A person with insomnia has difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Once awakened in the middle of the night, the person has trouble returning to sleep. The result of any sleep disturbance is often irritability, depression, emotional disturbances, or poor memory. Conversely, insomnia can be a sign of depression as well.
What is Insomnia?
From Modern Western Medicine
One in three American adults has trouble sleeping. Drugs that induce sleep are among the most widely used medications today. Most insomnia is caused by worry, but other causes include sleep apnea (a breathing problem), restless legs, noise or light, excess caffeine before bed, lack of exercise, and drug use, including overuse of sleep-inducing drugs. Other factors include chronic anxiety and/or depression, mania, and schizophrenia.
People with insomnia should try to be active during the day and go to be when tired.
From Traditional Medicine
Traditionally, insomnia is most often the result of a liver and gall bladder imbalance. It is especially the case when the person has trouble sleeping between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., when the body is channeling its energy to the gall bladder and the liver, which means these organs are receiving their peak amounts of qi or life energy. Just as Western science has established a circadian rhythm, so, too, did Chinese healers, who maintain that each of the major organs receives optimal amounts of energy during a two-hour period through the course of the day. (See Part III for discussion of the Chinese clock.) A weak liver and gall bladder cannot remain stable and relaxed during the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. when they are receiving an abundance of energy. This is especially the case for those who have eaten before bed or have consumed alcohol or heavy or spicy foods.
Any food that taxes the liver and gallbladder and is consumed before bed can cause insomnia. Overeating, food additives, preservatives, artificial colors, or foods that do not combine well can all disturb the liver and gallbladder before bed, and therefore keep you awake.
Insomnia can also be caused by an excess of other foods and drinks consumed during the day, including too much coffee, tea, chocolate, and soda. Other dietary factors include a deficiency of B vitamins and calcium, and too much salt or excessive amounts of liquids.
Finally, eating whole grains and getting physical exercise are essential to a good night’s sleep. Whole grains promote the production of serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter that promotes better concentration, feelings of well-being, and deep sleep. Exercise works off physical tension that can keep you awake during the night.
Food to Eat
- Chlorophyll-rich foods, such as leafy green vegetables, steamed or boiled
- Microalgae, such as chlorella and spirulina
- Oyster shell can be purchased in health food stores and taken as a nutritional supplement
- Whole grains: whole wheat, brown rice, and oats have a calming and soothing effect on the nervous system and the mind. Carbohydrates also boost serotonin, which promotes better sleep
- Mushrooms (all types)
- Fruit, especially mulberries and lemons, which calm the mind
- Seeds: jujube seeds are used to calm the spirit and support the heart. Chia seeds also have a sedative effect
Foods to Avoid
In addition to the foods listed below, also avoid too many ingredients in a meal and too much food late at night:
- Spicy foods
- Stimulant drugs
- Cigarettes (Nicotine is a stimulant that causes the adrenals to secrete adrenaline. This leads to increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and hyperactivity.)
- Alcohol (for many people, this is a stimulant)
- Refined carbohydrates (they drain B vitamins)
- Non-organic foods containing pesticides
- Canned foods or any source of toxicity or heavy metals
Herbs to Treat Insomnia
- Rose hips: take with any of the herbs in this list. The vitamin C is calming to the nerves.
- Chamomile tea is a mild sedative. It can be mixed with hops in equal parts.
- Hops are a mild sedative. It can be mixed with chamomile in equal parts.
- Passionflower is a sedative. Take 30 – 60 drops of tincture 45 minutes before bed.
- Mix together equal parts:
Drink as an infusion when needed, using 1 oz. to a pint of boiling water. Steep for 20 minutes.
- Nux vomica, known as the student remedy, is helpful when you’re sleepless after mental strain and can’t turn off your mind.
- Arsenicum: when you are sleepless from worry or anxiety
- Cocculus is known as the nurse’s remedy, because it treats those who can’t get to sleep after their late-night duty is done
- Coffea: for sleeplessness from excitement or joy; less effective for big coffee drinkers
- Pulsatilla: for sleeplessness from reoccurring thoughts
- Hot footbaths draw the blood away from the head, making sleep easier
- Warm baths are relaxing, but if they are too hot, they become stimulating
- Alternate hot and cold showers
- General exercise plus fresh air
- Vigorous aerobic exercise daily, for at least 20 to 30 minutes per exercise session can combat insomnia. Among the best choices are walking, jogging, bicycling, playing a sport, or swimming.
- Yoga or some form of stretching exercise
- Sleep-inducing exercises, such as progressive contraction/relaxation exercises: lie on a bed and relax as much as possible. Breathe deeply. Feel your body sink into the mattress while concentrating on your breath. Ignore any thoughts or feelings that pass through your mind. Contract your face, making a grimace, and then your neck, and then let both go, allowing the relaxation to sink into the muscles of your face and neck. Do the same for your arms: contract the upper arms and chest, then release. Continue the same contraction and releasing the muscles of your lower arms, hands, abdomen, buttocks, thighs, lower legs, and finally your feet. Finish with one final contraction of your entire body and then release all at once. Repeat the cycle two or three times. Resume relaxation while breathing deeply. Continue to focus your breath until you fall asleep.
- Vitamin B complex
Thiamine: 1.5 mg per day
Riboflavin: 1.8 mg per day
Vitamin B6: 2 – 10 mg per day
Vitamin B12: 2 – 10 mg per day
Niacin: 20 mg per day
- Vitamin C: 100 – 500 mg per day
- Pantothenic acid: 250 mg per day
- Calcium: 800 – 1000 mg per day
- Magnesium: 100 mg per day
- Zinc: 15 mg per day
- Manganese: 1 mg per day