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Having trouble falling asleep staying asleep or both

Having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both

Having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both? Sleep is one of the most important influences on our health and the repercussions of insomnia are more serious than simply feeling fatigued the next day. Inadequate sleep can affect everything from our mood, of course our energy levels, our cognitive abilities and attention span, disruption in hormones, weight gain, and suppressing our immune system.  

Considering a functional medicine approach to insomnia, we always are seeking out the root cause. Struggles with sleep are often related to increased stress levels associated with work, raising children, financial struggles, or life in general! Those stressors often aren’t going away anytime soon, so it’s important to consider how to more effectively cope with stress.

Meditation can be very helpful. There are many guided meditation apps that walk you through the process of learning to meditate and being mindful. Try to do the impossible, which is to be very protective of “me” time and to not overextend yourself. It is truly important to have self-care time for mental health. I know…easier said than done! It is something I am working on in my own life balancing a career and being a mom of three lovely little ladies.  

Considering there are many instances when someone might not have high stress levels and still struggle with insomnia, it is important to consider other causes. This includes (but not limited to) looking for neurotransmitter deficiencies, assessing for hormone imbalance including estrogen/progesterone levels as well as adrenal hormones such as cortisol, ruling out vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and assessing for sleep apnea. Typically, once these issues have been addressed, then the need for over the counter sleep aids or natural supplements to help aid in sleep are not needed. 

Traditionally, if you are struggling with sleep often times people take over the counter sleep aids. The most common ingredient in most over the counter sleep aids are actually antihistamines, or more commonly known is Benadryl (diphenhydramine). There are concerns with using antihistamines on a nightly basis because there have been studies that report an increased risk of dementia with usage long-term. Yes, sleep is important…but I definitely don’t want to do anything to increase my risk of cognitive issues. 

There are many natural options for sleep to consider that are not associated with long-term health risks and actually have health benefits. One of the most well-known supplements to aid in sleep is melatonin. So what is melatonin? It’s actually a hormone that is responsible for your sleep-wake cycle. It’s synthesized during times of darkness and its production is suppressed during times of light. For anyone, a lack of light exposure during the day, or exposure to bright lights in the evening, can disrupt the body’s normal melatonin cycles. 

What is very different about melatonin from over the counter sleep medications is it has actually been studied and proven to have many health benefits as well. Aside from being a natural sleep aid, it also supports detoxification, has antioxidant properties, assists in reproduction, is believed to have potential preventative mechanism in certain cancers (breast, prostate, gastric, and colorectal cancer), been proven helpful for menopausal symptoms, and multiple studies suggest it has cardio-protective properties such as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.

Melatonin dosing ranges from 1mg-5mg typically and any doses higher than 5mg should be discussed with your healthcare provider. There are also standard release forms and controlled release forms of melatonin, which can helpful for difficulties with waking through the night. Beyond melatonin, there are many other supplements and natural remedies that can be very helpful as well. I would always recommend to really ponder the root cause and consider a functional medicine workup to assess all the above-mentioned possibilities because again, sleep is an incredibly important piece to your long-term health.   

Amanda Patchett, FNP-C

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