It’s bedtime. You toss and turn. Or you fall asleep, exhausted, then wake up at 2:00 a.m. Maybe you work a night shift and your internal clock just won’t reset. Whatever the reason you can’t sleep, you are not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 30 percent of American adults report not getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
Studies show that good quality sleep is essential to your overall health—mind, body and spirit. Sleep deprivation can increase the risk of chronic disease, impact metabolism and hormone production, worsen cognitive and motor performance, and raise the risk of obesity. It can impact ability to work, learn and enjoy life, and is a factor in vehicle, work and other accidents. In short, if you are not getting enough sleep, it’s a serious health issue that needs immediate attention.
While many people turn first to pharmaceuticals or over-the-counter sleep remedies, they are often ineffective, short-term or even addictive solutions that don’t solve the underlying problems leading to sleep issues. The fast-growing trend toward natural medicine is leading more people to visit doctors of naturopathic medicine for help falling and staying asleep naturally.
Treating Sleep Problems Naturally
Naturopathic doctors (NDs) who receive their training at accredited universities such as National University of Health Sciences learn to identify and treat the numerous underlying causes of insomnia, and to address the impacts of not having enough sleep. With advanced training in therapeutic nutrition, botanical medicine and behavioral medicine, NDs lead with safe and effective natural treatments to restore sound sleep.
During initial examinations, naturopathic doctors spend an hour or more assessing the whole person, exploring a wide variety of underlying causes for disrupted sleep patterns. According to Frequently Asked Questions by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) an assessment would include the following areas:
Nutrition: When, what and how much you eat can interfere with your sleep. Studies show that even partial sleep deprivation alters the gut microbiome. Increasing your gut microbiota should help improve your sleep. The easiest way to do this is through diet. Your naturopathic doctor will help determine the most effective nutritional plan for you and identify sources of stimulants throughout your day.
Environment: Noise, light, room temperature and other environmental irritants often affect sleep. NDs look for and address environmental exposures that may cause irritation, inflammation and negatively impact Circadian rhythms. Common irritants include pollen, dander, noise and blue light from phones and screens. Sufficient exposure to full spectrum light outdoors is also important to maximize melatonin production, which aids in restful sleep.
Emotional and Psychological Causes: Disrupted sleep can lead to emotional changes, clinical depression or anxiety (as well as other psychiatric conditions), and these conditions can also compound or further disrupt sleep.
Hormone Imbalances: Imbalances in serotonin, cortisol, melatonin, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone can all contribute to sleep problems. Additionally, individuals with hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone to keep the body running normally, are also at higher risk of developing insomnia.
Medication and Supplement Side Effects: Medications such as those taken for common colds and nasal allergies, high blood pressure, heart disease, thyroid disease, birth control, asthma and depression can cause insomnia. Even drugs commonly prescribed for sleep problems, such as Ativan, can affect quality of sleep. B-vitamins and herbs such as Rhodiola can have a stimulant effect.
Your doctor will also discuss your daily habits. “Having a consistent bedtime routine is extremely important to restful sleep, including going to bed at the same time each night,” noted Jamine Blesoff, ND, clinical sciences instructor at National University of Health Sciences. “Exercising too late in the day can also have a negative impact for some individuals.”
Once Assessed, What’s Next?
Naturopathic treatment is individualized and focused first on lifestyle changes. These may include optimizing diet, environment and sleep hygiene, and removing stimulants, increasing physical activity, and creating routines. Your doctor may suggest probiotics and fermented foods.
When emotional and/or psychological factors are involved, NDs work collaboratively with mental health professionals to identify and address depression, anxiety and stress. They may recommend behavioral approaches, including mindfulness, breathing techniques and meditation, or, when appropriate, prescribe botanical medicine.
Naturopathic doctors may order lab testing if hormonal imbalances are suspected, and might address them with nutraceuticals, such as melatonin, glycine or tryptophan, as appropriate. If they identify prescription medications that may be negatively impacting sleep, they may be in communication with the prescribing physician and support patients if reducing or discontinuing such drugs is prescribed.
Naturopathic doctors appreciate that insomnia is both the cause and the effect of many serious health conditions. By looking at the whole person, addressing underlying causes and supporting your self-healing capacity, naturopathic doctors have many tools to help you get a healthy, natural night’s sleep.