Do you have a problem falling asleep? … You are not alone.  If your brain doesn’t shut off at night, you may have a particular form of insomnia.  Sleep nutrient and other metabolism imbalances are common in insomnia.

The BodyMindLink series by Dr Ray Pataracchia ND provides insight on Nutritional and Naturopathic approaches that matter most and have the potential to simultaneously benefit both the physical and mental condition.  Here we discuss the treatment approach and body-mind-link of conditions such as aging, tiredness, mental performance, work performance, digestive upset, food intolerance, stress, cardiovascular health, insomnia, weight problems, and cancer and chronic disease prevention.  Fall 2014 blog themes will rotate between the topics of sleep, tiredness, and stress.  Clinical approaches discussed are implemented by the Naturopathic Medical Research Clinic in Toronto, Ontario.

Insomnia (Part 1): Sleep Nutrients & Problems Falling Asleep

Insomnia: A Three-Part Series

We have divided sleep articles into three subtopics: i) problems falling asleep, ii) problems staying asleep, and iii) lifestyle factors affecting sleep. The nutrient and biochemical imbalances associated with sleep can be addressed with Orthomolecular Nutrient and Adrenal/Thyroid Balancing.

It is not uncommon to see poor sleep quality in todays’ fast paced society.  Sleep nutrient imbalances are common in kids and adults.

Many people report an inability to fall asleep, saying that their brain simply doesn’t shut off.  Frequent night time wakening is also not uncommon (Part 2 of this Series).  If sleeplessness becomes a cycle, the accumulated lack of rest worsens daytime functioning at a mental and physical level.

Sleep Nutrients and Biochemical Causes of ‘Failure to Fall Asleep’

Sleep is a restorative process where the parasympathetic system dominates and autonomic digestive processes occur passively.  When we rise, the sympathetic system kicks in and motivates us to function and adapt to our environment in a state of awareness.

If the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ system dominates in the evening it can make it difficult to fall sleep, and if it dominates during the night it can make it difficult to stay asleep.

A main cause of the failure to fall asleep is excess cortisol and calcium deficiency.  This type of insomnia is common in fast metabolizers and in those with a metabolism in a state of protein breakdown.

High Cortisol Sleep Problems

Cortisol is the main stress hormone of the sympathetic nervous system.  If this hormone is high at night it reduces melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep.  It is not uncommon to see people with morning cortisol that is high due to left over cortisol from the night before – these people wake up totally unrefreshed and tired.  Anxiety and the blues are highly associated with cortisol imbalance.  Cortisol balancing is an important part of orthomolecular treatment.

Insomnia with High Cortisol Protein Breakdown

Cortisol breaks down protein.  When high levels of cortisol persist it is a more ingrained situation. The breakdown of protein has multiple consequences because digestive enzymes, immune proteins, cellular energy enzymes, structural tissue (skin/bones/muscle), neurotransmitters, and carrier molecules are all proteins.  The end result is a protein deficient state.

High Cortisol Protein Breakdown Insomnia: The BodyMindLink

The symptoms of ‘high cortisol protein breakdown’ affect the physical and mental being.

Aside from insomnia, excess cortisol protein breakdown states have physical and mental effects such as abdominal weight gain, backaches, headaches, susceptibility to colds or infections, carbohydrate cravings, reduced libido, acne, hair loss, nausea, abdominal cramps, heartburn, constipation,  diarrhea, depression/anxiety (cortisol excess can lower the feel good neurotransmitter serotonin), irritability, and tissue breakdown with classic ‘failure to thrive’ in kids or difficult weight gain in adults. 

Calcium: One of the Main Sleep Nutrients in ‘Failure to Fall Asleep’

Calcium is a sedative mineral and its deficiency is associated with the inability to fall asleep and the classic ‘the brain just doesn’t shut off’ symptom.  Calcium deficiency sleep disturbance in kids and adults is quite common.   

If you have difficulty falling asleep you may also have physical symptoms associated with calcium deficiency.  The outer structure of bone is calcium dependent so the more obvious physical symptom here is poor bone formation and consequent osteoporosis (brittle/thin/porous bones that break easily) or rickets.

Fast Metabolism & Sleep Nutrients

Typically, cortisol excess and calcium deficiency occur in about 20% of the population in a group that is often in a fast metabolic state.

Being low in the sedative mineral calcium, these fast metabolizers often have difficulty falling asleep. Fast oxidizers are often in the alarm stage of stress.

Fast metabolizers are also often low in copper which is associated with cherry red skin bumps (angiomas), bacterial infection, bleeding gums, easy bruising, and brain aneurysms.  Copper is also needed for catecholamine neurotransmitter production and regulation so we find copper deficiency associated with mood and motivation compromise.

Fast Metabolism Low Calcium Insomnia: The BodyMindLink

The physical symptoms of calcium deficiency include poor bone health, lethargy, finger numbness/tingling, muscle cramps/spasms, poor appetite, heart arrhythmia, and dermatitis.  Diminished mental functions and neurological symptoms related to calcium deficiency include depression, mental confusion, twitches, body tremors, seizures, and developmental movement disorders in kids.  People with fast metabolisms are often seen with stimulant addiction, carbohydrate dominance, increased thyroid/adrenal function, and higher cancer/stroke/cardiovascular risk.