Insomnia is your worst nightmare. The ability to get sound, undisturbed, restful sleep is essential to cognitive function, cell renewal, hormonal balance, energy production, detoxification, a healthy immune system and so much more! If your sleep suffers, life's stressors seem to snowball. Insomnia creates a vicious cycle of exhaustion and fatigue; a sure sign your body is trying to get your attention!
So what causes insomnia?
Usually it's the result of a lifestyle imbalance, particularly nutrition and stress. When your body gets low in nutrients and becomes inefficient at producing energy, you rely strongly on stress hormones (adrenaline & cortisol) to get you through the day. These hormones are built in mechanisms designed to help you handle short-term stressors, but when your diet leaves much to be desired, it relies MORE on stress hormones to make up for the fuel deficit. "But in energy-deprived humans, increases of adrenalin oppose the hibernation reaction, alter energy production and the ability to relax, and to sleep deeply and with restorative effect," Ray Peat, PhD.
The good news is, you can use food to down regulate these stress hormones to improve sleep and soothe insomnia!
- Get some calcium throughout the day from a food source (not supplements) that agrees with you. This helps quiet your parathyroid, keeping parathyroid hormone (PTH) low. When your blood calcium levels decrease (from lack of dietary calcium), it triggers parathyroid hormone (which controls calcium metabolism in the body) to break down bone to buffer the pH of the blood. This increases stress, and is an INFLAMMATORY process that can play a role insomnia. "The parathyroid hormone (PTH) is an important regulator of calcium metabolism. If dietary calcium isn't sufficient, causing blood calcium to decrease, the PTH increases, and removes calcium from bones to maintain a normal amount in the blood. PTH has many other effects, contributing to inflammation, calcification of soft tissues, and decreased respiratory energy production." Ray Peat, PhD.
- Eat a calcium rich snack right before bed with a little bit of salt and carbohydrate to fight insomnia. Examples might be ice cream, warm milk with honey/salt, cheese and a piece of fruit, or bone broth and fruit for someone who avoids dairy completely. "Combining milk and cheese with fruits adds to the antistress effect. The additional sugar and potassium and other minerals allow the milk protein to be used more efficiently, by moderating the secretion of cortisol, and helping to inhibit the secretion of PTH," Ray Peat, PhD.
- Keep a snack bedside if you tend to wake up in the middle of the night and find it hard to go back to sleep. A small sip of juice with gelatin or a little pinch of sugar and salt is a great place to start!
- Balance blood sugar throughout the day by always eating protein, fat, and carbohydrates together. Eat snacks as needed to keep blood sugar from falling (often every 2-3 hours for people with poor blood sugar regulation).
- Avoid allergic foods! Any food that causes anxiety, rapid pulse rate, or other immediate reactions can indicate your body's stress response has been activated.
- Try an Epsom salt bath before bed using 1-4 cups in a bath. Soak for 15-30 minutes.
- Avoid using L-tryptophan and melatonin supplements for insomnia. These products increase serotonin which is a mediator of stress.
- Try diffusing or applying 1-2 drops of Lavender and/or Cedarwood essential oil at bedtime. You can apply 1 drops to the temples or soles of the feet before bed to support relaxation and a restful night of sleep.
Do you have any special strategies for fighting insomnia? If so, I would LOVE to hear them in the comments!