Did you know we spend a third of our lives sleeping? And that if you don’t get enough of it, it will have detrimental effects to your health? Many people underestimate the importance of sleep. Some people sleep more than others. Some people claim they need lots of it and others don’t need much at all. Margaret Thatcher and Napoleon only had 4 hours sleep a night. That explains why they were a bit mad! Recent studies show that adults need approximately 8 hours sleep a night to stay healthy.

“Sleep is the great cycle of involutional restoration that heals the foundation of our mind, body and Soul” (2)

Many people come to me with fatigue and a large contributing factor is their lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep.

Sleep is a recuperative process. Sleep supports some of the following processes;

Regulates metabolic processes which are chemical processes that maintain life


Supports neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that carry signals to other cells in the body).

Contributes to growth and development

Temperature regulation

Immune system responses

learning and memory


Insomnia is loss of sleep from a difficulty in getting to sleep or staying asleep. Sleep loss is a very common complaint which many people do not take seriously.

The two types of insomnia are Sleep onset insomnia and Maintenance insomnia. Sleep onset insomnia is when there is a considerable delay in falling asleep. The average time for falling asleep is 25 minutes. Maintenance insomnia is when there are periods of waking up during the night or waking up too early.

Causes of insomnia

Some causes of insomnia include;

Noise and /or light pollution

Allergies or food intolerances

Alcohol excess

Medications (ie; oral contraceptives, thyroxine, aspirin)

High or low blood sugar levels

Sleep apnoea (pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep)

Nutrient deficiencies

Over hydration at night


Low iron levels

Low brain levels of serotonin and melatonin.

Stress and anxiety

Hot flushes / night sweats

What happens with lack of sleep??

And acute or short term lack of sleep for 6 days can lead to increased production of the flight and fight hormones. This can lead to symptoms such as feeling anxious, tired, unhappy, nervous, difficultly in concentrating and not feeling confident.

Long term sleep loss contributes to development of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity and memory loss.

Long term lack of sleep affects the brains ability to function. This is part of the brain that controls the memory, planning and sense of time.

“With continued lack of sufficient sleep, the part of the brain that controls language, memory, planning and sense of time is severely affected, practically shutting down. In fact, 17 hours of sustained wakefulness leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.05% (two glasses of wine). This is the legal drink driving limit in the UK.” (1)

Stages of Sleep

There are 5 stages of sleep;

Stage 1 is the interim between wakefulness and sleep

Stage 2 is 50 % of our total sleep time. This is the real sleep stage and is a lighter stage of sleep, where if the person is woken, they feel they were not asleep.

Stage 3 Is slow wave sleep. This is when the body makes repairs.

Stage 4 is slow wave sleep and is a deep slow wave sleep where our Body temperature and blood pressure decreases. Stages 3 and 4 cover about 20% of our total sleeping time.

Stage 5 is REM or rapid eye movement sleep. There is an increase in eye movement, heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and temperature. This is when most of your dreams occur.


Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is produced by the pineal gland in the brain. It is released in a rhythmic manner throughout the night. The peak level of melatonin is around 3 am. Apart from facilitating sleep is also acts as an antioxidant and regulates the core body temperature.

Sleep duration

The average sleep duration amongst adults is 7.5 hours a night, give or take and hour either side. There are people who are outside this who are considered long sleepers if they sleep for more than 9 hours and short sleepers who sleep less than 6 hours.

Women and Sleep

The menstrual cycle has an effect on sleep. Oestrogens increase REM sleep, increase the time it can take you to go to sleep, causes more wakefulness and Increase total sleep time. Progesterone has a sedative effect and increases deep sleep. Low progesterone (and therefore oestrogen dominance can causes poor sleep in women.

During menopause hot flushes/night sweats can interrupt sleeping.

Long term lack of sleep in women can cause infertility, miscarriage, menstrual problems, low birth weight babies and premature labor.

Solutions for insomnia

Some rules for getting a good night’s sleep include;

  • Maintain regular hours for sleep
  • Exercise at least 6 hours prior to sleep
  • In the mornings, expose yourself to bright light
  • Treat stress and anxiety
  • Avoid bright lights, computers and TV’s an hour prior to sleep
  • Avoid mental or emotional stimulation before going to bed
  • Engage in calming or relaxing activities prior to bed such as mediation
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Eating at the same time each day helps set the circadian clock
  • Avoid stimulants such as alcohol, coffee and chocolate
  • Avoid drinking excess fluids at night.
  • Avoid napping during the day
  • Avoid spicy, sugary, heavy foods 4-6 hours before bed.

There are many herbal formulations which help with sleep onset and duration. These include passion flower, Zizyphus, magnolia, and valerian. Valerian is particularly effective when your brain won’t shut up! Just be aware that a small percentage of individuals become more aroused with this herb and it has the opposite effect.

Adenosine , which is a brain sleep molecule, increases deep sleep and may increase REM sleep. It is effective for stress related insomnia.

5-HTP or 5-hyrdoxytryptophan, is the precursor to serotonin and from serotonin we can produce melatonin.

Melatonin, is available in homeopathic and crude form. It can also be used for jet lag.

Magnesium, relaxes muscles and the nervous system and is affective if insomnia is due to stress, anxiety or restless legs.

GABA, (gamma aminobutyric acid) due to its relaxing effects it has been shown to reduce the time to get to sleep and increase length of quality deep sleep.

Treating the underlying cause of insomnia is an important factor. It is too important to ignore.

If you are having problems with sleep please contact me for a consultation!


Science: Human Body and mind “what would happen if we didn’t sleep’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sleep/articles/whatissleep.shtml

  1. P 53 ‘So what is sleep’ Sleep, health and consciousness a physician’s guide. Reza Samvat and Henry Osieki.

Encyclopedia of natural medicine – Michael Murray pp 602-608

The Nervous system, Henry Osieki, Fiona Meeke, Jennifer Smith, pp 83-90

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