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Ask Dr. Scott: I just need a rest from insomnia

Four years ago this month, the NCAA Division II wrestling national championships were held in upper Iowa. At the time, CSU-Pueblo did not even have a team. Head Coach Dax Charles was working for the Pueblo Boys Ranch and Assistant Coach Shawn Brewer was working on his ranch in Crowley County. Yet this month, the NCAA DII championships will be held in Pueblo with a team that has been nationally ranked and that includes several athletes who have been in and out of the top 8 rankings. Quite a turn around from a program that was cut back in 2001.

Q: I have suffered from insomnia for many years and I heard that you have some answers for this problem. Is there anything you can suggest that might finally help me?

A: As you probably know, deep restful sleep is a critical biological experience that influences a wide variety of physiological processes. Your insomnia may be affecting your mood and your ability to learn and make memories; it also affects your metabolism, appetite, blood pressure, and the levels of inflammation in your body and perhaps even your immune response. Insomnia is also closely associated with depression. The National Sleep Foundation says that adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night while kids may need 10 or more!

Within the course of a year, up to 30% of the population suffers from insomnia (50 to 70 million adults). (Smith, 2013) Many people use over-the-counter medications to combat the problem, while others seek stronger sedatives. Each year roughly ten million people in the U.S. receive prescriptions for sedative hypnotics.

The two primary classes of drugs used in the treatment of insomnia are anti-histamines and benzodiazepines. Antihistamines, like Benadryl and Nytol, are available over the counter, while benzodiazepines, like Valium, Lunesta, Ambien and Halcion, are available by prescription. While both antihistamines and benzodiazepines are effective in the short term, they cause significant problems in the long term. (Kaplan & Sadock, 2009) Benzodiazepines, in particular, are not designed to be used for the long term, as they are addictive, have numerous side-effects, and cause abnormal sleep patterns. Antihistamines also interfere with normal sleep patterns. As a result, people who take sleeping pills enter a vicious cycle. They take the drug to induce sleep, but the drug causes further disruption of normal sleep. In the morning, in an attempt to “get going,” they will typically drink large quantities of coffee, which further worsens insomnia. Additionally, sleeping pills do not treat the causes of your insomnia!

Many years ago it was observed that when the lights in the treatment room were turned off, several key muscles associated with the endocrine system would immediately test weak in patients with insomnia. A specific type of cranial and mandibular (TMJ) disturbance has been associated with this finding, and correction of this problem frequently results in patients sleeping better once again.

Dr. Shaun Craig, an excellent chiropractor in our office, recently published a research article about an 18-year-old male with major cranial and nutritional deficiencies complaining of life-long insomnia who recovered completely after 4 applied kinesiology treatments. (Craig, 2013) This patient found he no longer stayed awake all night, and he began to get the healing benefits of sleep. He awoke with energy and no longer had many of the health problems associated with insomnia.

Occasionally, nutritional supplementation for the pineal gland (melatonin producing gland) needs to be employed. We have the patient chew the pineal gland nutrition and observe the appropriate muscle to determine either the beneficial effect on muscle strength with the lights out in the treatment room. These two corrections have been very effective on literally hundreds of patients over the years. (Cuthbert, 2013)

Coffee, as well as less obvious caffeine sources such as soft drinks, chocolate, coffee-flavored ice cream, hot cocoa, and tea, should all be restricted. Alcohol also produces sleep-impairing effects. In addition to causing the release of adrenaline, alcohol impairs the transport of tryptophan into the brain and, because the brain is dependent upon tryptophan as a source for serotonin (an important neurotransmitter that initiates sleep), alcohol disrupts serotonin levels.

Our experience in clinical practice is that nocturnal hypoglycemia (low night-time blood glucose level) is an important cause of insomnia. A common American breakfast is oatmeal, cereal, or pancakes, all high carbohydrate starts to the day that will send blood sugar and insulin levels skyrocketing. Typical lunches include plenty of bread, pasta, or rice, triggering another major spike in blood sugar. Dinner is not only equally as starchy, but also usually followed by dessert. Daytime snacks include sweetened coffee drinks and sweets. Many people in Colorado suffer from faulty glucose metabolism, either hypoglycemia or pre-diabetes, because they over-eat refined carbohydrates. Good bedtime snacks to keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the night should be proteins, particularly strips of turkey as this contains abundant tryptophan. The addition of chromium, vanadium and alpha-lipoic acid (often combined in one pill) to your daily supplement-regimen can relieve hypoglycemic stress in pre-diabetic patients.

Do the easy things first in order to sleep better. Establish consistent times to sleep and wake; use your bedroom only for sleep and sex; remove the TV; finish eating, drinking, coffee or alcohol at least 3 hours before sleep; do yoga or meditation before bed; a late night walk and relaxation can unwind the mind and body; turn the clock away from your view; and make sure your sleep position is comfortable and ergonomic. If these do not work for you, see a functional medical physician who can employ the techniques described here.

Effective treatment that corrects insomnia involves identifying and addressing the causes. Needless to say, an overloaded nervous system due to mechanical and chemical disturbances should be found and fixed.

  • Dr. Scott Cuthbert is the chief clinician at the Chiropractic Health Center in Pueblo, Colorado, as well as the author of two new textbooks and over 50 peer-reviewed research articles. PuebloChiropracticCenter.com.

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