Written by Cammi Balleck, CTN, ANCB Board Certified Naturopath
Did you know that sleep is an essential part of optimal health?
No, you don’t need to just take a sleeping pill, you need to give your body the nutrition it needs to function like it was created to. If we are healthy we have energy all day and sleep all night. Drugging yourself every night has its risks, research shows that sleeping pills kill 500,000 Americans annually. Sleeping pills just knock you out without solving the problem. They treat symptoms but not the cause.
It’s a fact. If you’re not sleeping well, it’s impossible to be healthy!
Insomnia is having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or the inability to get quality sleep throughout the night. Persistent insomnia is a huge clue that something is desperately wrong with one’s balance in life. Left untreated, insomnia can destroy one’s health. The sad thing though if you’re not sleeping you’re not healing and you become off balance as you don’t sleep.
The thyroid hormones work in a feedback loop with your brain — particularly your pituitary, hypothalamus and adrenals — in regulating the release of thyroid hormone. Your pituitary makes TRH (thyroid releasing hormone), and your hypothalamus makes TSH. If everything is working properly, you will make what you need and you’ll have the proper amounts of T3 and T4.
Those two thyroid hormones — T3 and T4 — are what control the metabolism of every cell in your body. But their delicate balance can be disrupted by nutritional imbalances, toxins, allergens, infections, and stress. If your hormones are off balance your whole system suffers.
Understanding the cause of insomnia
Insomnia is caused by nutritional deficiencies. The deficiencies are caused by poor quality foods, poor digestion, and poor elimination. In addition depletion is caused by man-made artificial “foods”. You need minerals and amino-acids to sleep well. It is true stress keeps us awake but the real deep cause is not the stress, but the lowered resistance to stresses and increased nervous irritability because of deficient nutrition.
Nutritional deficiencies cause a biochemical imbalance and can cause an “over-firing” in the brain. It is something that occurs when you put your head down, trying to go to sleep or trying to get back to sleep in the middle of the night, and suddenly your mind starts to produce all of these unwanted, uncontrollable thoughts. It’s as if the mind has a mind of its own.
The most common cause of insomnia is when our stress hormone cortisol is out of balance meaning it is too high at night. This will cause you to stay awake. Cortisol is the hormone your body produces in response to stress, real or imagined, which is why it’s commonly referred to as “the stress hormone”. Cortisol is suppose to be high in the morning when you wake and slowly lower during the day. However if you are stressed, cortisol can be high at night and keep your energy high and you awake.
Also other neurotransmitters such as GABA and melatonin can be imbalanced causing you to stay awake. The adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system, just like the thryroid. If you have a low thyroid it’s most likely you have low adrenals. They work together.
Adrenal exhaustion can come when we are coping with chronic long term stress. Your adrenal glands are overworked, the result is you feel exhausted, often depressed, insomnia, and your muscle tone decreases while body fat increases. Your thyroid function is closely coupled to your adrenal function, which is intimately affected by how you handle stress. How you handle stress is affected by if your body has enough nutrition to handle it or not.
Most of us, okay, all of us are under stress, which results in increased adrenalin and cortisol levels and elevated cortisol has a negative impact on thyroid function. Thyroid hormone levels drop during stress, while you actually need more thyroid hormones during stressful times.
When stress becomes chronic, the flood of stress chemicals (adrenalin and cortisol) produced by your adrenal glands interferes with the thyroid. A prolonged stress response can lead to adrenal exhaustion which is often found alongside thyroid disease.
18 things thyroid patients can do now to sleep
Traditional naturopaths look at the underlying causes of symptoms and attempt to correct nutritional deficiencies before disease sets in. I focus on determining the root causes by looking at your entire body and environment. Of course optimal thyroid treatment is key for thyroid patients struggling with insomnia. However there are additional things to consider and I’ve included links to preferred brands below.
Supplement needs vary on an individual basis so consult with your doctor to be sure the suggested supplements are right for you. Some of the supplements are not recommended during pregnancy or lactation. Your physiology and life history are unique. Your path to health will be unique too.
- Exercise in the morning and do a relaxing yoga or meditation at night.
- Eat a high-protein snack several hours before bed. This can provide the L-tryptophan needed to produce melatonin and serotonin.
- Eat cherries in the evening. Cherries boost the body’s own supply of melatonin.
- Eat nuts, which are rich in selenium.
- Get plenty of sunlight to optimize your vitamin D levels or take a whole food D supplement. Speak to your doctor about testing your vitamin D level to determine the ideal dosage for your body.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin A such as sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and greens. Note – dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, chard, and collards are ok but they have goitrogenic properties especially when eaten raw so take care not to eat them in large amounts. Cooking and steaming reduces the goitrogenic effect.
- Use Organic Coconut Oil in your cooking, smoothies, and on your skin.
- A small cup of chamomile tea after dinner may help you begin the relaxing process.
- Passionflower is native to tropical and sub-tropical sections of the Americas and have a long history to promote emotional balance through relaxation of the nervous system which acts as a natural stress relief and natural sleep aid. Passionflower is also used to relieve anxiety.
- Lemon Balm Powder is considered a “calming” herb. It also helps as a natural stress relief and natural sleep aid. It was used as far back as the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep (natural sleep aid), improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort from indigestion (including gas and bloating as well as colic). However use caution with Lemon Balm if you have autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
- Kava Kava has been shown in several studies to decrease feelings of mild anxiety and symptoms of insomnia. There are anecdotal reports of kava’s ability to do so without alterations in consciousness. People who consume alcohol should avoid kava as well.
- A larger number of studies have examined whether the herb Valerian is effective for treating insomnia. In many of these, valerian decreased the time it took for participants to fall asleep and, in some studies, it lengthened total sleep time and/or improved sleep quality. The generally recommended dose is 450-600 mg taken about 2 hours before bedtime.
- Melatonin is a hormone that occurs naturally in the body. It is associated with regulating circadian rhythms (your 24-hour wake-sleep cycle). Some studies have found that melatonin improved sleep in patients with major depression as well as for those with schizophrenia. It is advisable to consult a physician with expertise in treating sleep disorders when considering using this or other herbal or supplements for insomnia.
- Speak to your doctor about a mineral supplement with iodine in it. The topic of iodine for thyroid health is a controversial topic especially in the case of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Speak to your doctor about testing for iodine deficiency. I recommend Min-Tran from Standard Process. Minerals work as a mild tranquilizer and a mild natural calmative to establish balanced function of the nervous system and the endocrine system. Mintran is great to support thyroid function as well and it’s a whole food supplement so it’s safe to take. Iodine is a key component of thyroid hormone. If you aren’t getting enough iodine in your diet (and most Americans don’t), no matter how healthy your thyroid gland is, it won’t have the raw materials to make enough thyroid hormones. Also, eat plenty of sea vegetables such as seaweed, which are rich in minerals and iodine (hijiki, wakame, arame, dulse, nori, and kombu).
- Take a complete omega 3 supplement with double the EPA than DHA.
- Try taking your thyroid medication right before going to sleep at night, rather than taking it first thing in the morning. This helps many thyroid patients with insomnia, but it can also make insomnia worse for other patients. Every person’s body is unique but this is worth considering. Be sure to speak to your doctor whenever you make changes to how you take your medication.
- I like to have my patients take extra calcium and magnesium at night before bed to help with insomnia (this also helps with balancing stress hormones). Natural Calm by Natural Vitality is a popular anti-stress drink that balances your calcium intake and restores healthy magnesium levels. Taking supplements such as calcium and magnesium at the same time as your thyroid medication may decrease the effectiveness of the thyroid medication. Separate the timing of when you take your thyroid medication and supplements by 4-6 hours.
- Insomnia is a common sign of adrenal fatigue. Our adrenals and thyroid are so intricately connected. One way to treat adrenal fatigue is through the use of adaptogen herbs, such as Ashwagandha. They are great healing herbs for the adrenals and thyroid and really good in times of stress.
An insomnia problem is no different from any other chronic illness – you must address the underlying issues if you hope to correct the problem.
If you live in Alaska and have chronic insomnia, contact Alaska Sleep Clinic today to speak with one of our board-certified sleep specialists.
About Cammi Balleck, CTN, ANCB Board Certified Naturopath
Cammi Balleck is an ANCB Board Certified Traditional Naturopath. She has been called the leading Happy Hormone Doctor. She has over 11 years experience specializing in biochemical balance and she is author of the book Happy the NEW Sexy. Cammi is the women’s health expert for Women’s Day, O, Prevention, Shape, and First Magazines as well as a featured expert for TBN, and FOX NEWS NATIONALLY. In addition she has made guest appearances on CW stations in Denver.