Mental Health

How to get rid of insomnia?

insomnia Posted On
Posted By Alex Perez - Mental Health Writer, B.A.

Before we can go deeper, we need to know what insomnia means?

The term insomnia per se is relatively easy to explain, it is a term that comes from Latin and which literally means no sleep or not sleeping in a free interpretation. All humans have to deal with acute and, therefore, transient insomnia at some point in their lives.

Things get complicated if, for more than three months, you have been sleeping poorly for several days a week. In this case, we speak of chronic insomnia. Chronic insomnia will result in fatigue during the day with irritability, trouble concentrating, and memory loss if insomnia continues for a long time.

What can be the causes of this sleep disorder called insomnia?

causes insomnia
Around 30% of the world’s population suffers from a certain degree of insomnia. Increasing age and diabetes were significantly associated with insomnia

There are many causes of sleep disorders.

Insomnia can be linked to stress or can have emotional causes, such as break-up or death.

But insomnia can also have psychological causes such as depression, burnout, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social phobia, agoraphobia, or even borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Overconsumption of alcohol, drugs, or sleeping pills also causes sleep disturbances.

What is the most proposed solution these days against insomnia?

insomnia sleeping pills

Sleeping pills or hypnotics

(from the Greek Hypnos, sleep).

But are they a solution?

Do they attack the cause of your insomnia, or do these psychotropic drugs modify your psychological and mental activity? Is it a natural or chemical solution?

Many questions arise indeed.

If you still decide to take sleeping pills, I want to inform you that it is very easy to get addicted to benzodiazepines, more commonly known as benzos.

From this point of view, it would be interesting to ask whether it is profitable for the pharmaceutical industry to treat the problem or rather to treat the symptoms while leaving the disorder as it is?

That is up to you.

Let’s go on.

How is our sleep regulated?

circadian rhytm insomnia

The study of sleep is a relatively new science and consists of two different theories. I find that these two theories complement each other wonderfully.

The first is that of the circadian rhythm, which comes from the Latin “circa dies.” Around the day, that designates our biological clock, which allows us to maintain cycles of 24 hours. This natural rhythm is kept in a constant form, even in the absence of external stimuli.  Therefore we can maintain it, even without alteration of light or temperature and this for months.

The nycthemeral rhythm, or the cycle of day and night alteration, is not the influencing factor in the circadian rhythm. Our hormones regulate it.

Of course, these two rhythms, punctuated by cycles of about 24 hours, are synchronized so that humans are awake during the day and sleep at night.

However, human beings are not born with this circadian rhythm since newborn babies sleep both day and night!

Studies have grounded this theory by proving that when we go to sleep later, and therefore alter our circadian rhythm, we automatically sleep less.

The second sleep theory is that of recovery, which states that we sleep to restore our physical balance after the efforts made during the day.

It contradicts the theory of circadian rhythm based on people with dementia (people with dementia no longer follow the circadian rhythm) and people who live outside the circadian rhythm, see night workers, who also sleep.

I think that the two theories are well-founded and that they advise us, therefore, to simply follow our circadian rhythm, which regulates us by the hormonal way and will stimulate us to sleep by way of fatigue at fixed times and regular intervals.

How does the rhythm of sleep work?

First of all, we know that we know 4 to 6 sleep cycles depending on the duration, each one from 90 to 100 minutes, the first two cycles are characterized by deep sleep, the second part of sleep consists of alternating so-called light sleep and slow-wave sleep or the moment we dream.

When you have insomnia, you miss these deep sleep cycles.

Technical part :

Let’s go back to our biological rhythm to understand our sleep better:

As we said, the circadian rhythm is a biological rhythm regulated by hormones. To maintain this rhythm, we need a supreme leader, and in this case, it is the suprachiasmatic nucleus (NSC), which is located in your brain. It is part of our old brain and is connected to our endocrine system, which is made up of it by organs and other cells that are responsible for the secretion of hormones. The NSC is in constant dialogue with the endocrine system to direct these endocrine organs. But as it is a dialogue it goes into the two directions, so, for example, the pineal gland, which is an endocrine gland, secretes melatonin, a hormone, which plays a central role in the regulation of biological rhythms and which is, therefore, an essential factor for communication between the NSC and the rest of the body.

In summary and to avoid becoming too technical, the NSC is a tiny structure that is located in the hypothalamus. NSC is connected to the pituitary gland, an endocrine gland, which therefore secretes hormones. Neurohormones emitted by the hypothalamus regulates the pituitary gland. These neurohormones also regulate the circadian rhythm. The hypothalamus, in turn, has an interchange of hormones with the pineal gland. The pituitary gland connects the rest of the endocrine system to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and pineal gland are part of the endocrine system since they secrete hormones. All this little world is in your brain right above your eyes.

To simplify,

I will continue by citing only the hypothalamus when I talk about regulating the circadian rhythm.

The circadian rhythm is, therefore, a biological rhythm which plays on many mechanisms:

Sleep-wake rhythm: your sleep capacity increases during the time you are awake and decreases when you sleep with point 0 when you get up and a maximum level when you fall asleep. The hypothalamus regulates this rhythm.

Variation in the level of alertness: alertness level begins to increase during our sleep, around 4 a.m., this increase decreases around midday and is reversed around ten in the evening.

The level of alertness begins to decrease around 10 p.m., and around 11 p.m., your sleep capacity is at its maximum, this is the ideal time to let yourself be carried away by your sleep. The hypothalamus regulates this level.

Body temperature: to sleep well, the body loses between 1.5 and 2 degrees; this happens twice a day and is regulated by the hypothalamus in your brain, around 2 p.m. and around 10 p.m. The ideal room temperature should be between 16 and 18 degrees to stimulate sleep.

Cortisol level: the alert and waking hormone converts glucose into energy, it has a circadian rhythm contrary to that of melanin; it’s the hypothalamus that regulates its production—peak secretion between 6 and 8 a.m.

Potassium level: the potassium level in red blood cells follows a circadian rhythm, a high during the day, a decrease at night. Circadian rhythm shifts can be due to too low a potassium level. You can compensate for this by eating bananas, figs, potatoes, chicken, pasta, dates, salmon, beans, or avocados.

Melatonin level, the sleep hormone, start of secretion around 9:00 p.m., end of flow around 7:30 a.m. The pineal gland produces melatonin in response to the lack of light. Melatonin peaks between 2 and 3 a.m. The body needs serotonin to make melatonin. For the production of serotonin, the body needs tryptophan. How to get tryptophan? Easy, you have to eat healthily. This long list of foods will help you healthily increase your serotonin levels: oatmeal, lentils, chickpeas, cassava, sweet potatoes, brown rice, spinach, lettuce, avocado, pineapple, blueberries, currants, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, apples, banana, chili, eggs, chicken, veal, tuna, salmon, sardines, shrimp, crab, spider crab, nuts, almonds, fish, seeds, soy, milk, yogurt, dark chocolate, and cheese.

 Melatonin also acts as an antioxidant and also plays a role in the immune system.

Blood pressure level: You will see a peak on waking and a decrease at night, following a circadian rhythm. The hypothalamus regulates this variation.  This peak is the reason why the majority of heart attacks occur in the morning.

What factors can deregulate our sleep?

insomnia deregulate sleep

The factors which can deregulate our sleep are, first of all, disturbing external factors like artificial light, which for obvious reasons, makes us fail in our obligations to respect our circadian rhythm.

Then we have the noise of our beautiful cities which disturbs and can interrupt our sleep cycle.

Food that is too rich, too fatty, also causes great danger for our sleep since it disrupts the production of the hormone adiponectin, which is a hormone produced by adipose tissue, and which is used to regulate energy functioning. Adiponectin, therefore, regulates lipids (fats) and glucose (sugar) in our body. This hormone is known for its power over fear. It puts it out and therefore allows you to dominate both stress and anxiety. Better not to deregulate this hormone!

We should also not forget the irregular schedules and the time differences, which are unfortunately incompatible with the circadian rhythm.

Finally, and not least, since he is part of the vicious cycle of insomnia, too short nights. Yes, nights of less than 8 hours are considered to be too short and are, therefore, a stressor for your body, which in the reaction will increase the production of the stress hormone, cortisol, throughout the following day, which will make you sleep poorly again one more night.

How to recover a regular sleep pattern?

recover from insomnia

First of all, it will be necessary to stop the anticipatory anxiety, to break the vicious circle in which you sleep poorly because of an external factor. Then you sink into insomnia by becoming anxious and by getting angry because you sleep poorly, promoting secretion stress hormones that will make you sleep worse.

You will have to regulate your too high cortisol level. So you will have to eliminate fatty foods and foods with a lot of sugar. You will have to stop the caffeine. You will have to try to limit the stressors as you try to find your regular sleep cycle progresses. These are the only factors that can significantly lower your cortisol levels.

After that, it will be necessary to consume foods high in tryptophan to promote the production of serotonin, which is the hormone of happiness, which in turn allows the production of melatonin, which is the sleep hormone.

You should also start playing sports, regardless of the type of sport, running, cycling, swimming, dancing. Start with half an hour a day. The positive hormonal effects of physical activity are that your dopamine and serotonin levels increase, and your adrenaline level decreases. Then your dopamine levels will also increase. Dopamine is the hormone with an opposite effect on melatonin, which is also secreted by the pineal gland. Dopamine will keep you awake and full of energy during the day, so you can be exhausted at night when melatonin secretion begins. It’s the perfect way to restore balance within your biological clock.

It would also be better if you do outdoor activities because sunlight also increases your dopamine and serotonin levels. Studies have shown that after 5 minutes of sun exposure, dopamine, and serotonin levels increase. What are you waiting for? Put on sneakers and go for a walk in nature!

If you need more information about insomnia, check out the website of the National Sleep Foundation.

Insomnia the circadian rhythm
Infographic: The Circadian Rhythm

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