Have you ever CRAVED sleep? Ever been so bone-deep tired that you ache upon waking? As a new mom to a 3-month-old, I can attest firsthand to the collective pain from those sleepless nights that quickly translates into sheer daily exhaustion. At the health food store I work at, customers have been coming in by the dozens looking for something to remedy THEIR sleepless nights. Our bodies require a good night's rest to repair. Without it, we exacerbate inflammation and can prevent our bodies from healing. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is used as a torture method! We all have very different reasons WHY we cannot sleep. Getting down to the brain's physiology may help get you a solid night's rest or at least catch a couple more Zzzs!
Everyone can agree that 2020 has been an interesting year, to say the least. We can also agree upon the STRESS load it has added to an innumerable amount of people and their communities. From businesses shutting down to unemployment, parents becoming teachers on the fly, stress on relationships and families, and lowered immune function, all the while, domestic violence, and suicide rates have skyrocketed with an overall increase in mental health issues. It is no wonder people are losing sleep. While the reasons we have stress are very individual and unique to us, there certainly is a common thread among all the sleepless. Understanding the co-relationship of stress and anxiety can give further insight into our sleep issues.
Stress is necessary for survival. The pressure to get things done with varying degrees of urgency is beneficial for accomplishing daily tasks and achieving greater goals. However, when stress becomes damaging, it starts to take over our lives, creating anxiety. The adrenals become overloaded and begin to overfire, producing too much cortisol, and the flight or fight response is triggered unnecessarily. You start flapping your wings to fly away only to realize you are not a bird! In some severe cases, these feelings produce complete panic, and that danger is swiftly approaching, causing momentary paralysis. You want to run, but you don’t know where! It seems as though stress follows you wherever you may go! With overworked adrenals keeping us in alert mode and with no off switch in sight, it makes sense we cannot calm down into a restful state. Our overactive neurotransmitters at play; it is just a vicious recipe for disaster. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could do something to shut off our brains at night?
Social media outlets, the news, fear of getting sick, stress in our relationships, financial struggles, forced isolation, and conflict at our jobs are just some examples of where daily anxiety enters our lives. It seems impossible to turn the noise off in our brains when the daily noise is livid and continuously in our faces. Often it feels like there is no relief, no escape. Anxiety causes issues from not being able to fall asleep initially to waking in the middle of the night. Staying awake from the deeply embedded mental chatter that does not seem to quit turns our minds and bodies right back on. And sometimes, in the middle of the night, we open our phones to get our minds off current events and end up reading possum memes for an hour that make us chuckle while our infants sleep next to us, causing us to stay awake even longer. Sigh, it happens. Sleepless nights... Those particular days bring us sour moods, depleted energy, loss of motivation, and poor food choices, adding stress to other areas of our lives. We need to look a little deeper into how we can alleviate anxiety to allow our minds and bodies to rest. So what can we do about anxiety to help our sleep state?
Our brains naturally produce amino acids that work within our neurotransmitter systems—big words for describing the electrical network in our brain. GABA is a very specific amino acid that the brain produces naturally to modulate neurotransmitter activity. The busy, overworked mind delves quickly into the dark corners of mental chatter and rapidly develops into anxiety. When the brain is overstimulated, GABA goes in and slows down the process. Overworked minds could be a result of hyper-alert, stressed adrenals. That’s where adaptogens can come into play. This class of herbs is responsible for supporting the adrenals by helping to adapt to stress. They work to give energy during the day and rest at night, supporting the adrenals during both shifts. Ashwagandha is a very special adaptogen that helps to support the adrenals and helps produce GABA. Other ways to help support GABA production naturally are probiotic strains, which are also showing more prevalence in the brain's complexity via the vagus nerve. What’s in our guts transfers through a series of physiological mechanisms riding on the vagus nerve from the stomach to the brain. L-rhamnosus is a special probiotic strain that produces GABA. Now that we know producing more GABA can help quell anxiety and lead to more zzzs, let’s look into other areas of the human terrain that may need balance work to find rest.
Mammals have a network that closely mimics the nervous system, the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Researchers have only touched the tip of the iceberg with the complexity of this bodily system. So far, we have discovered that the ECS is filled with receptors throughout our body and in our brain. If the receptors are out of balance, cannabinoids affect the brain's state and modulate brain activity. Although we have existing cannabinoids naturally occurring that work to bring the body to homeostasis or balance, they sometimes need outside help when the body is riddled with too much stress. Here enters a special cannabinoid found in the hemp plant, otherwise known as cannabidiol (CBD). CBD can quickly influence the overstimulated receptors, causing shortages and calming the receptors that are overworked, much like GABA from a different angle using different available receptor sites. Finding balance is always the key, and these are just a few supplemental options that can get you there.
Aside from supplements to aid us along into slumber, we can look to behavior before bed. Foods or beverages that could be stimulating us at the wrong time get our circadian rhythms thrown off. There are other ways to mitigate stress, such as particular lifestyle choices like exercising and meditation… OR, perhaps something as simple as shutting the light off and turning off all electronics an hour before bed to help encourage melatonin production may be all you need! We can help you figure out these pieces of the puzzle. Give us a call! You are TIRED. And we want to help you sleep. We'll be your sleep detectives and work with you to create the right formula just for you because we know that no two people are alike.
Natural Health Practitioner
348 South Waverly Rd., Suite 220