Having spent many years as a former insomniac, I thought it might be helpful to tackle the subject of sleepless nights at the start of a hopeful and more peaceful new year. After all, even those of us who are relatively healthy and not experiencing any chronic pain or emotional upheaval will occasionally meet up with the biggest bedtime bogeyman of them all—insomnia.
This bogeyman is the dreadful sensation of going to sleep only to wake up at 3:00 a.m. or even earlier. All the while you lay in bed frustrated, listening to the minutes and hours tick away because you’re unable to fall back to sleep! Or even worse, from the moment your head touches the pillow, you begin to toss, turn, think, plan, and worry, getting more and more anxious, rigid with tension, never able to completely shut down your brain chatter.
Most people who experience these sleep time disorders may finally give in to total nervous exhaustion, winning a few hours of what is hard to define as real rest. No doubt you may recall many times when you’ve slipped into a come-and-go semi-sleep only to wake up groggy, anxious from the struggle, and feeling like, well, you know how (grin). That’s why I’m calling it a bogeyman…it’s just plain scary and, I might add, nerve racking.
These are only two of the more prevalent insomnia disorders that people experience. And for those of us who, like I mentioned above, aren’t chronically ill or dealing with emotional trauma, there are ways to deal with them. Although some of the suggestions herein may also help people in the latter group, their insomnia may best be served with the help of a holistic practitioner and/or medical doctor, especially if taking other types of medications that could have side effects if combined with herbs or supplements.
For the rest of us, the general direction seems to be simply drugging ourselves with over-the-counter synthetic aids or medically prescribed sleeping pills. This, of course, is a dangerous and unhealthy way to resolve the problem—but what to do otherwise remains a big question for most of the population.
Some people resort to one of the more popular so-called natural alternatives, easily purchased at the local health food store or online supplement site. Such alternatives draw us in with words, promises, and graphics that sound like the panacea of a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, for the most part they’re only a bandage that obscures the root cause of our sleepless nights (or days, if you work the nightshift).
Too many of us try to treat the symptoms of our insomnia without consulting a holistic practitioner or even researching any side effects. It’s common for people with basic insomnia to self-medicate with one or more of the many so-called natural alternatives. But in the long run, this may be more dangerous than not getting a good night’s sleep. One such alternative is the hormone melatonin, which I’ll discuss further down.
So here’s my first recommendation: please don’t believe everything you read or see! Remember, supplement companies hire professional ad writers to come up with a great sales pitch for their product. Always check out the side effects of anything you decide to take, whether it’s medical or natural.
Since there are limitations to how much I can write on this subject, allow me to set out a few points to ponder, including some useful foods and one recipe in particular that I found to be very helpful. Additionally, I suggest some safe whole food supplements that may ease your symptoms until you can find a permanent fix for your insomnia.
If you take the steps below seriously, and if you’re willing to tweak your lifestyle just a bit—or in some cases, a whole lot—your insomnia may become a thing of the past. If not, you may eventually come to experience the accumulative physical and mental effects of insomnia, as I and many others have. Not so good a path!
Main Obstacles to a Good Night’s Sleep
I recently came across an interesting little quip stating there are two types of people who can sleep like logs no matter what else is happening in their lives. The first type makes their living by farming, and the second type works in construction or has some other physically demanding job. Why? Because this type of heavy physical labor brings on the most natural form of exhaustion, preparing both the body and mind for genuine sleep and rest. What this also proves, in my humble opinion, is that there’s no getting around the Natural Law (Mother Nature) when it comes to sleep. When we’re genuinely exhausted from doing one of the most necessary things known to our existence—hard physical work—the payoff is uninterrupted, deep, restful sleep. It’s that simple.
Please don’t stop reading! I anticipate the uproar, and I can almost hear everyone screaming there’s no way on God’s green earth that everyone could possibly achieve that form of natural exhaustion. So what’s the answer? In his wonderful old book Release from Nervous Tension, Dr. David Fink, MD, states, “We cannot experience sound sleep unless we are relaxed.”
Aha! So this is why people who do hard physical work sleep so well—they’re relaxed to the max! Additionally, people who are exposed to natural daylight during the workday experience longer and better sleep than those whose work deny them such light (see quote below).
Yes, we can still achieve a state of natural exhaustion even if we don’t put in a 12-hour day lifting logs, milking cows, or planting 20 acres of corn. Even so, there are a few changes you can make to achieve that same level of wondrous exhaustion that comes so naturally to the farmer and construction worker.
#1. Relaxation Is Not an Instinctual Trait but a Learned Good Habit
Because this is such a dense subject that I’ve written a good deal on, I’ll simply lay out my own personal experience regarding insomnia. For as long as I can remember, I was always led to believe that I had a “type-A” personality. It was natural for me to go from one project to another without respite, attempting to achieve multiple tasks at the same time, driving all over creation at record speeds, always planning tomorrow’s to-do list—and, if possible, starting it today! Whew! Sound like anybody you know?
After years and years of struggling with fear, anxiety, and many restless, sleepless nights, I discovered that I was anything but a type-A personality. I now believe that a type-A personality is, at best, just an excuse for abnormal behavior. What I finally learned about myself is that I’m an anxious, fearful, very impatient, worried-about-the-future type person! The so-called type-A label caused me to make horrendous financial and living decisions. I now understand that these traits are connected to our upbringing…but that’s another whole subject.
Suffice it to say, I eventually ended up so physically and mentally spent that I had no other choice but to take a serious look at my lifestyle. Slowly, with the help of many books and the opinions of a few honest friends who, without filling me with guilt, nevertheless exposed me to my ugly, impatient side, I was able to make some changes. Possibly the most relevant of these changes was returning to my childhood faith and church. I also improved my spiritual well-being and my uneasy conscience, and I joined the Weston A. Price Foundation, which corrected my former healthy, but not nutrient dense, diet.
Filled with this knowledge, I slowly started to make that difficult 180-degree turn that allowed me to become infinitely more relaxed, happy, and peaceful, albeit not as perfect as I’d like to be. I now have very little trouble falling and staying asleep. Remember that life is about progress, not perfection!
The important discovery I made in my story is that a peaceful, relaxed state of being is, in my opinion, a learned good habit. It means slowing down, eliminating unnecessary endeavors, and doing things well but not rushed. Most importantly, it must become an integral part of your daytime tasks so you can gradually ease your body and mind into a peaceful afternoon, a serene evening, and a good night’s sleep. It’s not easy, but it’s doable.
It may take you months, even years, to give up practices that keep you and your family in the rat race. Like it or not, living life at the pace of the Natural Law is the ultimate goal in helping us achieve not only restful sleep but also a healthier, longer life.
When you’re fed up and tired of those sleepless nights, you’ll be more willing to take daily steps that will help lessen the load you carry during the day—and, yes—the load of crap you therefore sleep with every single night. I don’t mean the husband or wife, or in my case the cat, lying next to you! By now you know exactly what I mean. Let’s go on to the next most detrimental obstacle to a good night’s sleep.
#2. The Dangers of Being Blue
In his informative article for the Weston A. Price Foundation titled “The Dangers of Being Blue,” John Moody explains how modern lighting negatively affects our sleep patterns:
We haven’t understood the problems with modern lighting, especially lighting that utilizes the brighter daylight spectrum, until relatively recently. But now we’ve improved our grasp of the connection between specialized cells in the human eye and how they affect intricately delicate and complex hormonal and other regulatory systems in our bodies.
According to Wikipedia, the photo pigment melanopsin “is found in some retinal ganglion cells in the eyes of humans and other vertebrates. These cells perceive light but are much slower to react to visual changes than the better known rod and cone cells. They have been shown to affect circadian rhythms, the pupillary light reflex, and several other functions related to ambient light. . . Evidence supports prior theories that melanopsin is responsible for the entrainment of the central ‘body clock’ in mammals.”1
Melanopsin appears to function by affecting and suppressing the production of melatonin, the hormone that allows us to anticipate darkness and signals the onset of sleep. Exposure to light in the evening thus interferes with various hormone-regulating systems, thereby affecting sleep, mood, energy and performance. Commenting on the effects of light on our health, one neurologist has stated that “light works as if it’s a drug.”2 Indeed, just as food is medicine, so is proper light and the lack of nourishing light, like the lack of nourishing food, causes harm.
The effect on sleep cycles and sleep quality is especially important. For instance, one study found the use of an iPad at night before bed caused the body to produce 55 percent less melatonin. Participants took longer to fall asleep and experienced less REM activity during sleep. These same subjects experienced reduced alertness in the morning and had delayed circadian rhythms the next evening compared to those who had read a physical book before bedtime instead.”3[Editor’s note: please click on article link above to view references.]
Personal note: dump the Kindle! Then check out low blue-light glasses here. And for a great book on how to use sunlight for healing, read The Healing Sun by Richard Hobday, PhD.
#3. Melatonin Is Not a Sleeping Pill
Rather than go into a lengthy dissertation on one of the most widely used sleep aids, I refer you to the excellent article “Melatonin Isn’t a Sleeping Pill: 3 Reasons to Avoid Melatonin.” I also encourage you to study the serious side effects of melatonin. Once you do, you’ll understandably want to steer clear of this dangerous synthetic hormone that so many people are now using as a sleep aid.
Also remember that booze is not a relaxant! Rather, it’s a stimulant that affects the nervous system adversely once the initial effects of alcohol, which is ether-based, wear off. This is the case for wine, hard liquor, and beer. To learn more about the effects of alcohol on the nervous system, read my blog post “Treating Alcoholism: What’s the Missing Link?”
#4. A Better Way to Increase Your Serotonin Levels and Achieve Better Sleep
Tryptophan is one of the eight essential amino acids. Your body needs it for general growth and development, to produce niacin, and to create serotonin in the body. Serotonin is thought to produce healthy sleep and a stable mood, which is why tryptophan in turkey is sometimes attributed to making people sleepy. The truth, however, is that lots of other foods contain as much or more tryptophan as turkey but don’t cause drowsiness. High tryptophan foods include nuts, seeds, cheese (preferably raw), red meat (preferably grass fed), chicken, turkey, fish, oats, beans, lentils, and eggs. Be sure to include these great foods in your diet rather than resort to synthetic tryptophan supplements, which can have serious side effects.
Good fats: lard, tallow, coconut oil, and butter are all fats that cause the body to produce heat, increase metabolism, and keep us incredibly healthy. The body cannot rest properly if it is too cool. Being warm and cozy physically is an important component to good sleep. Also consider taking Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) from Standard Process. This is one of my most recommended whole food supplements to keep warm and healthy. Read my blog post “The Warming Power of RNA” to understand the importance of this powerful substance, plus find recipes and a list of foods naturally high in RNA.
#5. Safe Whole Food Sleep Supplements from Standard Process
(Note: Be sure to check with your Standard Process chiropractor or holistic practitioner to make sure you’re taking the right dosage and frequency.)
Calcium Lactate Powder: A relaxing combination of calcium and magnesium in the right ratios, and the most easily assimilated calcium you can take. I take 1–2 teaspoons in barely warm raw milk, which contains tryptophan. I do this right before going to bed, and then I lie down and read a real book—not on a Kindle device—for 15–20 minutes. Before long, my eyes are heavy with that subtle call to nether land. You could of course just lie quietly and pray, use a relaxation technique, or recite healing words and allow nature to take its course. Sleep will come unless you have lots of other baggage to think about.
Inositol Tabs or Powder: This is one of the vitamin B complex factors, and it’s indicated for muscular and nerve pain, ADHD, OCD, and SAD (seasonal affective disorder). It can even quiet down brain chatter.
Cataplex B and Cataplex G: The B vitamins are essential to nerve health, and the full spectrum is contained in these two supplements. Cataplex B will tone the nerves while Cataplex G will relax the nerves and increase circulation. Check with your practitioner as to which one, if not both, is best for you.
MediHerb Valerian Complex: A calmative for anxiety, insomnia, and muscle and nervous tension.
#6. Indispensible Reading Material
The books listed below are suggestions only. Over the years these volumes brought me to my new beginning with better sleep and profoundly improved emotional health.
I have recommended them and seen the proof of their goodness with many of my clients.
It’s important to remember that these are therapeutic type books, not stories.
It’s therefore incumbent upon you to read them not once but numerous times, and come back to them again and again in order to benefit from a new understanding each time. Also, read real books. Dump the Kindle device so as not to disrupt your circadian rhythms.
Transforming Your Dragons. If you’re impatient—which I admit used to be one of my worse traits—or if you’d like to see what your major personality character defects are, this book will bring you the best information I’ve read on becoming emotionally mature.
Don’t Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks. If you’re prone to panic attacks or serious anxiety attacks and other things have failed to resolve those issues, this book will bring optimum methods without any type of medications.
Release from Nervous Tension. When you’re finally ready to learn an easy way to develop a lifelong relaxation method and understand the workings of the emotional brain center (the hypothalamus), this older, easy-to-understand book gets my 100 percent thumbs up.
The Conquest of Fear. If fear has paralyzed your life, the experiences of this author will bring you new hope and healing.
Prescription for Anxiety. This is a lovely Christian rendition from a minister who helped people during WWII with severe anxiety issues. A sure bet if you’re of a Christian religious persuasion.
Don’t worry—as my good friend Dr. Lowell Keppel likes to say, “It’s Never Too Late to Sleep Like a Baby.” You’ll love this quick reference tip sheet from him.
This is a nutrient dense tonic from Nourishing Traditions. The health benefits of potassium include relief from stroke, blood pressure, heart and kidney disorders, anxiety and stress, as well as enhanced muscle strength, metabolism, water balance, electrolytic functions, and nervous system.
4 organic potatoes, well scrubbed
3 organic carrots, peeled and chopped
4 organic celery stalks, chopped
4 quarts filtered water
1 bunch organic parsley
- Peel potatoes. Place potato peelings, carrots, and celery in a large pot with the filtered water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add parsley and simmer for 5 more minutes.
- Cool and strain the finished potassium broth into glass containers in the refrigerator, reheating small amounts as needed. Add 1 tablespoon homemade whey to each cup for a big boost to mineral assimilation. Potassium broth freezes beautifully, so freeze what you will not use in about one week.
One other look-see that’s very informative regarding a potassium-rich beverage and its numerous other health benefits, including longevity, are detailed in Coconut Water, an excellent book by Bruce Fife, ND. It’s truly a must read.
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:
- chemical- and hormone-free meat
- wild-caught fish
- pasture-raised, organic eggs
- whole, unrefined grains
- virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
- whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
- pure, clean, spring water
- sea salt
- raw and/or cultured milk and cream products
Photo from iStock/OcusFocus
Note from Maria: I am a Certified Natural Health Professional, CNHP, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat, or claim to prevent, mitigate, or cure any human diseases. Please see your medical doctor prior to following any recommendations I make in my blogs or on my website.