That feeling of not being able to sleep while 3.02am glares at you on the digital clock and you know the alarm is due to go off in four hours, is anxiety-inducing to say the least.
Whether you struggle with chronic insomnia or have the occasional bad night, most of us will be familiar with the frustrations of tossing and turning until dawn.
Even if you feel you have slept for a full eight hours yet wake feeling groggy, there is a risk that you too are suffering from insomnia.
Yet sleep guru, Dr Vikki Petersen, has revealed that the effects of insomnia – regardless of their intensity or consistency – can be reduced and, in most cases, stopped completely.
Dr Petersen, who is also a clinical nutritionist and chiropractor, explained: “Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep or feel rested upon awakening.
“Even if someone ‘feels’ as if they slept, if they are in a very light sleep or have a lot of interruptions in their sleep, it is still considered insomnia.”
As they say though, knowledge is power and simply knowing what to look out for can help you make changes to dramatically improve the number of zzzzs you get each night.
Check out Dr Petersen’s top five common causes below.
1) Food Allergies or Sensitivities
Your immune system works at night when you are deeply asleep and requires a stable blood sugar level to perform its activities.
If you are eating foods you are allergic to or sensitive to, your blood sugar will tend to be more erratic, resulting in food cravings and needing to eat more often (even as you snooze).
Consequently, during the night your unstable blood sugar will result in a decreased melatonin level [a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness] and a loss of deep sleep.
If this sounds like it could be you, ask your GP for an allergies test and/or you can buy them online to discover any unknown sensitivities with a simple skin prick.
2 Hormone Imbalance
As your sleep hormone, melatonin needs to be produced at normal levels to enjoy a good slumber.
However, a variety of lifestyle factors can interrupt melatonin production, including engaging in stressful activities at the end of the day, bright light before bedtime, the lack of a darkened and cool room in which to sleep, or a heavy meal before bed.
If you are able to address these issues during the day, you will see a knock-on effect at night.
Similarly, watch out for those pesky male and female sex hormones which need to be balanced to enjoy a deep and restorative sleep as diminished hormonal levels around the menstrual cycle, during menopause, or deficient testosterone in men tend to cause insomnia too.
3 Hidden Infections
It is during sleep that your immune system releases cells [NK or natural killer cells] that compose your immune defence army; it is then the design of your body to ‘clean house’ and rid you of any inhospitable bacteria, viruses, toxins and cancer cells during rest.
This is why if you have a bad flu or cold, all you want to do is sleep!
Your immune system’s cells require a steady fuel source to accomplish their nocturnal activities. If an infection or toxicity is chronic, meaning your body has been trying to deal with it for a while, there has been a long-term drain on your immune system and its cells.
The added burden to ‘clean house’ activities from these chronic issues can create a steep drop in blood sugar during the night, forcing your body to come out of sleep.
These hidden infections or toxins must be identified and treated (naturally, if possible) to unburden your overtaxed immune system and facilitate sleep.
4 Low Blood Sugar
Your metabolic rate is designed to slow down during sleep so you do not need to eat at that time.
However, factors that cause your blood sugar to dip too low during sleep – such as infections, poor nutrition, or food sensitivities – will result in your body coming out of sleep to prevent a low blood sugar ‘coma’. It is a protective response of your body to awaken you.
In order to combat this, make sure you don’t skip dinner, avoid excessive exercise late at night, and be cautious of alcohol intake being sure to have a snack with it if you’re boozing.
5 Excessive Caffeine
It is estimated 12% of the caffeine in your morning’s cup of coffee is still present at bedtime. For many, this isn’t enough to disrupt sleep, but it can be a component for some.
If you have trouble sleeping, hold off on the caffeine for a week and notice if sleep improves.
There are delicious low or zero caffeine alternatives, from chicory coffee to lemon water to chai tea, though if you really can’t live without your fix, avoid caffeine after midday.
Good luck and sweet dreams!