By Dr. Matsen
Numerous studies consistently show that a good night’s sleep is crucial to maintain health and vitality, and many medications—from pharmaceuticals to herbal formulae and melatonin—are touted to help one get to sleep.
But what about those who fall asleep but then awaken in the night? Interrupted, or broken, sleep can lead to fatigue and mental fogginess, especially if the person can’t get back to the deeper, healing levels of sleep.
Prevention is always the best medicine with sleep problems. A comfortable sleeping area is a prime consideration to sustained deep sleep. Both noise and light can easily cause awakening; if outside noise and light can’t be completely eliminated, then ear plugs and eyeshades should be considered.
The average person turns over more than 40 times a night so if you are waking up due to a sore back, then consider that your mattress may not suit you and shop around for one more appropriate to your spine. For the same reason, sleeping with another person can cause awakening due to movement, especially if he or she also snores loudly. There’s something to be said for separate beds and, perhaps, separate bedrooms in these cases.
Restless leg syndrome can dramatically amplify night movements that lead to interrupted sleep. Taking a calcium/magnesium supplement before bed will often stop or reduce these aggravating complaints. A homeopathic remedy called magnesia phosphorica will sometimes work faster than calcium/magnesium if needed in the night.
A common factor in interrupted sleep is taking unresolved business to bed. Your subconscious will be working on sorting and solving these issues; if something wakes you, your brain will bring the processing of these issues to your conscious mind, and perhaps not let you back to sleep while the problem-solving is taking place.
A good idea is to have a pen and paper by your bedside to jot down the resolutions achieved, so your mind doesn’t have to keep replaying them over and over again to the detriment of your sleep. Perhaps jotting everything down before bed will even prevent the need for awakening in the night.
Similarly, watching the nightly news before bed can lead to your subconscious trying to solve the problems of the world in addition to your own relatively puny troubles. Watching the comedy channel before bed is far more likely to lead to a better sleep than watching the evening news.
It should be noted that researcher Scott Davis of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle recently found that doubling one’s exposure to nighttime magnetic fields caused a melatonin decrease of 8% and tripling magnetic field exposure reduced melatonin 15%. Since melatonin is the key neurotransmitter/hormone for bringing on and maintaining sleep, high magnetic field exposure could be a key factor in insomnia.
For most people, the highest magnetic field exposure is from computers, TV, and cell phones and the use of these has increased dramatically in the last few decades. If you have interrupted sleep you should consider reducing your exposure to these.
When a person consistently wakes between 1 and 3 a.m., I usually suspect liver trouble because this is when the liver is “recharging its batteries” and toxins from the gut are most likely to get past the liver and irritate the brain. One way around this is to eat lighter at the evening meal, especially by decreasing fatty foods because they take the longest to be digested. These would include red meats and cream sauces for example. Poultry or low-fat fish would be digested more quickly.
Breathing in the lower abdomen pumps the liver and makes it work more effectively, so aerobic exercise obviously will make the liver work better. The exception is to avoid exercising too close to bedtime as it can actually slow down digestion. Exercise done between noon and late afternoon is the best to aid in sleep.
There are many things that can interrupt one’s sleep, most of which can be corrected by lifestyle changes. However, if a sleep problem cannot be resolved with these suggestions, be sure to see your naturopathic physician for help.