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Can’t Sleep! It May Be More Than Your Pillow, Mattress or Hormones

by | Jul 1, 2019 | Brain Health, Neurofeedback, Personal Experiences, Practical Suggestions, Sleep Problems | 1 comment

Woman trying to sleep but suffering from insomniaNot an hour goes by that you don’t hear on the radio or TV someone saying “I can’t sleep!”. Prominent magazines, including Consumer Report or AARP magazine, and newspapers run articles on ways to get better sleep.

There are endless solutions to help sleep, from pillows and mattresses to white-noise machines, smartphone apps, herbal teas, and sleeping pills. Some mattress stores employ sleep technicians to help you get the best night’s sleep. There is information on limiting caffeine, alcohol, exercise and screen time before bed. I’ve read articles about which foods to include to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Yet, to the estimated 70 million Americans suffering from a one of the many forms of sleep disorders, some of these solutions don’t work!

I am a neuropsychologist and a board certified health psychologist, who specializes in sleep disorders. No matter what condition or disorder I am treating, I stress the importance of getting restorative sleep. Restorative sleep is critical to our physical and mental well-being.

What is “Restorative Sleep?”

Restorative sleep consists of the completion of all five stages of sleep, and also the chemical changes that occur within a twenty-four-hour period. During this time the body and brain undergo rejuvenating functions. This allows the brain and body to repair, heal, and grow.

Humans follow a natural sequence called the circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is the 24 hour sleep/wake cycle running in the background of the brain. It cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. The suprachiasmatic nucleus, in the hypothalamus, or upper brain stem controls circadian rhythm. As the day wears on, we begin to desire rest and sleep. At night, when its dark outside, your eyes send a signal to the hypothalamus that it’s time to feel tired. Your brain then sends a signal to your body to release melatonin. Melatonin, a natural occurring hormone, lowers body temperature and induces sleepiness.

Five stages of the sleep cycle

Stage One:
Light Stage Sleep. A very short stage where the mind and body begin to slow down, causing drowsiness and relaxation.

Stage Two:
Still referred to as light sleep. Preparing for deep sleep, muscle activity, brain waves and eye movements decrease. The brain produces sudden spikes in brain waves. These spikes play a role in long term memory consolidation and sensory processing. Memories are formed in this stage.

Stages Three and Four:
This is Deep sleep stage. Muscles become fully relaxed or ‘limp’. Breathing rate, blood pressure, and body temperature decrease. The brain recovers from daily stress while the limbs are almost paralyzed. During deep sleep is when the body repairs and regrows tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system.

Stage Five:
REM phase. Heart rate and blood pressure increase, while breathing becomes irregular, fast, and shallow. Limps are almost paralyzed. It is in this phase that we dream. Dreaming provides the integration of the repair done on the brain and body during deep sleep. Some of the most famous inventions and theories have come out of dreaming!

What’s Keeping You From Getting Restorative Sleep?

There are several reasons for not achieving proper sleep. Stress, poor sleep hygiene, eating fast foods and foods with high sugar content, along with exposure to too much blue light from smart devices can cause dysregulation of brain activity and prevent restorative sleep.

Brain injury, be it from a concussion, stroke, MS, or Parkinson’s Disease, also causes a dysregulation in the sleep cycle, interfering with restorative sleep.

Four of the Most Common Sleep Disturbances

The inability to fall asleep or remain asleep. It is the most common sleep problem among the world’s population. Insomnia has significantly increased with the fast pace of modern lifestyles.

The inability to become fully awake or the need for excessive quantities of sleep. People who have hypersomnia can fall asleep at any time, for instance while working or driving. Some causes include: narcolepsy, sleep apnea, sleep deprivation, brain injury and depression.

Circadian Rhythm Disturbance:
Also called sleep/wake cycle disturbance is the interference with one’s inner clock that regulates periods of sleep and wakefulness. This disturbance can result when one’s internal biological clock is out of sync with external time cues like the natural dark-light cycle. Common causes are working a night shift and jet lag.

Sleep disorders that involve unwanted events or experiences that occur while you are falling asleep, sleeping or waking up. These are abnormal movements, behaviors, emotions, perceptions or dreams. Also included are motor problems such as: night terrors, nightmares, periodic leg kicking, or the twitching of restless legs syndrome.

When we don’t get restorative sleep, we increase the chances for health issues. Adverse health effects resulting from sleep disturbances include problems with focus, memory and thinking. A lack of sleep can also lead to mood issues such as depression and anxiety, as well as chronic fatigue and chronic pain.

Other Physical Aspects include your Endocrine System

Hormones play a role in healthy sleep patterns. A hormonal imbalance or a change in hormone levels can cause issues with sleep. A lack of sleep can increase a hormone imbalance a creating a vicious cycle.

It can be difficult to determine whether sleep problems are first caused by irregular hormone levels, or whether a hormone imbalance is causing the sleep issues. However they are definitely related. You may need to visit an endocrinologist to determine if there is a hormonal imbalance and how to break the unhealthy cycle.

You’ve done everything, yet you still can’t sleep. So what’s next?
Good News— There is a Way®!

I discovered this while working with one of my patients who tried everything, and I mean everything, to get restorative sleep. She got the proper pillow and mattress, which helped some. She went to our endocrinologist and eventually her hormone levels were normal. Our nutritional educator ensured that she was eating all the correct foods. She went to Dr. Burdenko and received sessions of water therapy. She uses a CES device for anxiety, depression and insomnia, along with the Inner balance from Heart Math. She showed major improvement using all the above methods. Yet, she would still wake feeling warm and wake up in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning feeling anxious or needing to go to the bathroom. She has always said and I quote, “I’m so relaxed that it is making me anxious.” Hearing her dilemma, I decided to post on various health psychology and neurofeedback groups, to see if there something I was missing. By conferring with other specialists, such as Dr. Jeff Carmen, I did receive the answer, which we are utilizing with great results.

In this blog, I will briefly provide the actual dynamics of how and why this works. In subsequent blogs I will go into more depth.

Here is Dr. Jeff Carmen’s reply to my patients dilemma:

Her comment “I’m so relaxed that it is making me anxious” is fascinating. It is not uncommon for deep relaxation to rebound into anxiety or outright panic. This is especially true for women who have had complicated emotional/traumatic histories. A background level of emotional tension sometimes serves as a form of psychological protection. It is not always in their best interest to have it removed. It is one of the reasons I long ago gave up deep relaxation training in favor of training frontal dominance which produces a more stable inhibition of anxiety.”
– Jeff Carmen

When I showed Dr. Carmen’s reply to my patient she was amazed. She said it made so much sense and it was spot on. Then I presented this idea to other patients who were experiencing similar symptoms. They too said it was precisely what they were experiencing.

So what is training frontal dominance and how is it different from other forms of psychotherapy, energy psychology or neurofeedback? This next section will translate what Dr. Carmen means and how it changed the treatment plan for many who have had traumatic experiences.

Types of Therapy

  • Psychotherapy: Insight, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical behavior therapy ( DBT)
  • Interactive Therapy: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Brain Spotting.
  • Energy Psychology: Thought Field Therapy (TFT), Emotional Freedom Therapy (EFT)
  • Biofeedback: Heart Rate Variability (HRV), Cranial Electrical Stimulation (CES)
  • Neurofeedback: Traditional, LENS, Neurofield, ultra-low frequencies, Passive Infrared Hemoencephalography (pIR HEG)

What Dr. Carmen suggested made sense because of the background and nature of the trauma this patient and many others experience, which known as Attachment Disorder. It is now referred to by Dr. Jonice Webb as Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). In a recent article Dr. Webb wrote the following:

The Five Uncommon Strengths of the Emotionally Neglected

  1. Independent: Growing up you knew, even though it was perhaps never said out loud, that you were essentially on your own. Problem with a teacher? You solved it. Conflict with a friend? You figured it out yourself. Your childhood was a training ground for self-sufficiency. Now, as an adult, you prefer to do things yourself. Because you’re so very competent, the great thing is that for the most part, you can.
  2. Compassionate: As a child your feelings were far too often ignored. But that probably didn’t stop you from feeling for others. Research has shown that even young babies feel empathy. I have noticed that many people who were emotionally neglected in childhood have decreased access to their own feelings, but extra sensitivity to other people’s feelings. Compassion is a powerful, healing, and bonding force. And you have it in spades.
  3. Giving: Having received a dearth of emotional acknowledgment and validation in childhood, you learned not to ask for things. Part of being independent and compassionate is that you are more aware of others’ needs than you are of your own. So now as an adult, you don’t ask for a lot, but you do give a lot.
  4. Flexible: As a child, you were probably not often consulted. Instead of being asked what you wanted or needed, you had no choice but to adjust to the situation at hand. So now, all grown up, you’re not demanding, pushy or controlling. Instead, you’re the opposite. You can go with the flow far better than most people. And you do.
  5. Likable: The people of Childhood Emotional Neglect are some of the most likable in this world. Compassionate, giving and selfless, you are the one your friends seek out when they need help, advice or support. You are there for your family and friends, and maybe even strangers too. Others know that they can rely on you. Are you ever puzzled about why people like you? It’s because you have these five unmistakably lovable qualities.

Many CEN people are secretly aware of their great strength, and value it in themselves.

I don’t need help,
I don’t need anything,
I can handle it,
I’ll take care of it,
I’ll be fine with whatever you decide,
I’m strong,

they say.

If this is true of you, the idea of changing yourself can be frightening. You don’t want to feel dependent on anyone, including a therapist, friend or spouse. You’re afraid of appearing needy, or weak, or helpless. You have a grave fear of becoming selfish.

But here is the beauty of CEN: Your strengths are so enduring that you can make them even better by balancing them.

  • So you remain independent, but you lose your fear of depending on someone when you need to.
  • You remain as competent as you’ve always been, but you’re OK with asking for help when you need it.
  • You stay flexible and can go with the flow, but you are also aware and mindful of your own needs.
  • You can still handle things.
  • You’re just as strong as ever.
  • More balanced and more open, you’re still loved and respected by all who know you.
  • And the great thing is that now you also love and respect yourself.

Fear Change? Methods that Help

Dr. Joe Despenza has a wonderful book called “Break the Habit of Being Yourself”.

There is the Release Technique along with Donna Eden Energy Medicine, EMDR, Brain Spotting, EFT and TFT that are designed to change the emotional blocks many people with CEN, attachment disorders or trauma experience.

Solutions for Achieving Restorative Sleep (Especially for anyone dealing with trauma from attachment issue)

Psychotherapy, be it insight, CBT, DBT, which is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy tries to identify and change negative thinking patterns and pushes for positive behavioral changes.
  • DBT may be used to treat suicidal and other self-destructive behaviors.
  • Insight therapy teaches patients how their feelings, beliefs, actions, and events from the past are influencing their current mindset. An importance is placed on the relationship between the therapist and the patient with the therapist identifying behavioral patterns from the patient’s past that could be affecting their behavior and relationships at the present time.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – EMDR is a psychotherapy treatment that helps to alleviate symptoms caused by traumatic memories.
Brainspotting – Works as both a diagnostic tool and a treatment. It provides a neurobiological tool for accessing, diagnosing, and treating a wide range of somatic and emotionally-based conditions. Brainspotting acts as a stimulant to the body’s own natural ability to heal itself from trauma.
Relaxation Techniques and Neurofeedback – Yoga, mediation, massage, reiki, mindfulness, HRV, CES and various form of Neurofeedback help the body to feel relaxed. Neurofeedback, the various forms from HEG, to Neurofield, to traditional forms can, and do, produce the interconnection of relaxation methods and cognitive retraining.

Have you tried the various sleep solutions, yet still cannot achieve restorative sleep?

Dr. Diane® can help! Using Dr. Diane®‘s 5 Prong Approach, you are seen from the five distinct views that make up our approach: physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual and energy. Often these areas intertwine and each needs to be addressed, yet Dr. Diane® looks for the core issue, and from this vantage point begins the journey to help overcome your sleep issues.

At Dr. Diane® Brain Health, we use a variety of traditional, alternative, and complementary treatment methods to help you overcome your sleep problems and achieve restorative sleep so you can wake up ready to take on each day!

Schedule a Consultation with Dr. Diane®!

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Dr. Diane® Roberts Stoler, Ed.D.
7 Hodges Street
N. Andover, MA 01845
Phone: (800) 500-9971
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Dr. Diane is a catalyst for change

Image Credit Elaine Boucher

Within each person shines an inner light that illuminates our path and is the source of hope. Illness, trauma, suffering and grief can diminish the light and shroud hope. I am a catalyst for hope and change, offering a way to rekindle this inner light.

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