Women with sleep problems

How's your sleep been lately? Deep, nourishing and replenishing – awaking refreshed to face the world fully charged and fired up.

Or the following:

  • Restless
  • Unable to nod off
  • Waking up through the night thinking
  • Waking tired or grumpy
  • Over active mind preventing you sleeping
  • Quiet mind but stare blankly at the ceiling

If you are in the second group, don’t panic. Most people are right there with you.
Sleep at the best of times can be a complex subject with multi-facets to it. In this article we are going to examine some basic concepts that may assist your sleep needs.

When trying to sleep your mind should slow its alpha brain waves down to slower brain waves called delta and theta. All this should happen because you have made a conscious choice to lay down and stop thinking. A part of your nervous system called the para-sympathetic nervous system (functions shown below on left) should kick in and start slowing your metabolism down, relax your muscles, divert blood flow away from them and start the process of renewing your body and detoxifying it.

However, we have a part of the brain called the limbic brain (shown above on right), which is more commonly known as the primitive brain. Researchers suggest it is where emotions, fears, dark unexplained sensations, and feelings arise from. In terms of sleep it is also the area where unresolved issues from the day, week or month bumble around.

In a perfect world, we wake up, go about our business, conclude it at the end of day (or see a definite resolution in the future), and then go to sleep. However, that is mostly far from the truth today.

Mostly our limbic systems are more active than normal while sleeping, which means the parasympathetic nervous system does not completely switch off the conscious part of our brain we use while awake.

This can result in a lowering of certain brain chemicals that are needed to go to sleep, and a higher than normal need for supplemental magnesium. Magnesium is used a lot in nerve conduction and to relax muscles. When a nerve fires and the muscle contracts, microscopic bits of calcium fly into the muscle fibres to make it twitch and flex. When the nerve stops firing, magnesium should flood into the muscle to un-contract and relax the muscle fibres – ie return them to a starting position to await the next contraction. A lot of sleep issues have been resolved just using magnesium alone, though it can take a few weeks to fully take effect.

5HTP is a natural plant ingredient that upon ingestion may help increase serotonin, which may have a beneficial effect on sleep. 5HTP stands for 5 – hydroxyl – trypto – phan. One of its main functions is to provide the base ingredients to make the neurotransmitter serotonin. A neurotransmitter is a type of chemical found in the nervous system of certain living creatures. Its job is to transmit signals between different nerves. In regard to sleep, serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means it helps induce a sense of calm, by calming the nerve signals in the brain.

“Combining 5HTP and magnesium may help relax muscles and the brain”

On a deeper level, “trust” helps a person sleep. Where trust has been eroded, either subtle or obvious, the limbic system becomes active and the subconscious starts posing a lot of seemingly unanswerable questions; what about….? What if….? Will they….? And so on. I say this, because if they all had definite answers to them, then the certainty of knowing would restore a person’s “trust.”

Analysing and restoring “trust” is outside the scope of this article, but is food for thought.

By Shane A. Mason, ND, Dip Med Herb
Clinicians Naturopath

Shane A. Mason, ND, Dip Med Herb

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