Insomnia and How to Sleep Better

“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together” – Thomas Dekker (Elizabethan Dramatist – not the 29 yo “Terminator:Sarah Connor Chronicles” actor.)

We know that lack of sleep makes people, well, sleepy. But it also causes people to be crabby, slow, hungry, sick and can lead to death. More than half of Americans have at least one symptom of insomnia at least a few times in the last year and about one third complain of chronic insomnia symptoms.

Lack of sleep disrupts our circadian rhythm and alters our ability to have adequate hormonal and neurotransmitter balance. Inflammation builds up in the body which predisposed you to heart attacks and stroke. Poor sleep raises blood pressure, alters blood sugar control, impairs metabolism, increases stress, and delays healing and recovery from exercise.

What to do about insomnia?
Here is what a sleep physician (me) will tell you to do:

  • Get a sleep study – This is the low hanging fruit of insomnia – Obstructive Sleep Apnea causes people to have frequent arousals during the night. These arousals usually don’t cause people to completely wake up, but they can. And if they do, it could be driving your insomnia. An in-lab sleep study will can also tell you if you are having leg kicks (think restless leg syndrome) causing a problem
  • Minimize caffeine – like you didn’t think about this on your own
  • Minimize alcohol – while alcohol is a suppressant initially and can help you fall asleep. When metabolized it can cause insomnia
  • Take a warm bath or have a cup of non-caffeinated tea before going to bed. A drop in body temperature signals the brain that it’s time to sleep
  • Keep the room dark. Light prevents the brain from making melatonin. So turn off the lights and screens (television, phones, tablets, and readers)
  • Treat chronic medical conditions that can lead to insomnia – Depression and chronic pain are the most common conditions causing insomnia
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – because it’s all in your head (it isn’t, but that’s what they taught me)

What should you REALLY do about insomnia?
Here is what a functional medicine physician (me again) will tell you to do:

  • All the sleep hygiene stuff from above – minimize caffeine and alcohol, keep the room dark, take a warm bath or non-caffeinated tea, and treat chronic medical conditions (ok the last one isn’t sleep hygiene – just good advice)
  • Change your diet – A recent study published in March 2016 in the Journal of
  • Clinical Nutrition found that those losing weight utilizing a high protein diet had overall better sleep. And we know that complex carbs can activate a pathway in the brain that makes us sleepyPlenty of protein throughout the day and a serving of complex carbs at night can help with sleep
  • Melatonin – 3-5 mg is all it really takes. Using liquid melatonin under the tongue leads to better absorption. Avoid high levels of Melatonin which can lead to bad side effects (depression is one of them)
    5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) this is a precursor to Melatonin. Your body turns it into Melatonin about 4 hours after you take it. This supplement works well for 2 am awakenings 25-100 mg at bedtime works well (average dose about 50mg)
  • Check Your Vitamin D level – Too little or too much Vitamin D can cause issues – go for the sweet spot of 60-80 ng/mL
  • Inositol – a B vitamin. 2-10 gm (a pretty high dose) can help with brain chatter/racing thoughts and helps you get to sleep
  • L-Theanine – counteracts the effects of caffeine-induced sleep disturbances and reduces mental and physical stress. Found in green tea, but that usually involves caffeine. Supplements are available that also have magnesium
  • Speaking of which – Magnesium – We don’t get enough magnesium in our diet. Magnesium calms the nervous system and reduces inflammation. Make sure you get a high-quality magnesium supplement. Rubbing a topical magnesium cream on the back of your knees is reportedly the best form to induce restful sleep
  • Valerian – Increases slow wave sleep (stage 3) which benefits fat loss and can reduce appetite. But you need to take it regularly to have this effect. The liquid extract form will give you a more potent dose compared to sedating teas
  • Taurine – If you’re a vegetarian and have poor sleep, try this. Taurine helps calm night time anxiety and racing thoughts. Seafood, red meat and eggs are the main sources of Taurine. Exercise depletes Taurine levels. Try 2-3 mg at bedtime
  • Check your Hormones – Both high and low progesterone levels cause insomnia. A complete hormone assessment – including melatonin and cortisol as well as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone can shed light on sleep as well as overall health
  • Consider a sleep study – especially if you snore or stop breathing at night
    Individual results will vary
  • Repeat after me, “I am an individual.” And as such what works for one person may not work for you. Go through the list above and pick one or two supplements and go from there. If you need your vitamin D or hormone levels checked, schedule online at, or give us a call – (262) 373-0169. We can also facilitate sleep testing and treatment of sleep apnea as well.

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