health & wellness

Understanding Sleep To Get Rid Of Insomnia With Natural Remedies

Sheena Joseph | Dec 03 2019
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Sleep is one of the few things without which the human body cannot survive. Researches on rats have shown that without sleep, mammals will die within the same duration as they die without food. This duration is between two to three weeks. However, before dying of sleep deprivation at the end of three weeks, you are likely to lose your mind because your brain cannot function without sleep.

You may have seen people with deteriorating health due to lack of sleep. Insomniacs are among the most miserable people on earth. Their body hasn’t rested and their mind is foggy. Students who go on studying all night and skip sleep before exams end up regretting the choice because they cannot remember anything. Your brain stores information while you sleep. You are interrupting the process of memory by not sleeping. This is only one of the funny effects of lack of sleep.

Your brain, muscles, vital organs, and even your digestive tract are influenced by sleep. However, this problem can be solved with a little bit of effort to understand sleep and some research on ‘how to get rid of insomnia with natural remedies’.

Things That Happens While You Sleep

To know what happens to your body if you don’t sleep, you need to know what happens while you are asleep.

1. Your Muscles Are Off-Duty

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Sleep is vital to your physical and mental health. Your muscles are active throughout the day. Even when you are sitting in your office cubicle, they are on duty. In fact, simply lying down do not relax them. The muscles in your body relax only when you are asleep. You may have noticed that your legs start feeling lighter when you are sleepy. This process of relaxation will continue as you progress through the night. They will be paralysed by the time you are in the stages - non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM). While giving muscles a chance to rest completely, it also stops you from acting out in your dreams.

 

2.  Your Brain Does Homework

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The brain has a lot of work to do. It doesn't completely rest even when you are not sleeping. So, the least you can do for your brain is that you don't interrupt the pattern. Your brain will be sorting through every single information you came across during the day. It organises the details and sends them off to long term memory. This time is used to clear waste from the brain too. Cerebrospinal fluid is filled in the brain which acts like a housekeeping staff that clears out trash from the brain. Any unwanted particle, like toxic proteins and molecular detritus of neurons, will be flushed out. This leads to a morning with a clean slate.

3. Endocrine System Take Charge

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The stress hormone cortisol is not good news. But we have a fair amount of it during the day. As you go to sleep, cortisol levels drop. This means that your body is slowly freeing itself from the harmful grip of cortisol. Low levels of cortisol make you feel happy and refreshed when you wake up in the morning because your body is less stressful than it was eight hours ago. As you get closer to bedtime, the pineal gland releases more melatonin which makes you sleepy. At the same time, another important hormone also floods the body. The pituitary gland releases growth hormone which repairs the body and nudges it towards growth.

Also read: Nine Of The Best Apps To Manage Your Stress

4. Immune System Runs Errands

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Have you ever thought about why you are sleepier when you are sick or injured? No, it is not the meds alone. The immune system can produce proteins called cytokines. They are the ones fighting inflammation, trauma, and infection. You need to be asleep for the immune system to release cytokines efficiently. Many answers you find by searching for ‘how to get rid of insomnia with natural remedies’ will be focused on promoting immunity as well.

 

What Happens When You Don’t Sleep

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Chronic sleeplessness can make your life hell. You are supposed to sleep for one-third of your life. Precisely speaking, eight hours a day. Every 16 hours of active life deserves eight hours of sleep. You must know that sleep is a habit that has survived evolution. Every activity and process that helps us survive halts when you go to sleep. You are not vigilant or ready to move. You are not eating or hunting. Still, evolution has kept sleep a part of human life, which means sleep is as important as food for survival.

Lack of sleep will mess up your cognition, mood, muscles, immunity, and digestive system. It may take some time before the effects of lack of sleep manifest as health issues. But the signs will show up almost instantly. You need to know what is happening when you skip a night’s sleep to understand these signs.

 

1. The Foggy Brain

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The human brain consumes about 20% of the energy body has. Transmitting electrical signals is a very energy-consuming process. It is even active when you sleep. So what happens if you don’t let it slow down a bit at night? Neurons cannot function without sleep. This means that they cannot transmit electrical signals. This will lead to cognitive lapses. It results in disturbance how you see and perceive the world.

 

2. Mood Swings

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Sleep deprivation increases the risk of mood disorders like stress and anxiety. It all starts with abnormal levels of cortisol. Chronic insomnia doesn’t give the body a chance to to be free of cortisol - the stress hormone. It will be a miracle if being stressful for days doesn’t drive you mad. You will start being irritated and short-tempered after a couple of days itself. Since the brain doesn’t give a chance to detox, it will eventually affect the well-being of the brain. Many answers to ‘how to get rid of insomnia with natural remedies’ will involve solutions to mood disorders as they are correlated.

 

3. Closer To Medical Conditions

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The body doesn’t respond well to not getting enough rest. Your organs and their functions will slowly start deteriorating. Lack of sleep increases the risk of dangerous medical conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, stroke, asthma attacks, inflammation, and seizures. It also weakens the immune system and makes you prone to infections. The digestive system and respiratory system are also suffering because the amount of oxygen or food you are taking in doesn't fuel your body enough. Without sleep, your body cannot process anything right.

 

The Perfect Sleep Cycle

There are five stages of sleep. And if you don’t go through each stage or spend enough time in each stage, it cannot be called quality sleep. The body will pass through these five stages four or six times and spent about 90 minutes in each stage.

 

Stage 1 - Transitional Phase

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Have you ever experienced your muscles jerking you which is followed by a falling sensation? Most people have. And they have experienced if often. This falling sensation will jolt you back. This common experience is called hypnic myoclonia and is characteristic to stage one. In this phase, you are partially awake and slowly drifting into sleep. It is a phase of drowsiness more than sleepiness. It is preparing you to smoothly slip you into stage two.

 

Stage 2 - Dreaming Stage

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Now you are officially asleep. Your body temperature and heart rate have dropped and muscles have relaxed. There is no eye movement and brain will experience sleep spindles - an occasional burst of waves. Most people dream in this stage. Light sleepers might be able to remember some parts of their dreams.

 

Stage 3 & 4 - Slow Wave Sleep

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These two stages are known for deep sleep. If you do not enter these stages, you will not feel refreshed or rested. If you are woken up while you are in stage three or four, you will be groggy and irritated and even disoriented. Growth hormones and appetite-controlling hormones are also released during these stages.

These two stages are commonly called SWS - slow-wave sleep. The brain waves are slow (delta waves). Stage three has comparatively faster waves. You can recognise stage three and four in a person by the rhythmic, slower, and deeper breathing pattern. Since the muscles have completely relaxed, the body will be immobile. However, exceptions like sleepwalking are there. Children are likely to experience nightmares and bedwetting during these stages.

 

Stage 5 - REM Sleep

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This is the only stage with rapid eye movement (REM) and the brain is bustling with activity. During all other stages, the brain is resting and detoxing. Now, while the body is still resting, the brain is busy. Since babies have more learning to do, their brains spent about 50% of the time in REM sleep. Adults only spent 20% of their time in REM sleep.

Stage five see a lot of heightened and desynchronized brain waves. It is as if the brain is already awake. This is when the brain is working on organising and storing information. Incidents of the previous day are organised as per chronology. Emotions attached to incidents are also preserved in the last stage. If you didn’t complete your sleep cycle, you will not remember which incident happened first or what exactly you were feeling at the moment.

 

Signs That Lack Of Sleeping Is Taking A Toll On You

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You may think that you are completely fine without a healthy sleep cycle and will get back to the original routine once the exams are over. But keep listening to your body and it may tell a different tale. You need to know the signs of sleep deprivation. If you have been feeling drowsy and tired throughout the day, you are definitely sleep deprived.

Some of the other common symptoms of sleep deprivation are moodiness, yawning all the time, daytime fatigue, irritability, anxiety, forgetfulness, and clumsiness. Yawning is a classic sign that your body needs more energy. It shows that the amount of oxygen you are inhaling is not enough.

Also read: Feeling Tired? 16 Reasons Why You Are Fatigued All The Time

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Since your brain cannot keep up with storing information, you will face difficulty remembering things as well as learning new concepts. You cannot concentrate or stay motivated. People with mood disorders or going through a difficult time in their life are likely to have suicidal thoughts. Increased appetite and reduced sex drive are also commonly seen symptoms.

If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms, take a deep breath and relax. Your problem can be fixed. You have realised the problem before it is too late. All you have to do is start thinking ‘how to get rid of insomnia with natural remedies’. However, you might want to know the reasons behind your sleep disorders. It is only natural to want to find the root of the problem. It can be mood disorders, hormone imbalances, stress, pain, illnesses, unhealthy habits like binge-watching, or a sleep disorder.

If you think you have sleep disorders, the wise move is to visit your health practitioner for a diagnosis. They will also help you to deal with them effectively. However, here are some of the common sleep disorders to understand the symptoms better.

 

Common Types Of Sleep Disorders

Most people think of insomnia and sleepwalking when they hear the term ‘sleep disorders’. But that is not the end of it. Here are five of the most common sleep disorders and their symptoms.

 

1. Insomnia

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There is a reason everyone knows about insomnia. It is the worst among sleep disorders. Imagine staying awake in bed night after night even though you are tired. Insomniacs have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. They don’t get to go through all five stages of sleep. If you don’t find the answer to ‘how to get rid of insomnia with natural remedies’ soon, your physical and mental health will be in danger.

There are three types of insomnia - chronic, intermittent, and transient. Chronic insomnia happens to a person regularly and it will last for at least 30 days. This means the patient gets a good night's sleep and feel refreshed once in a blue moon. Anxiety, stress, trauma, depression, and bipolar disorder are common reasons for chronic insomnia.

Also read: 10 Impacts Of Depression On Body

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Intermittent insomnia is also recurrent like chronic insomnia. But it only lasts for a maximum of two weeks. It could be due to jet lag or change in bedtime. People with intermittent insomnia don’t need treatment. They can wait for the body clock to adjust and depend on some home remedies until then.

The third type, transient insomnia lasts for less than a week. It is mostly triggered by a change in the environment. It could be anything from temperature to an unfamiliar bed. However, in some cases, transient insomnia is caused by stress or grief. It will pass once you have overcome whatever it is that is causing you distress.

 

2. Parasomnias

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Parasomnias are a group of disorders characterised by unwanted behaviours like walking (somnambulism) and talking (somniloquy) while sleeping. Most popular parasomnia is sleepwalking. These are the results of partial arousals during the transitions between stages of sleep. External factors like stress, alcohol, and emotional distress can trigger parasomnia. Some of the commonly seen parasomnias are sleep eating, sleep sex (sexsomnia), teeth grinding, jaw clenching, bedwetting, rhythmic movement disorder, and restless leg syndrome.

Doctors often rule out physical illnesses, medications, and sleep deprivation before diagnosing parasomnias. If you or your partner have noticed any symptoms of parasomnia, you must reach out to a doctor immediately because they are a danger to you and the people near you.

 

3. Narcolepsy

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Narcolepsy is a condition characterised by sleepiness in the daytime. The patient may fall asleep all of a sudden. This disorder is one of the reasons behind the question ‘does sleep deprivation cause hallucinations?’

Sleep paralysis and hallucinations are also part of narcolepsy. In some cases, partial or complete loss of muscle control is also seen. Narcolepsy manifests when the brain can no longer see the boundary between wakefulness and sleep. The loss of muscle tone aka cataplexy is typical to REM sleep. Since the boundaries are blurred, cataplexy can occur during the day time while you are awake.

The hypothalamus region in the brain has a cluster of cells that produce a chemical called hypocretin. This chemical is responsible for alerting the systems that keep us awake and regulating sleep-wake cycles. When these cells are damaged or destroyed, you are prone to narcolepsy.

 

4. Sleep Apnea

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Sleep apnea is another dangerous disorder that disrupts the normal breathing pattern. You will be experiencing abnormal breathing patterns while sleeping. You will experience a sudden halt in breathing. Snoring is a sign of sleep apnea. Other signs of sleep apnea are to stop breathing for a brief period, gasping for breath, dry mouth, and waking up with a headache. You will also have signs of lack of quality of sleep, like lack of concentration, irritability, and extreme sleepiness during the day. 

Sleep apnea, in which you experience abnormal patterns in breathing while you are asleep. There are three types of sleep apnea - obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea syndrome. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the throat muscles are abnormally relaxed. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain doesn't send proper signals to the muscles that regulate breathing. And complex sleep apnea syndrome is a combination of the other two types.

 

What Your Doctor Does?

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Once you approach a doctor with troubles related to sleep, they will try to diagnose if and which sleep disorder you have. There will be a long interview in which the doctor will want to know everything about your habits. Be prepared to talk about your diet, bedtime, mental health, and schedule. You have to be honest because it will help the expert accurately diagnose you.

The hospital will be running a few tests as well. Some of them are polysomnography, electroencephalogram, and genetic blood testing. Polysomnography is a test that assesses the oxygen levels, body movements, and brain waves. The number will provide insight into if and how they are disrupting your sleep pattern. Electroencephalogram is used to analyse the electrical activity in the brain. Any potential abnormality will be flagged during the test. The purpose of genetic blood testing is to detect any underlying health conditions that are causing the sleep disorder. It is commonly used to diagnose narcolepsy.

 

Different Ways To Treat Sleep Disorders

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Once the sleep disorder is diagnosed, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes or medications. In most cases, the underlying problem (chronic pain or stress) will be treated. But in other cases, the doctor may prescribe sleeping pills, melatonin supplements, surgery, or breathing devices.

Both breathing device and surgery are for those suffering from sleep apnea. A dental guard is prescribed to those who grind their teeth in sleep. Many people go into therapy in which they are trained to sleep better. However, solutions like sleeping pills and melatonin supplements are not sustainable. These suggestions are often accompanied by a bunch of recommended lifestyle changes.

Natural remedies have been proven more useful than medicine to see lasting results in sleep disorders. Here are some of the sustainable ways to cope with sleep disorders.

 

1. Eat Healthy

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Your diet influences everything in your life including sleep. You need to know which nutrients are going to promote sleep and which foods have those nutrients. It is one of the most sustainable answers to ‘how to get rid of insomnia with natural remedies’. Some of the vitamins and minerals that promote sleep are magnesium, melatonin, omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, vitamin B6, and vitamin D. Eating almonds, cashews, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, salmon, yoghurt, bananas, cherries, flaxseeds, bell peppers, and oranges will supply the body with sleep-promoting nutrients. Taking supplements for magnesium and melatonin is an option. But it is not a sustainable solution. Eating actual foods nourish the body with natural glucose, water, and dietary fibre as well.

 

2. Keep Track Of Water

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Hydration is essential to your well-being. You should drink about three litres of water every day. But drinking too much water close to bedtime will keep you awake at night. If you drink too much water, as per the natural rules of human body, you will want to go to the bathroom in a while. You want your body to be ready to rest. Peeing in between doesn't suit that intention. Waking up in the middle of the night will disturb the sleep cycle. You will be feeling less rested in the morning.

Also read: How To Drink Water Correctly? Seven Tips To Answer The Less Asked Question

 

3. Skip The Bad Guys

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Sugar, tobacco, and alcohol are not your friends. They can make you feel good for a few moments. But they are not doing any good for your body. Eating sugar during the day will make lower the activity in orexin cells which will make you sleepy. Orexin cells are responsible for producing hypocretin, a chemical that regulates wakefulness and appetite. If you sleep during the day, you will not be feeling sleepy at night.

Smoking is one of the top reasons to promote insomnia and other sleep disorders. Nicotine is a stimulant. It wakes your body and mind. As long as the traces of nicotine is present in your body, you are at risk of waking up in the middle of the night. Even if you manage to sleep through the night, the muscles may not relax completely.

There have been many studies on alcohol's effect on sleep. While it doesn't stop you from falling asleep, it interferes with REM sleep. The more alcohol you have in your system, the lesser the quality of REM sleep.

Also read: These 8 Healthy Foods Can Badly Affect Your Sleep

 

4. Watch Your Caffeine

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Coffee is the most popular way to wake up your mind. The morning coffee is a must-have for a lot of people. If you are prone to sleep disorders, morning coffee will not harm you. However, you should stay away from all forms of caffeine in the afternoon. Do not even think of drinking coffee past 4 PM. Some of the lesser-known forms of caffeine are dark chocolate, energy drinks, sodas, green tea, black tea, and coffee liqueur. Some PMS medications and pills for headache also have caffeine.

Also read: Eight Causes Of Sleep Disorders In Adults

 

5. Deal With Your Hormones

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There is a commonly asked question with a complicated answer.

Does sleep deprivation cause depression? Or is it the other way around?

The answer is, sleep deprivation and depression related and cause each other.

Depression is the main reason behind insomnia. You need to increase the level of happy hormones - dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins, and serotonin. Include foods that boost the production of these hormones. Dopamine is the feel-good hormone. It is part of brian's reward system which is key to learning, memory, and associations. Some foods which will boost the production of dopamine are dairy, salmon, eggs, bananas, almonds, walnuts, and dark chocolate.

Also read: 12 Tips On How To Eat Healthy On A Budget

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Oxytocin plays a major role in childbirth. But it has work to do on other days too. It is known as the love hormone because it is connected to emotions like empathy and trust. It helps you to connect to another person. Acts of physical affection like sex, kissing, or even cuddling can boost the production of oxytocin. Foods like avocados and figs can boost oxytocin production.

Serotonin plays a huge role in physical wellness. It regulates your mood, appetite, digestion, and sleep. Some studies suggest that a good percentage of serotonin in the human body is produced by gut bacteria. Taking care of your gut health with foods like yoghurt and fibre-rich foods are worth the effort.

Also read: 10 Gut-Friendly Foods To Include In Your Diet

Endorphin is the natural painkillers of the body. It can deal with stress and physical discomforts. Spicy foods are known to boost the production of endorphins.

 

6. Yoga And Meditation

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Anxiety and stress can tamper with both your physical health and mental health. This will soon lead to sleep disorders. You can start practising yoga and meditation to tackle stress and anxiety. It may seem like they are not doing anything instantly. But in a few months, they will improve your well being. Some of the poses in yoga that can help you are sukhasana, uttanasana, vajrasana, garudasana, and halasana. There yoga poses to help sleep apnea as well. Some of them are cat-cow pose, seated forward bend, and seated twist. You can try a few breathing techniques as well.

 

7. Stick To Your Clock

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You should not confuse your body clock if you are prone to sleep disorders. A normal person can stray from the schedule and get back at it within one or two weeks. But you may have to try for months to set a bedtime and wake up time. Design your schedule in a way that you get around eight hours of sleep every day. However, that is not enough. For you, how long you sleep is less important than at what time you sleep. You need to pick an hour and retire at that time every single day. Even if you don’t fall asleep quickly, go to bed and stay in bed. A ‘no screens on bed’ rule can help. 

 

8. Don’t Take Nap

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Sleeping during the day is not a good idea for you. Since you haven’t had a good night’s sleep, it is easy for you to feel sluggish and tired during the day. It will make you want to sleep. But  this will only make the problem worse. If you rest during the day, your body brain will not recognise night as sleep-time. Stay awake even if you have to force your eyelids open.

 

9. Be Active

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If you are tired and out of energy, it increases the chances of falling asleep. Not getting enough sleep will make you feel exhausted and want to stay on the couch all day. But this is only sabotaging the next night’s sleep. Go on a run after sundown if you did not get out of the house during the day. Stretch your body and move around while working in the office. Let the body burn calories.

 

10. Lavender And Chamomile

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Lavender and chamomile are the best friends of sleep-deprived people. Both flowers have calming and soothing properties. Spraying lavender oil on your pillow will help you to fall asleep. Massaging your body with lavender oil will help the muscles relax. However, in terms of promoting sleep, chamomile tea is the best choice. Chamomile tea is a mild sedative which will put you to sleep in less than 30 minutes. It is one of the best natural sleep remedies for sleep deprivation. It is a way better solution than sleeping pills. It will also curb the side effects of sleep deprivation like inflammation and boost immunity.

Also read: Eight Ways To Fall Asleep Instantly

 

11. Massage Your Foot

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The depression on the foot of your sole is a pressure point that can ground your energy and help you to sleep. Massaging this point in circular motions will help you to fall asleep. The hollow point in your wrist, the highest point on your ankles, the crease on your wrist, and wind pool point on the back of your neck are also areas that will induce sleep. If you find it difficult to focus on these points, give your entire body a hot oil massage followed by a cold shower. This will relax the muscles and bring down the temperature of the body. The drop in temperature will signal that it is time to sleep.