Help Put an End to “Midnight Madness” 

By Dr. Barbara Custer

More than 53 million sleeping pill prescriptions are given each year. That’s a lot of people not sleeping. There are many more people taking the so-called “non addictive” sleeping medications which are sold over the counter. These statistics do not include the number of prescriptions for anxiety. What are some of the real issues behind insomnia and anxiety, and what can we do to stop “ Midnight Madness”

 Body Rhythms and Brain Chemistry

The body has natural rhythms that have evolved over thousands of years. Waking and sleeping are some important ones. These rhythms are governed by light and the absence of light. When the sun rises and the eyes are exposed to natural light, the optic nerve signals the release of many different brain chemicals. These brain chemicals are called neurotransmitters. Some of the neurotransmitters are excitatory, and signal the body and the brain to wake up and get going. The night time neurotransmitters are calming and relaxing are produced by the absence of light. When these nighttime neurotransmitters become more dominant, the body becomes more relaxed, tired and falls to sleep.

Over Worked and Sleep Deprived

We are a society of people who may be working multiple jobs, raising families, and drinking lots of caffeinated beverages. This can artificially upregulate the body’s natural energy and then cause an imbalance in stress cortisol levels and affect natural sleep patterns. This constant pushing and over use of caffeine is like trying to whip a little donkey up a hill when he has already carried 50 people up the mountain.  Eventually some from of chronic and acute fatigue may be experienced. I t can also lead insomnia, anxiety and depression. Missing out on deep REM sleep can be damaging to our health because this is when some of the most important repair work for organs and tissues happens.

 Get Outside and Get Active

This is the first time in history that masses of people work in offices, exercise indoors, and rarely see natural light. Many people who work and exercise indoors, and drink lots of caffeine, can experience some level of chronic insomnia, anxiety or depression. There are also many serious life situations that can also cause these symptoms as well. The main point is that the body has had thousands of years of biological adaptation to evolve to a level of sophisticated functioning. Many symptoms occur when we push ourselves too hard and live against the body’s natural cycles.

 Some Insights into Insomnia

The sleep center at UCSF San Francisco highlights “Sleep Hygiene” as one of the most important aspects for curing insomnia. It includes going to bed before 10 pm which is when certain hormones naturally start elevating causing a “second wind.”  They also recommend lying down, reading and relaxing. Lying down and reading helps the body relax and wind down from a long day of constant activity. Scary novels and depressing newspaper and magazine articles are recommended. Reading also helps as it mimics the eye movement produced in REM sleep, which is one of the deepest levels of sleep.

 Other Tips to Stop Midnight Madness

  • Yoga and meditation are calming and can be used as night time activities to help to unwind from a busy day and prepare for sleep. 

  • Caffeine can affect the body for hours, so any chocolate, tea, and coffee consumed in the afternoon and evening may greatly affect sleep cycles. This includes decaf coffee (one cup of decaf coffee contains 6% caffeine.)

  • Any strenuous exercise after 4 pm may be over stimulating to your adrenal glands. This turns on the stimulating neurotransmitters and some adrenal hormones that may not allow your body to relax enough to fall asleep.

  •  If you have been taking over the counter sleep aids, go off them gradually and take natural products so you don’t have withdrawal symptoms and rebounding insomnia.

  •  All alcohol, especially red wine, hard alcohol, and sugar, may be heating and inflaming to the body. They can cause a histamine reaction that may over stimulate the brain and liver and cause insomnia.

 There is Hope

Some of most effective natural products used for sleep, anxiety, and depression are: Gaba, Taurine, Theanine, Valerian, and Melatonin, 5hpt. These natural products are non-addictive, safe to use, and found in many health food stores and pharmacies. There are many Chinese Herbal formulas that can also have a very calming and relaxing effect and are specifically used for anxiety and sleep. Please consult with your health care provider. If these products are accompanied with the important sleep hygiene guidelines above, you can notice that your sleep cycles may improve in just a few weeks.

For people who have been taking prescription medications please consult with your health care provider before starting to make any changes to dosages.  It is also important to get comprehensive blood chemistry panels and to check for thyroid, adrenal, and neurotransmitter imbalances.  Natural products and medications can be taken safely together but it is very important to wean off pharmaceutical drugs slowly and gradually with the help of your doctor or health care practioner.