Health & WellnessBoosting Brain HealthThe new sleeping beauty

The new sleeping beauty: How to relieve insomnia for better health and wellbeing

August 2017

It’s often said sleep is the best medicine, but if you’re the one in around three people suffering occasional mild insomnia[1] you need to deal with that first. Whether an acute spell from stress or life events, a chronic bout bringing fatigue and affecting concentration and mood; a primary diagnosis with no underlying cause, or secondary linked to health, anxiety, depression or a sleep disorder[2]; staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night and craving uninterrupted slumber is beyond frustrating and often downright debilitating. Aptly described as “your brain being unable to stop being awake”[3], the fact is most of us will experience insomnia symptoms at some point in our lives[4].

From difficulty falling asleep to difficulty staying asleep, the symptoms of insomnia are varied

If you wake too early, have unrefreshing sleep, suffer from fatigue or low energy, find it difficult to concentrate, are easily irritated, or struggling with work, school or relationships; insomnia could be a culprit.[5] Older people with poorer health have a higher risk, as do shift workers; while women are twice as likely as men to suffer[6]. And being overtired means you’re more likely to make mistakes or have an accident – research shows severe sleep deprivation can affect your driving ability as much as alcohol[7].

And there are dozens of causes from bad sleep habits and diet to medical conditions and biology

Insomnia can be a sign of illness, side effect of medication or arise from the discomfort of a health condition. You’re generally more susceptible if you suffer sinus, allergies, thyroid issues, asthma, arthritis, chronic pain, back pain, sleep apnoea or neurological conditions like Parkinson's disease or restless legs syndrome. Certain medications can trigger insomnia too – so check if those taken for colds, high blood pressure, heart disease, thyroid, asthma, depression or birth control are partially to blame.[8]

It’s important to understand the correlation between insomnia and your mental health too

Three million Australians are living with depression or anxiety[9] while almost three quarters[10] of us say stress impacts our daily lives, potentially affecting memory, learning and cognitive performance or causing physical and mental fatigue. It's a double-edged sword as depression and anxiety may make it hard to sleep, affecting mood. Studies show insomnia can also trigger or worsen depression while anxiety symptoms like tension, worry, nervousness and feeling overwhelmed can cause insomnia.[11]

There are things you can do yourself to help manage insomnia and settle into sleep

Adopting mind-body techniques[12] can help you wind-down naturally – try yin yoga, meditation or tai chi for breathing techniques or download meditation, mindfulness or white noise apps to help switch off. Talk to your GP for a referral to a sleep specialist or psychologist and have them review existing medications. Exercise in the morning, avoid daytime naps, switch off the TV and devices an hour before bed, ensure your room is dark, quiet and not too hot; and be consistent with the times you go to bed and get up – if you can’t sleep do something mundane like ironing. And review your diet – alcohol is a sedative but may disrupt sleep, caffeine is a stimulant with longer-lasting effects, and spicy foods may cause heartburn.[13]

Try a combo of kava, lavender and withania for a natural remedy to sort out your symptoms

Many of us want a natural solution to manage symptoms, and together this insomnia-busting trio can also support your nervous system and emotional wellbeing, especially during stress. And this is why.

  • Kava – is made from ground roots of the Piper methysticum plant[14] and traditionally used in the Pacific Islands medicinally and as a ceremonial drink. The active ingredient, kava lactones is coveted for promoting relaxation, elevating mood and its sedative effects[15] with studies finding it may help treat anxiety, insomnia and related nervous disorders[16]. Kava can only be imported to Australia for medical or scientific purposes[17] with the root water-extracted to standardise dosing consistency and efficacy[18].
  • Lavender – is much loved for its calming fragrance, but long used as a remedy for a range of ailments from insomnia and anxiety to depression and fatigue. It's the oil of the lavender plant that seems to have sedating effects and may relax certain muscles.[19]
  • Withania – is a prized Ayurvedic adaptogen (botanical that improves your body's ability to adapt to stress[20]) and traditionally used tonic to improve wellbeing and aid sleep[21]. Also known as Ashwagandha and Indian Ginseng, Withania somnifera may help calm the brain, reduce inflammatory swelling and lower blood pressure.[22]

A natural supplement combining kava, lavender and withania can reduce restlessness and nervous tension; and relieve mild anxiety, sleeplessness and insomnia symptoms. But, please seek professional medical advice first—especially before taking kava in any form—particularly if you have liver issues, depression, Parkinson's disease, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or having surgery (tell your surgeon if you’ve taken kava in the past as it can prolong anaesthesia effects)[23]. Withania may also lower blood sugar levels so take caution if on medication for diabetes-related conditions[24].

References available on request