What’s Causing Your Insomnia?

The Herbal Clinic, Swansea

Do you lie awake at night watching the minutes and then hours slip away, unable to fall asleep?

Or perhaps you wake in the early hours of the morning and are unable to get back to sleep?

The harder you try, the more elusive sleep becomes and long nights can become a torment.

But don’t despair! We find insomnia very responsive to treatment, providing you are willing to look a little deeper.

The causes of poor sleep are numerous and unique to each person but with some careful detective work and a few adjustments, peaceful restorative sleep is within your grasp.

  1. Struggling to Fall Asleep

The Worrier: Do you find it hard to switch off from the events of the day? Perhaps you re-run that conversation that could have played out better, or a presentation that you gave. This is an anxiety based insomnia; holding on to concerns that prevent you from releasing into sleep. Journaling before bed can be a valuable strategy for this type of insomnia, also taking certain herbal medicines known as nervines that act on the nervous system. Research has found that nervines can improve the quality of sleep as well as reducing the duration of time it takes to fall asleep1.

We do not recommend taking herbal extracts for insomnia. These preparations often do not contain the whole herb but only a select range of the plant chemicals and at a higher potency. Without tackling the cause of the condition, dependency on the extract may result.

The Late Eater: When the digestive organs are active the body cannot shut down and for some this means the mind cannot switch off either. The last meal of the day should be eaten at least 3 hours before retiring for the night so that the digestive system is ready for restoration, rather than the work of digestion.

The Late Nighter: As the light of the day fades and the evening draws in, melatonin is produced by the pineal gland, inducing an urge to sleep. Yet it’s easy to override and ignore this response – switch on the lights, computer and television and hey presto! The brain believes it’s still daytime and you can carry on regardless. Try dimming the lights half an hour before going to bed and invest in a pair of blue light glasses which reduce the stimulating light emissions that the body clock associates with daytime.

Do you experience a ‘second wind’, starting to feel drowsy, then pushing on and enjoying a new surge of energy? This may feel satisfying, a chance to get more done in the day. However, energy release at this time is necessary for restoration of the liver. Repair and regeneration are surprisingly taxing activities and energy reserves are directed to these tasks when we are sleeping, not when we divert it elsewhere.

  1. Restless Sleep

The Metabolic Overdrive: It may have happened gradually, over the years. There was more to fit in to your schedule, lunch breaks were dropped in favour of a sandwich at the computer, if you cut out that evening walk you could get more done in the day. But the body rebels. We have both a sympathetic (feed and breed) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system for a reason and that is balance. As much as we would like there to be 16 productive hours in the day, biology dictates otherwise. If our lifestyles don’t allow enough restful activities the metabolic rate increases, taxing organs such as the thyroid, liver, and kidneys. This prevents us from fully shutting down at night and causes restless, wakeful sleep. In the long run it will mean more hours working, but less achieved.

Other causes of restless sleep include sleep apnoea, musculoskeletal pains and frequent urination, the causes of which should be approached and treated individually.

Do you experience a restless night and wake with more aches and pains than you went to bed with? It seems counterintuitive but is a common complaint. Poor posture can create a deep physical tension that is held throughout the day and cannot be fully released at night.

  1. Waking Early

The achiever: It’s the early hours of the morn-ing but when you wake your mind switches into action. Planning, organising, mentally running through what needs to be done to finish the job. Drive and enthusiasm get you where you want to be, but this time in the morning would be better spent resting. This wakefulness often results from a low level of anxiety which should be addressed. Conscious, deep relaxation techniques such as yoga nidra can be used to make the most of this quiet, peaceful time of the day.

In the clinic we use Master Tung acupuncture, an advanced form of acupuncture that uses very few needles and usually requires only one or two sessions. This is very effective for treatment of insomnia.

It is said that 1 hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight. It is ‘slow wave’ or ‘delta’ sleep that dominates sleep cycles in the early part of the night and this stage of sleep, is deeper and more restorative. Research has found that it supports the immune system by increasing immune cell activation and proliferation2.

Waking early at this time of year may simply be due to the early sunrise.Try blackout blinds or curtains with sunlight style alarm clock.

1. Eric Yarnell, Herbal Medicine for Insomnia. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, July 2015

2. Luciana Besedovsky et al. Sleep and immune function, Pflugers Arch. 2012 Jan; 463(1): 121–137.



All Articles