Are you experiencing problems with your sleep?
You’re not alone.
Millions of people around the world experience recurring insomnia or disordered sleeping patterns.
Just a few hours of sleep deprivation each night can lead to problems staying focused and makes it harder to take in new information.
Over time, sleep deprivation can lead to much more sinister consequences. Chronic sleep disruption has been linked with heart disease, diabetes, autoimmunity, and much more.
The first step to getting your sleep patterns back on track is understanding what’s causing the issue.
Here, we’ll cover 8 of the most prominent causes of insomnia, along with some simple supplements you can add to your stack to improve your sleep immediately.
The nervous system can be divided into two parts — the part that promotes wakefulness, and the part that promotes sleep. Several key neurotransmitters work together to balance each half of the nervous system throughout the day and night.
The same neurotransmitters that regulate the waking portion of the nervous system are also responsible for inducing stress and anxiety.
High levels of stress cause the waking portion of the nervous system to remain active much longer than it should — which can make it impossible to fall asleep at the end of the day.
Tips & Tricks for Anxiety-Related Insomnia
- Supplemental 5-HTP, L-theanine, magnesium
- Meditation or yoga before bed
- Identify what’s causing the anxiety and address it
2. Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is one of the most common causes of insomnia. It’s common for pain symptoms to become worse at night. Laying still for hours on end and placing pressure on inflamed joints can lead to further increases in pain.
Chronic pain can affect all levels of sleep — it can make it hard to fall asleep and force us to wake frequently during the night. Chronic pain can also prevent you from reaching deeper restorative stages of sleep. All of these effects leave you feeling tired and unrefreshed each morning.
Tips & Tricks for Chronic Pain
- Supplemental boswellia, turmeric, or magnesium
- Adjust sleep position to reduce pain
- Upgrade your pillow or mattress
- Practice yoga or gentle stretching before bed
3. Diabetes or Blood Sugar Dysregulation
The body keeps blood sugar levels tightly controlled. Hormones like insulin and glucagon work to keep blood sugar levels between the specific range of 4 – 5.4 mmol/L. If blood sugar levels fall below this level, our cells starve for energy.
People with diabetes or metabolic imbalance often have a hard time maintaining blood sugar levels throughout the night. This is because sleeping inherently forces us to fast. By the time morning comes around, you’ve been without any food for several hours.
A lot of diabetics experience low blood sugar levels in the early hours of the morning. When blood sugar levels dip too low, the stress response is activated, causing you to wake up. Sometimes this effect is strong enough to pull you out of deep sleep, but not strong enough to wake you up completely.
In the morning, you wake up feeling tired and unrefreshed, even though you remained asleep for most of the night.
Tips & Tricks for Blood Sugar Dysregulation
- Eat foods high in proteins an hour before bed
- Visit your GP to help manage your symptoms
- Supplement berberine or herbs like gynostemma
- Avoid sugary foods in the evenings
4. Jet Lag or Shift Work
The sleep cycle (circadian rhythm) is an internal clock regulating when it’s time to sleep and when to wake up. Hormones like cortisol spike in the morning — causing the body to feel alert and awake. Over the course of the day, cortisol levels gradually taper-off as it gets closer to bedtime.
Cortisol is opposed by another hormone called melatonin, which spikes in the evenings and throughout the night to make us feel tired.
This cycle is carefully regulated. Cortisol and melatonin wax and wane together to control when we’re awake, and when we’re asleep.
When we suddenly change timezones, it can cause our sleep cycle to fall out of sync (called jet lag). We feel awake when we should be asleep and tired when we should be awake. The more timezones you cross, the worse the effects of jet lag become.
Shiftwork has a similar effect. Working throughout the night for a few days, then changing back to day shifts and sleeping at night can confuse our circadian rhythm and make it hard to fall asleep at night, or stay awake during the day.
Tips & Tricks for Jet-Lag
- Supplement 5-HTP, GABA, or melatonin
- Try to get on local timezones as soon as possible when travelling to a new location
5. Thyroid Issues
The thyroid gland releases hormones that regulate energy metabolism. Hyperthyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland secretes excessive hormones that result in symptoms like insomnia, heart palpitations, and anxiety.
If you think you may have thyroid issues, visit your GP for treatment advice.
6. Obesity or Sleep Apnea
Obesity is one of the most common causes of a condition called sleep apnea. During the night, the tongue blocks the airway, causing you to stop breathing momentarily — forcing you to wake up to catch your breath.
Sleep apnea can happen many times throughout the night, causing you to momentarily wake up and fall back asleep. Over the course of the night, sleep apnea can prevent you from getting enough deep, REM sleep.
One of the most common side effects of menopause is insomnia. A lack of hormones like progesterone and estrogen, which have helped regulate the sleep cycle, can make it hard to fall asleep. Other hormone imbalance, such as FSH, can cause hot flashes and heart palpitations in the middle of the night, causing you to wake up.
Tips & Tricks for Menopause
- Supplement L-theanine, vitex, or 5-HTP in the evenings
- Take time to wind down and relax at the end of the day before bed
- Avoid stimulating food and drink in the early afternoon (such as caffeine or sugary foods)
8. Exposure to Phone or TV Screens
It’s common these days to spend the last hours of the day watching TV, scrolling through social media, or watching YouTube.
The exposure to light-emitting screens can stimulate the release of cortisol — which can prevent you from falling asleep. This is likely one of the primary reasons why insomnia is so prevalent in the world today.
To avoid this issue, spend at least the last hour before bed away from any electronic screens — 2 or 3 hours before bed is even better.
Top 5 Sleep-Supportive Supplements to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
One of the best steps you can take towards optimizing your sleep is a regimented sleep-supportive supplement routine.
5-HTP is the precursor for serotonin — an important and versatile neurotransmitter in the brain involved with regulating mood. Serotonin also serves as the precursor for the main sleep-regulating compound called melatonin.
Supplemental 5-HTP is used to support our mood, reduce feelings of anxiety, and increase melatonin levels in the evening to achieve better, more restful sleep.
Magnesium is used as a co-factor for over 300 enzyme reactions in the human body. Many of these enzymes are responsible for regulating sleep.
One of the most common side effects of magnesium deficiency is insomnia. This is because, without enough magnesium in the body, we’re unable to produce the sleep-promoting neurotransmitters needed to initiate sleep.
Taking magnesium about an hour before bed helps relax the muscles, ease chronic pain, and promote feelings of relaxation.
L-theanine is the active calming agent in green tea. The structure of L-theanine closely resembles a neurotransmitter known as glutamate, which is the primary stimulating compound in the brain.
L-theanine looks like glutamate, and binds to the same receptors, yet doesn’t cause the stimulating effects. This effectively blocks glutamate activity, helping to reduce mental stimulation.
This supplement isn’t sedative but induces a state of relaxation and mental clarity. It’s useful for improving focus and concentration, as well as promoting relaxation and sleep.
Supplemental GABA is used to boost our natural GABA levels in the brain — promoting a relaxed state needed to fall asleep.
GABA supplements work best when taken an hour before bed.
5. Herbal Supplements
Sleep-supportive herbs like hops, passionflower, valerian, or kava, work by boosting the effects of GABA.
None of these herbs directly increase GABA levels. Instead, they affect the GABA receptors, making existing GABA much stronger. This is the same mechanism of action used by many prescription sedatives.
Other Sleep-Supportive Tips & Tricks
Taking time to wind down and relax at the end of the day goes a long way towards promoting a healthy night of sleep.
Relaxing activities like meditation, yoga, reading, taking a warm bath or listening to some soothing music help condition the brain to release more relaxing neurotransmitters like GABA and melatonin and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety before bed.
Some ways to wind down in the evening:
- Practice yoga
- Drink a soothing herbal tea (chamomile or nettle tea work great)
- Take a warm relaxing bath
- Read a book (non-work-related)
- Listen to some music
- Dim the lighting or use warm-spectrum light bulbs in the evening
- Avoid using your phone, iPad, computer, or TV at least an hour before bedtime
The best way to achieve restorative sleep each night is to combine several of the tips mentioned above.
Using supplements will go a long way in helping you get a better night of sleep, but combining these with other lifestyle changes like meditation, avoiding screentime in the evenings, and addressing underlying health concerns are your best bet for eliminating insomnia for good.