…combatting insomnia in lyme disease and other chronic illnesses
by Connie Strasheim
IT’S MIDNIGHT, AND YOU’VE BEEN LYING AWAKE for two hours, your thoughts on fast forward as you toss and turn like a vegetable kabob over a spit. You get up to take yet another potty break, toss and turn some more, then head to the kitchen for a 2:00 A.M. yogurt. You go back to bed and fall into a twilight slumber filled with absurd dreams of your ex. You awaken at 5:00 A.M., exhausted. You try to go back to sleep, but do the shish kabob thing again until 8:00 A.M. at which time you fall into another quasi-slumber until sleep apnea and feeling suffocated in your dreams finally compels you to awaken at 10:00 A.M. “Ah, what a beautiful day!” you exclaim sarcastically from between your bed sheets. You might as well have been flattened by an eighteen-wheeler.
If you are reading this, you’re probably one of the unfortunate souls who runs on zombie mode due to a lack of good Zzz’s. Take heart; you aren’t alone. Many, if not most, Lyme disease sufferers wrestle with insomnia at some stage during illness. The causes of and solutions for sleeplessness are many. While not exhaustive, the following information is intended to provide insights and solutions to help jump-start your body back into sleep.
To begin with, liver toxicity is a big trigger for insomnia, especially if your body is trying to process loads of toxins. If you tend to awaken at 2:00 A.M. or not fall asleep until that time, this is a sign that your insomnia is related to the liver. Beware if you are hitting the Lyme critters hard and not doing enough detoxification protocol. To combat sleep deprivation related to liver toxicity, try one of the following remedies, which will help to mobilize toxins and carry them more quickly out of the body:
- Chlorella. This must be from a pure source. Most commercial products are contaminated, so choose wisely. Mountain Rose Herbs, Premier Research Labs or E-lyte are good sources.
- Coffee enemas. Yes, here it is again. Use only organic coffee and filtered water in a retention enema for ten minutes.
- French green clay, zeolite and/or activated charcoal. As good sources of minerals, these products also mobilize toxins.
- Liver detoxification supplements, especially milk thistle and herbal combination products such as Liv-52.
- Glutathione. This amino acid complex mobilizes toxins and also helps the liver with phase two detoxification.
- Epsom salt baths. These pull toxins from the body via the skin. Colder water produces better results.
Adrenal insufficiency is another cause of sleep deprivation. When the adrenal glands cannot synthesize the proper amount of hormones due to illness and stress, insomnia results. Supporting the adrenals in chronic illness is essential. J. Wilson, PhD, in his book, Adrenal Fatigue, The 21st Century Syndrome, offers some great suggestions for helping the adrenals.
Personally, I have found that licorice, a high quality Siberian ginseng such as that from HerbPharm and a low dose of pulsed natural cortisol, found in products like Isocort, have been effective for supporting my exhausted adrenals. Avoiding stress, sugar, caffeine and alcohol is likewise vital, as is maintaining a regular bedtime schedule. Having a small protein snack before bedtime will also help the adrenals to keep blood sugar levels stable during the night, which will prevent you from awakening.
Other endocrine abnormalities can contribute to insomnia. These include thyroid imbalance, pituitary dysfunction and hypothalamic suppression due to Lyme disease neurotoxins and other factors. Hypothyroidism can be treated with iodine or, if your body cannot synthesize thyroid hormone from iodine, synthetic or bioidentical thyroid hormone. Hyperthyroidism can also be treated with thyroid hormone, which serves to fix any imbalances and not necessarily increase thyroid hormone levels.
Treating the pituitary gland and hypothalamus can be more difficult. If the problem is related to Lyme disease neurotoxins binding to these glands, then taking a toxin binder such as mucuna bean powder or apple pectin can help to solve the problem. A few LLMD’s administer growth hormone, HGH, which is normally produced by the pituitary gland, as a lack thereof has been implicated in sleep disorders.
Next, fixing any mineral deficiencies and ensuring an adequate intake of potassium, calcium and magnesium, especially at bedtime, will help to balance and relax the body. Having a snack containing the amino acid L-tryptophan is also beneficial. Cottage cheese, oatmeal and almonds are some good sources.
Pharmaceutical medications can be powerful for restoring sleep, but while most of them induce sleep, they tend to keep you from reaching delta brain wave sleep, which is crucial for restoration and repair of the body. Yet, they are good adjuncts when insomnia becomes severe, as they can help to “re-set” the body’s clock. Trazodone is commonly prescribed, as are amitriptyline, lunesta, ambien and others. Mirtazapine is an anti-depressant that, in my opinion, could knock out an elephant, but carries side effects of weight gain and daytime drowsiness, at least temporarily. Sedatives such as lorazepam are also useful but are highly addictive and should only be used on a temporary basis.
Calming the mind and central nervous system through prayer, guided visualization or binaural beat CD’s, (see: www.centerpointe.com), as well as performing other relaxation techniques, can also help you sleep, particularly if your disorder is related to anxiety or hyperactivity.
Herbal remedies are likewise calming, and chamomile, valerian, hops, Jamaican dogwood, lavender, rooibos and others are used in over-the-counter sleep formulas.
Every now and again, amino acids, such as GABA, 5-HTP and Ltheanine, have proven to be helpful. Vickery (www.supernutrient.com) makes a good combination amino acid product. Amino acids and herbs did not work for me when I had severe insomnia, but Lyme disease sufferers have different needs, and if sleep problems can be mitigated by using a natural, rather than synthetic, product, this should always be the preferred form of treatment.
Finally, sleeping conditions matter! Go to bed and awaken at the same time every day. Make sure your room is dark and that you have all the necessary sleep gear to keep you slumbering, whether it be ear plugs, a face mask or a water pillow (to keep your neck from aching). Take a hot bath and have a snack before dozing off. Spend the last hour before bedtime doing something relaxing and if you can help it, don’t fret about not sleeping. Consider that what you are going through will not last forever, painful as it may be right now.
excerpted from: The Lyme Disease Survival Guide: Physical, Lifestyle and Emotional Strategies for Healing. Copyright 2008 by Connie Strasheim.
photo credits: Insomnia © Karen Winton / iStockphoto
Connie Strasheim is an accomplished health care journalist and the author of The Lyme Disease Survival Guide: Physical, Lifestyle and Emotional Strategies for Healing. A Lyme disease sufferer, she maintains a blog on Lyme disease and other issues related to chronic illness called Lyme Bytes. Currently, she lives between Denver, Colorado and San Jose, Costa Rica.