, and GABA is responsible for aiding in the metabolism of the stimulating neurotransmitter nor-epinephrine. When supplies of serotonin and GABA are low, the excitatory neurotransmitters dominate, resulting in the inability to go to sleep.
Most people are chronically dehydrated. Dehydration often preceeds hypertension. Dehydration also causes your brain to focus on thirst in the lighter stages of sleep.
Low blood sugar
Low blood sugar levels resulting from inadequate glycogen stores or resulting from oversecretion of insulin, diabetes, overworked adrenal glands, or inadequate caloric intake, can cause nervousness, irritability, hunger, anxiety, muscle twitches, blurred vision, and may lead to more serious problems if not addressed.
Your adrenals are in charge of regulating cortisol and adrenaline secretion, and indirectly regulating salt and potassium balance through the secretion of Aldosterone, a mineralocorticoid. Cortisol is normally secreted in higher amounts in the morning to help us wake and stimulate the release of energy from the cells so we can get going. During periods of chronic stress, Cortisol levels can be high at night leading to insomnia.
Your brain is too active
A number of factors can cause your brain to be too active. Watching TV or computer late at night, reading an exciting book, or problem solving too late at night can keep you wired for hours.
Your brain is bored
Without adequate mental stimulation during the day, our brains can become overactive at night.
You drink too much water too late in the evening
For as much as we know about biochemistry, we should have a better understanding about water and its dramatic effects on the body. We know the functions it performs in the body but we don’t have a good understanding about it’s dynamic effect on biochemistry.