Our overall quality of life is directly affected by the quality of our sleep cycle. The inability to achieve a consistent deep sleep cycle is known as insomnia. Insomnia can reek havoc on our mood, causing mental exhaustion, brain fog, irritability, poor work productivity, a decline in athletic performance and recovery, as well as our overall health and well-being.
Long-term cases of insomnia can cause a disruption in our circadian rhythm. Our bodies built in biological, 24-hour internal clock, which governs our sleep/wake cycle. Our circadian rhythm is controlled by our hypothalamus, a part of the brain. This cycle can be easily interrupted. This interruption left unchecked can lead to (1) hormonal imbalance, such as estrogen and cortisol levels, which in turn lead to weight gain. (2) Psychological issues such as various forms of depression, anxiety and more. (3) Medical conditions such as chronic fatigue and chronic pain, as well as contribute to more serious conditions, such as congestive heart failure, acid reflux (GERD), chronic pulmonary disease (COPD), Alzheimer’s disease, brain lesions, tumors, and stroke. If you are experiencing insomnia, it should not be ignored. 2 The National Sleep Foundation has more information about insomnia here.
Types of Insomnia
Insomnia can be classified as transient, acute, or chronic:
1. Transient insomnia: “Lasts for less than a week. It can be caused by another disorder, by changes in the sleep environment, by the timing of sleep, severe depression, or by stress. Its consequences – sleepiness and impaired psychomotor performance – are similar to those of sleep deprivation.” 1
2. Acute insomnia: “Is the inability to consistently sleep well for a period of less than a month. Insomnia is present when there is difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep or when the sleep that is obtained is non-refreshing or of poor quality. These problems occur despite adequate opportunity and circumstances for sleep and they must result in problems with daytime function. Acute insomnia is also known as short term insomnia or stress related insomnia.” 1
3 Chronic insomnia: "Lasts for longer than a month. It can be caused by another disorder, or it can be a primary disorder. People with high levels of stress hormones or shifts in the levels of cytokines are more likely than others to have chronic insomnia. Its effects can vary according to its causes. They might include muscular weariness, hallucinations, and/or mental fatigue. Chronic insomnia can cause double vision.” 1
Causes of Insomnia, Getting To The Source
Before deciding on how you will treat insomnia, you must first decipher if the cause is (1) Self-imposed environmental (2) a medical concern or issue or (3) psychological concern.
Although insomnia can be a side effect of a variety of health conditions, in many cases insomnia can actually occur independently and be corrected by taking the time to examine your current lifestyle and habits. Do you:
* Use any medications containing psychoactive stimulants? This can include herbs, caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines or excessive alcohol intake. Or pain relievers containing opioids. As well as over the counter sleep aids.
* Hormonal shifts due to menstruation or menopause.
* A traumatic life event, such as a death of a loved one or major life changes, such as a birth of a child, career change, or economic stress, that causes fear, anxiety or stress. Or even travel.
* Electronics in the bedroom can be a factor. Exposure to light from electronics, prior to bedtime actually have a negative effect on your bodies ability to produce adequate melatonin levels, which induce effective sleep. Technology and the bedroom do not mix. 2
Tips To Manage Insomnia Without Medications
Approaching insomnia from a natural point of view may include:
Making necessary improvements to what is known as "sleep hygiene". Good sleep hygiene consists of normal activity that will induce a natural good nights sleep. This includes (1) creating a regularly scheduled time for going to bed and waking each day. (2) Daily exercise, (3) avoiding caffeine and smoking as well as other stimulants. (4) Making sure to eat a proper dinner so as not to go to bed hungry. (5) Creating a restful environment in your sleep area. Avoiding all electronics and stimuli in the sleeping area. Only using the sleeping area for sleep, not work (6) Engage in regular meditation or creating a relaxing bedtime routine that will calm the mind and spirit. (7) Consider group or personal counseling or therapy. (8) Avoid napping during daytime hours. 2
Herbs, Oils & Hydrosols For Insomnia
You may want to consider using an herbal supplement, essential oils and or hydrosols:
1. Drink a warm cup of herbal tea before bed, such as chamomile.
2. Consider calming herbs that promote restful sleep. You can find these in capsules from most local grocers such as Valerian, Melissa and Passionfruit.
3. Consider adaptogenic herbs in capsules, which help the body adapt to stress like Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, Kava Kava.
*Adaptogenic herbs should be taken daily to achieve the best results. Consult with a Registered Herbalist for more options.
1. Consider soaking in a warm, not hot bath, with Epsom salts and magnesium.
* You may choose to augment this bath by adding essential oils IF using (A) a carrier oil such a sunflower oil. It is advised to pre -blend your essential oils in the carrier oil in low dilution not to exceed 2%. Prior to adding to your bath THEN (B) add a “solubilizer” which evenly disperses the essential oils throughout the water.
2. Diffuse essential oils essential in the bedroom 30 minutes prior to retiring for the evening.
* It is advised that you do not run your diffuser for extended periods of time. Closing the bedroom door and saturating the room 30 minutes prior to retiring should be more than sufficient. Do no use a carrier oil in a diffuser.
3. Apply a sedative essential oil blend before bed.
Calming Essential Oils Sedative Essential Oils
1. Lavender 1. May Chang or Lemongrass
2. Clary Sage 2. Ylang Ylang
3. Vetiver 3. Ho Wood or Rosewood
4. Cedarwood 4. Roman Chamomile
*If you shower at night. Consider applying the blend right out of the shower when your pores are open. Then reapplying once you get in the bed. Dilute the blend in a carrier oil such as sunflower or fractionated coconut before applying to the skin. Apply between 12-18 drops of essential oils to 1 ounce of carrier oil for a 2-3% dilution. You may wish to apply the occiput or back of neck and shoulders to support sleep.
1. Drink an authentic hydrosol (product of distillation). You can use a hydrosol in place of water with your herbal tea bag or in a small apothecary cocktail before retiring for the evening.
Hydrosols that may help with sleep:
1. Roman Chamomile
*You can learn more about hydrosols and their use in aromatherapy here: https://authenticaromatherapyeducation.com/understanding-hydrosols/
When to Call The Doctor
If you have made necessary improvements to your “sleep hygiene” and tried natural methods to improve your sleep cycle, but continue to experience insomnia and are unable to identify the source or experience chronic insomnia. You may want to consider consulting with your Doctor. Although there is no single test that will easily identify the source of insomnia, there are a series of assessments that can be performed to assist the Doctor in getting to the source of the matter. They may have you, (A) keep a sleep log, or use a fitness watch that records important details about your sleep cycle and habits. (B) Take a sleep inventory by filling out a detailed questionnaire to gather valuable information about your medical history and sleep patterns, challenges, and concerns. (C) Perform a series of blood tests to rule out possible medical conditions in which insomnia is a side effect.
(D) You may be encouraged to participate in an over-night sleep study. Some are done in your home while others are done in a private facility where you are actually monitored by a professional in a sleep laboratory. This is very effective. You are connected to an EEG machine, which monitors each stage in your sleep cycle. Oxygen levels are measured, along with any movement. Your heart rate and breathing patterns are carefully monitored. This is a great option because it’s detailed, safe and non-invasive. 3
You do not have to accept insomnia as a normal fact of life. It is important as a sufferer of insomnia to get to the root cause and to tackle the issues at hand. Do not ignore this important aspect of your health. Avoid putting yourself at risk for or contributing to chronic disease. 4
The Institute offers professional aromatherapy consultations for any issue, insomnia being one of many. If you or a friend are suffer from the symptoms of insomnia, there is nothing compared to a professional essential oil consultation. Check our our Consultation page for more details!