Lani Lopez - Stress-Insomnia-Depression: Part 1

Publish Date
Thursday, 23 June 2016, 3:48PM
By Lani Lopez

Ever been in this boat? You’re stressed and can’t sleep. You find that lack of sleep is making you anxious. You feel down, tired and finally, you can’t seem to get going. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, causing many health problems in a short time and it should never be underestimated. Students, parents, workers, elderly, in fact most of us will endure a disruption in our sleep cycle at some time of our lives.

I used to believe in mind-over matter. That is until my mind and body got sick and tired of the constant mind-over matter pushing I gave it. My body took over and changed it’s own chemicals to make me come to a crashing halt. A halt that has made me search for answers. A halt that made my body stop and regenerate. We’ll talk about that in Part 2 of this series.

Chronic insomnia caused by emotional stress can cause certain hormones to be released and makes the body go into overdrive. Scientists refer to it as a disorder of hyper-arousal during the day and at night.

Speaking of arousal insufficient sleep can also lead to low testosterone for men and PMS for women and increased appetite which can lead to indigestion, reflux and increased histamine production that interferes with sleep. Besides affecting sleep, stress causes 60% of primary care visits to the doctor because if left unchecked stress leads to chronic diseases. Unbelievably 60% of people that suffer from insomnia never talk to their physicians about their sleeping difficulties.

Good news
Research shows that if you improve sleep quality this can reduce stress, depression and increase immunity and resilience.

What’s the right amount of sleep with a 24 hour period?
Ideally within 24 hours adults should get 8-10 hours of sleep although 7 hours minimum is critical. Teens need 9-10 hours and children need 10-14 depending on age.

Try a balanced correctly portioned meal with protein, complex carbohydrates and good fats to help down-regulate orexin that can stimulate the brain into wakefulness. Eat 1.5 hours before bedtime so you can digest properly as well. Some people report that if they wake in the middle of the night, eating a banana is helpful enough to help them get to sleep. It is full of tryptophan an amino acid so it was thought to induce sleep. But this is a myth. The tryptophan will not pass the barrier to the brain to make serotonin. If it works for you it may be the placebo effect, which is certainly a positive effect I believe in.

Sleep: To do’s

  • Reduce light exposure and noise. Decrease light and noise at least within half an hour of bedtime. You might have to use earplugs or play meditation music or use guided mediation i.e. into sleep
  • Reduce stress incidents. What are your triggers? Can you identify them? Is it stress with family? Don’t do bills or tax before bed, don’t watch violence on the screens or get over-stressed reading social media.
  • Reduce body pain caused by the wrong temperature, bed or pillows.
  • Absolutely no caffeine, cola, caffeinated sodas, green tea, black tea or chocolate. Food sensitivities including food colouring and refined sugary processed foods can interfere with sleep.
  • Alcohol can cause problems with healing REM sleep. That means you’re not in healing regenerative mode. Don’t drink for at least 2-3 hours before bed and if you’re drinking too much consider you need sleep, rebooting sleep. Drinking alcohol can go hand in hand with stress and depression and is a quiet epidemic in NZ. Stats only show the worse cases but many people drink to self-medicate to help with stress, depression, sleep and remove bad memories but drinking can lead to chronic depression. You may need a wake-up call and help to quit.
  • Doing too much and getting over stimulated? Relax and slow down.
  • Not enough nutrition, water or iron can cause insomnia. Eat nutritious foods, drink plenty of water and have your thyroid, snoring, sleep apnea, Vitamin D and iron levels checked.
  • Eating too much junk food or stimulating spicy food can cause sleeplessness as can staying up too late.
  • No screens; computers, phones, tablets, these interfere with your subconscious.
  • There are more than 300 drugs including Benadryl, antihistamines and benzodiazepines that can interfere with sleep. If you need or are on medication prescribed by your physician, good. You need sleep to function! You can still employ most of these techniques to help balance your sleep cycle while on sleep medication. When and if you are ready to come off your medication, do so with your physicians advice and don’t try to do it on your own because the withdrawal effects can be severe.

Routine and regular bedtime before 9.00pm-11.00pm is best because more growth hormone is secreted supporting sleep and this also reduces increased the risk of heart attack and brain fog. You could set your smart phone or an alarm to tell you when to go to sleep.

Going to bed after 11:30pm can elevate stress hormones. If you go to sleep late, move your going to bed times 30 minutes every night until you get to bed at least between 9.00pm-11.00pm. Shift work, day light exposure and natural body clock problems can induce poor sleep. Routine and light exposure can help manage this but I recommend you see your health practitioner. Progesterone can help women that can’t sleep due to menopause and Black cohosh herb is excellent for hot flashes at night.

Exercise daily to raise brain serotonin and melatonin, the rest hormones. Early is better than late as exercise can be too stimulating and actually keep you awake. If you have no choice but to exercise at night and this causes sleep issues try phosphatidylserine 1g and melatonin 3mg (prescription sleep hormone) 2-3 hours before sleep.

Non laxative magnesium (glycinate 200-400mg), 1-2 hours before sleep can help relax the muscles and can also be depleted with insomnia and depression. Valerian extract 150mg-300mg, 30-45minutes before going to bed can help improve sleep quality and the time it takes to go to sleep.

I prescribe tissue cell salts, bach flowers and homeopathics for children, babies and during pregnancy. See your naturopath or homeopath for details.



Rusch HL, et al, 2015. Improved Sleep Quality is Associated with Reductions in Depression and PTSD Arousal Symptoms and Increases in IGF-1 Concentrations. J Clin Sleep Med. 2015 Jun 15;11(6):615-23. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.477

Cortoos A et al. 2006. Neurophysiological aspects of primary insomnia: implications for its treatment.Sleep Med Rev. 2006 Aug; 10(4):255-66. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007 Nov; 32(6): 394–399.

[online web accessed 25.5.16. Annual Update of Key Results 2014/15: New Zealand Health Survey. Wellington: Ministry of Health. 10 December 2015]

Young, S. 2007. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007 Nov; 32(6): 394–399.

Pizzorno J & L , Murray M, 2005. The Encyclopaedia of healing foods. The Bath Press. London. U.K.

[online web accessed 25.5.16. NDNS Online Catalogue Link. Free Sleep Ebooklet.]

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