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Nutritional Causes of Insomnia

By Dr. Paul C. Eck and Dr. Larry Wilson




Today the inability to sleep plagues millions of Americans. Sleeping pills, including tranquilizers, represent the most prescribed group of medications in America. Rather than simply treating the symptom, nutritional research reveals that biochemical causes of insomnia can be addressed by nutritional therapy, often resulting in permanent alleviation of sleep difficulties. A key to correction is to identify the cause of insomnia. Let us consider several biochemical causes:

Biochemical Patterns Associated with Insomnia

Low Tissue Calcium and Magnesium

A mineral pattern commonly noted in people with sleep difficulties is a low hair calcium level (less than 40 mg%) and a low hair magnesium (less than 6 mg%). Most often the hair sodium and potassium levels are elevated. This is the fast oxidizer mineral pattern. This pattern is especially common in children with sleeping difficulties and in some adults under stress.

Calcium and magnesium have a sedative action upon the central nervous system. In the fight-flight response, or alarm reaction, calcium and magnesium are excreted rapidly, resulting in a heightened state of alertness. Individuals whose hair analysis reveals a fast oxidation pattern are stuck in an alarm reaction, and may have difficulty turning off their overactive nervous system. Fast oxidation is also called a sympathetic dominant state. Alertness is a function of the sympathetic nervous system. Sleep requires parasympathetic dominance. One type of sleep disorder has to do with an inability to transition from a sympathetic to a parasympathetic state of body chemistry.

Fast oxidizers may also have difficulty sleeping due to muscle tension and muscle cramps due to low calcium and magnesium levels.

Excessively High Tissue Copper Level

Another common biochemical abnormality leading to insomnia is a copper imbalance. This nutritional imbalance is common in adults, and more common in women than in men. According to research at the Eck Institute, indicators of a copper imbalance on a hair mineral test include:

  • copper level greater than 3.5 mg% or
  • copper level less than 1.0 mg% or
  • zinc/copper ratio less than 6:1 or greater than 12:1 or
  • calcium/potassium ratio greater than 12:1 or
  • potassium level less than 4 mg% or
  • mercury toxicity or
  • sodium/potassium ratio less than 2.5:1.

Copper appears to cause sleeplessness because it has a stimulatory effect upon the catecholamines, neurotransmitters that activate the central nervous system. Copper-toxic individuals frequently complain that their mind races when they try to sleep.

Copper imbalance on a hair analysis is often accompanied by elevated calcium and magnesium levels. Although one might assume this indicates excessive calcium in the body, the fact is, it indicates biounavailable calcium and magnesium. This means that the calcium is not in an ionic, or usable form, and precipitates into the soft tissues such as the hair.

The result of this phenomenon is that the individual often has symptoms associated with both a high calcium and low calcium level.

Fatigue, associated with excessive tissue calcium, is often present. However, muscle cramps and tightness and difficulty sleeping are also often present, due to bio-unavailable calcium as well as a copper imbalance.

Chronic Fatigue as a Cause of Insomnia

Most of us have experienced being overtired and unable to sleep. Why does this occur? We find that a certain amount of energy is needed to relax and sleep. When the body is pushed to its energy limit, sleep is impaired. This may be due to copper accumulation which frequently accompanies adrenal weakness. Adequate adrenal activity is needed to maintain copper in a bio-available form. As one becomes more tired, adrenal activity lessens, and copper can build up in the tissues. Copper can act as a mental stimulant, helping us to keep going when under stress. However, as explained above, it is a stimulant that will impair the ability to sleep.

Another reason for insomnia when overtired may have to do with muscle tension perhaps due to a lactic acid buildup. As we tire, body chemistry changes and muscle tension sets in. Although one is exhausted, the tension may prevent restful sleep.

Tired In The Morning, But Awake At Night

Some people have difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, but as evening approaches, they come to life. At bedtime they cannot slow down and go to sleep. They often stay up late watching television or reading until they finally fall asleep very late at night or during the early morning hours.

While some individuals just seem to be night people, most commonly this pattern is due to fatigue and specifically adrenal insufficiency. These individuals are exhausted, but whip themselves into action during the day. One may use coffee, cigarettes, sugar, caffeine, worry, or any other stress to force the adrenal glands to function. By evening, the adrenal glands are finally functioning - like a horse that must be whipped for a while before it moves.

But then it is difficult to slow down again, in order to sleep. This explains the late nights. Once one falls asleep, the exhausted body wishes to sleep for a long time in order to recover from the whipping, hence the difficulty waking up the next day.

Waking Up At Night

Hypoglycemia and Insomnia

Some individuals fall asleep easily, but wake up in the middle of the night, some times several times per night. One cause of this phenomenon is fluctuations in blood sugar. If the blood sugar drops during the night, one may wake up hungry, or just irritable or anxious. Walking around or having a snack may enable the person to fall back asleep. This problem can sometimes be corrected by eating something fatty or protein-rich just before bedtime. Other times a complete nutrition program is required to correct the underlying problem.

Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar may be revealed on a hair analysis by:

  • sodium/potassium ratio less than 2.5:1
  • calcium/magnesium ratio less than 3.3:1 or greater than 10:1
  • very low potassium level (less than 3 mg%)
  • low manganese, zinc or chromium levels

One other cause of waking up during the night relates to the rhythm of various organs of the body. During the night the kidneys and liver become more active. An imbalance in these organs can cause one to wake up at a particular time each night.

Occasionally, a person wakes up frequently at night because of a pressing need to urinate. The solution may be to drink less in the evening. Otherwise, one might suspect a diabetic condition, bladder irritation or infection as being responsible for the excessive urination.

Foods And Insomnia

Many people sleep poorly if they eat a heavy meal shortly before bed time. The sleeping pill craze is perhaps related to the modern habit of eating a large meal late at night. Work requirements may make it difficult to eat a full lunch, and one then waits until late in the evening to eat dinner. By contrast, most primitive societies eat a larger midday meal and a smaller supper. This is probably more healthful, as the body is not so occupied with digestion during the night.

One other dietary consideration to correct insomnia is to avoid stimulants such as caffeine before bedtime.

Nutritional Correction Of Insomnia

Three methods are used for nutritional correction of insomnia: symptomatic remedies, scientific nutrition programs, and diet and lifestyle changes.

Symptomatic Remedies

Remedies for insomnia include foods such as milk, which is high in tryptophan, calcium and other substances that can promote sleep for certain biochemical types, particularly the fast oxidizer. Tryptophan tablets help many people, but at the time of this writing Tryptophan is no longer available for purchase. Niacinamide (1 gram), calcium (600 mg) and magnesium (300 mg) taken a ½ hour before bedtime, are helpful for certain fast oxidizers. About 50 mg of zinc and 200 mg of vitamin B6 in the evening help some individuals sleep, especially those with a copper imbalance.

Herbs such as valerian, passion flower, and hops can also promote sleep.

Diet and Lifestyle

Most people feel better when they eat less at night. Individuals with a strong tendency to hypoglycemia may have to eat before bedtime. Avoid coffee, soft drinks and even black tea shortly before bedtime. Some people sleep better by eliminating these beverages completely. Note if any particular foods cause sleeplessness, as an adverse food reaction is also possible.

If you have difficulty falling asleep, begin slowing down several hours before bed. Avoid stimulating activities in the evening. Some light exercise is permissible but vigorous exercise may keep you awake by stimulating the adrenal and thyroid glands.

Children who have difficulty falling asleep should not be stimulated before bedtime. Keep evening activities quiet.

If muscle tension or poor circulation impairs sleep, a cool shower may be very helpful before going to sleep.

Complete Nutrition Programs

For many people, symptomatic remedies are not sufficient. In these cases, a properly performed hair mineral test will often reveal underlying imbalances that can contribute to insomnia. Sometimes an individualized nutrition program causes a rapid improvement in sleep patterns. However, if toxic metal levels are high, or a significant copper imbalance is present, several months to a year or more may be required to correct old biochemical and nutritional causes of insomnia.

Copyright © 1990 - The Eck Institute of Applied Nutrition and Bioenergetics, Ltd.

2225 W. Alice Avenue ¨ Phoenix, AZ  85021 ¨ (602) 995-1580 ¨ FAX (602) 371-8873


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