Insomnia is hell! Unless you’ve been tired as hell, lying in bed, night after night, watching the clock tick over and over every hour, you’ll never understand how bad life can be for someone with insomnia!
To those who don’t suffer with insomnia, insomnia can seem a strange condition. Why don’t you just close your eyes and sleep?
But sleep is a very misunderstood process and I’ve seen this lead to many mistakes in management by both everyday people and by practitioners.
You see there is this myth that a hormone called melatonin is responsible for sleep, and well, nothing could be further from the truth! Yes melatonin does play a role in sleep, but simply because melatonin is elevated at night doesn’t mean it’s responsible for us sleeping.
Melatonin has a sedative effect on the brain, it calms and relaxes the brain and gives you that drowsy feeling that often comes with nightfall. However, sleep itself is not a result of being drowsy, if so taking melatonin as a supplement would put anyone to sleep at any time of the day!
Sleep really is a neurological event, not simply a hormonal one. To give you an analogy, if it was 1am, you’re ridiculously tired and then a lion entered your house, would you sleep? Of course not!
All that would matter is surviving. Your senses would be heightened, and you’d do whatever it took to survive. What you are experiencing is an elevation in brain arousal.
Brain arousal rates really are what allow us to sleep at night. When the brain relaxes, and arousal rates fall, this is when we start to sleep. For this to occur requires some preparation work from the body, some of which is done by melatonin.
Understanding this, here’s my top THREE MISTAKES I see people with insomnia make:
- They rely on melatonin to fix their sleeping issues: Whilst melatonin does help some people relax, it is not a sleep medication. If melatonin does help you sleep, most likely there is a stress related event effecting a hormone called cortisol that needs to be dealt with. This can also involve an area of the brain known as your hippocampus that also helps regulate your memory
- They let time pass with technology: Not being able to sleep can be a massive problem. Passing the time with the use of tablets and mobile phones just makes the problem worse. The high frequency, full spectrum flashing lights from phone use stimulate the brain and can increase brain arousal rates. Whilst many find this relaxing, it is often as a result of distraction rather than a calming of the brain.
- They stay up late: Eventually, no matter what happens, the brain will become so exhausted that you eventually crash. Many people will stay up as late as possible (I’ve seen some stay up as late as 5am!) to ensure they’re tired enough to fall quickly asleep. This often further disrupts our circadian rhythms though resulting in even further disruption heading forward.
Sleep is a complicated neurological and physiological event that with appropriate assessment and management can often be restored. Ignoring it and using distraction techniques can lead to greater issues and further disruption in the neurobiochemistry resulting in greater problems heading forward.