Give Insomnia the 1-2 Punch

by Dr. Andrea Hilborn, ND Even as a child I remember restless nights when I was so excited I could not fall asleep. I would lay in the dark for hours thinking about what the next day would bring.

All through my schooling I suffered through sleeplessness and the resulting fatigue.

When I moved to the beautiful Kingston countryside, it seemed like my problem was cured by the dark, quiet nights. (Although it is very bright on clear full moon nights; in the early days I asked my husband which neighbour left the huge light on)

Lately I've felt a return to a milder insomnia, where I wake up in the early morning and can't get back to sleep. It's a signal for me to ramp up my self-care and I will tell you about the two most important factors for getting insomnia under control.

For women, insomnia can often be related to our sex hormone levels. If you experience insomnia premenstrually, or along with perimenopause symptoms (hot flashes, heavy bleeding, night sweats etc), then your insomnia is likely related to estrogen dominance.

Correcting estrogen dominance depends on the cause that created it in the first place. Perimenopause is a natural transition state characterized by spiking estrogen and diminishing progesterone. Carrying extra weight can cause estrogen dominance because adipose tissue produces estrogen. Food sensitivities can cause estrogen dominance by increasing cortisol levels, which changes the hormone output of our ovaries.

Physical treatments like herbal and supplemental remedies can help correct sex hormone imbalance. In some cases, bio-identical progesterone supplementation is appropriate.

Stress is another key cause of insomnia, and of sex hormone imbalance. This is where the other major treatment factor comes in: addressing those racing thoughts with cognitive behavioural therapy.

Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia is a well-researched but under-utilized therapy tool. First you learn about the differences between thoughts, feelings, and actions. Then you use that information to reflect on how the thoughts you are having create the feelings you feel, which inform the actions you take. It is called CBT for short.

Some psychotherapists and counselors offer CBT and others don't. You can ask a therapist you are considering if they use it.

There is also a self-study cognitive behavioural therapy workbook available, called Mind Over Mood. It is a classic, and any patient I've recommended it to has enjoyed it. I have used it myself and return to it from time to time.

By addressing both the physical and the mental-emotional aspects of ourselves, we can return to restful sleep. It's not as easy as taking a sleeping pill, but it works on a higher level.

Sweet dreams!