I have this typical insomnia:
- fall asleep easily
- wake up at 3AM
- lie awake for about two hours, being wide awake, very alert
Upon examination there are a few characteristics to consider:
- I wake up sweaty, with a heated body. I can’t go back to sleep unless I cool down. This points towards some sort of stress reaction my body is having, causing me to wake up.
- The mental alertness is ridiculously high. It’s like I have a pinball machine in my head. It’s not anxiety, it’s more a superability and -willingness to solve a problem. This is a dopamine excess.
- The 3AM is not 3AM. The insomnia occurs pretty much precisely 4,5 hours after I fall asleep.
These three things: stress reaction; dopamine excess and 4,5 hours interval have now led me to the cause of my insomnia. It has to do when the internal workings of the machine trigger the neural wiring which reacts violently.
A small intestinal problem triggers my overexitable neurotransmitters.
It takes 4,5 hours for food to traverse the small intestines. It then enters the colon. There, in my case, it remains. It doens’t travel up the ascending colon because it cannot make the curve near the liver (there’s probably an air bubble blocking the way). Food keeps being piled on and the right vertical part of my colon expands, causing stress, waking me up. Since the enzyme that’s supposed to break down stress hormones is broken in me, the MAO A enzyme, my levels of noradrenaline (=norepinephrine) and dopamine are getting very high. Causing me to lie awake for 1,5 to 2 hours, frantically writing speeches on Important Subjects. During this time my cortisol is depleted and my growth hormone doesn’t get the time of day (I’m robbed of a significant portion of REM sleep). This is a large tax on the body and leaves me with diminished capacity for getting out of bed the following day and healing properties, especially now that I’m over 25 and my endo-glands can no longer make up for such a plundering.
There we have it. A simple blockage leads to a build up in the right colon which makes my body cry out. Triggering the release of too many excitable neurotransmitters.
Again it’s the imbalance between Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), which both have so much to do with the perifere location: the gut.
My balance is skewed in favour of the SNS due to a homozygous mutation of the MAO A gene and a life time of training to be in Fight or Flight. I can unlearn the latter. I can only influence and work around the former.
Gut motility is mostly governed by PNS. It’s the modus of Rest & Digest in opposition of SNS’s Fight or Flight. Looking at particular neurotransmitters I’ve now learned that as soon as dopamine rises the stomach is reluctant to release its content. This is why a dopamine-antagonist (Domperidone) is prescribed to people with nausea and vomiting (Dutch link). And this is why I have to go lie down about an hour after I have ingested food. The stomach takes 45 minutes to break down the first bites I took and is now ready to release it. I need to make room for PNS to do its thing and the only way I know how to at the moment is to lie down and relax. As soon as I do so my upper GI tract starts gurgling. If I don’t lie down I’ll grow weary and moody as the day progresses and I’ll be devilish in the evening and have hellish insomnia at night.
Motility in the small intestine is dependent upon having enough of the PSN neurotransmitter Acetylcholine and by activating lots of serotonine receptors. Having bad MAO A is a good thing here, serotonine is soaring and there should be one for every receptor. As soon as I lie down at night the small intestine starts happily motoring things along. In 4,5 hours it has emptied all it had into the next portion of the gut via the one way ileocecal valve into the colon. Luckily I have no problems there. For some this valve flutters and lets stuff and bacteria creep back into the small intestine.
We’ve all seen the picture of how the colon lies in the belly:
The colon rises up, all the way to the liver, then bends to the left, traversing in front of the stomach exit to the spleen area. There’s another bend downwards and then it ends in the temporary holding station called Sigmoid Colon.
Which is true for only about 5% of humanity. In most of us the colon is going wherever it wants. Diagonally to the spleen. Bending backwards. Bulging inwards into small intestine territory. So don’t take anything for granted, these idealistic pictures are just theory.
This colon is more likely:
pic by Glitzy queen00, radiographer in the UK
I don’t know the route my colon lies. I can feel contents at certain places so I have some idea. But I suspect at the Traverse Colon things are iffy. Interfering with the stomach exit and the duodenum, where also the major PNS nerve is located, the Nerves Vagus.
At the right bend, the Hepatic Flexure, its location is probably irritating the liver. I often have a heavy feeling there, bordering on pain. And now I know that something is hindering process in the night. My GP suggested a mechanical issue: an air bubble is trapped in the Hepatic Flexure, preventing passage. He made the analogy with a bottle with air trapped in it: you can’t pour the liquid in a smooth motion.
I can work with mechanical problems. The solution is to lie on the right side. The air travels upwards, into the Traverse Colon. I’m using breathing as a motion device, the expanding and contracting lungs are the main mechanical force on organs, making them move and shift. It’s a natural thing. A good thing.
When I had an echo done of the liver I had to breathe out and hold my breath. The lungs forced the liver to peek out from under the ribcage and the technician could scan it. It looked so beautiful! Things were moving and fluids were flowing and we saw all kinds of channels. It was such a marvel. Movement through breathing is very good for the internal organs.
After 5 to 20 minutes I turn on my back. I now lift my pelvis to the roof, resting on my feet and shoulderblades. This is a trick I learned when I went in for a pap smear and the cervix was not there. Somehow the uterus had shifted or folded back and hidden the cervix out of sight. I was asked to do these gymnastics so it may shift to another position. Mechanics. Everything shifts in there, nothing’s stationary. Organs are lying next to each other and are all able to shift and move.
There’s an excellent system in pace to allow for these movements. It both secures the internal organs to the scaffolding (the skeleton) and it lubricates the surfaces so there’s no chafing. It’s the Mesentry, a thin layer of epithelial cells surrounding all organ parts, like pieces of clingfoil taped to the back wall at various points:
pic by blumdesign.com
The architectural structure of the mesentries is amazing, with small gutters transporting the fluid all around. Breathing and moving and muscular movements aid this system. Go check out non-profit educational site The Radiology Assistent for excellent images and explanations of many internal organs and structures.
I’m still on my bed, pelvic to the sky. I’m again using my breath to move things along. When breathing out I can manually manipulate the downwards colon on the left side a bit, trying to help it transport the air bubble to the exit. After just a few minutes I’ll feel the need to pass some gas. It’s only a little bit and I cannot believe that this is actually the bubble that was stuck at the Hepatic Flexure. But I have a result and I’m glad with it.
I now do this in the evening, before I go to bed. And during the day, when I take my hour rest. And at night, should I wake up. My insomnia is less severe because of this, there’s less dopamine produced. I still lie awake but now I’m a docile book, not a screeching video game. I have reduced the stress reaction. But I have not eliminated it yet.
pic by amazon
I’m looking into a better motility of the colon. It’s not only air in the Hepatic Flexure, I’ve also noticed slow transit in the Traverse Colon. Then there’s considerable build up in the Sigmoid Colon to examine. And there’s a lack of neural signalling that I need to go, either #1 or #2.
Then there’s the food I eat that influences bulk, consistency, roughage and gas production. I already know to stay away from onions, beans and whole grains. Also carbohydrates make for a more severe insomnia, especially potato products. Which lead my GP and me to assume glycemic problems almost 15 years ago when I entertainingly mentioned how a potato dinner would keep me more wide awake at night than other dinners. Having been down the whole blood sugar route I can now say this is not an issue. But experiencing an insuline peak during the day does trigger the SNS for which I pay during the night. So sugar is still bad, but for a different -and far more serious- reason. Insulin is a potent poison, it should be engaged very prudently.
There, I’m done for today. There’s a lot to be sorted. Especially learning how/which neurotransmitters dampen the motility. Looking at you, dopamine. How to enhance the numbers for Acetylcholine? There’s a loop into the Methylation Cycle there that complicates things. There are probiotics that can help with signaling for defeacation. And how I can give PNS more time of day? I’m already grumbling that I have to lie down for an hour trice a day. But I gotta keep that pinball machine chilled if I ever want to sleep through the night and reap the benefits of both cortisol and growth hormone the following day.
A few more things to park here for future pick up:
1. Strengthening the gut muscles is a separate avenue to travel. One that works well for a lot of people, including a lot with Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS) (this is a link with the best instructional video for swinging a kettlebell). I’ve started kettlebelling which is a fun thing to do. I keep mine in the kitchen and kettle the bell a few times while I wait for the tea water to boil. Nothing on a schedule, no counting, . Keeping it fun. I already notice that there’s a certain pleasure in keeping your body upright using the core muscles, instead of stacking all your organs on top of each other and leaning on them. Sitting upstraight on a chair, like I was a woman from a 100 years ago, is pleasurable. Standing straight too. I’m stacking vertebrae instead of organs.
2. The stretching in the ascending colon activates trigger points causing sympoms. They are the reflex zones of the colon:
The symptoms that occur at night in my insomniatic period are all noted in the reflex zones of the ascending colon: irritated and stuffed nose; oversensitive sense of hearing (fear triggering); strained eyes; soar throat and tonsils; extra pain in my right shoulder impingement. I have no issues with the other organs noted in this picture, apart from bladder and uterus which are at the sigmoid end.
These symptoms, especially of the allergy kind in tonsils, throat and nose, have thrown me off scent for the longest time. I kept thinking it was dry air or dust mites that kept me awake at night. But it’s the other way around: only if I wake at night dry air and dust mites become a problem. If I sleep through the night they don’t bother me.
4. osteopatic views on movement in and amongst internal structures. Link in Dutch.
6. duodenic colic reflex makes you want to go #2 when the stomach fills up.
7. MAO A influencing when it’s already bust. Progesteron; B2; Ginko Biloba. Progesteron!
and to be perfectly clear: for years I’ve researched all the usual suspects for insomnia. Blood sugar; glycogen; sleep hygiene; circadian rhythm; melatonin; dual sleep; Chinese organ clock; you name it I’ve looked into it. It has done nothing. I could have guessed since I’ve had this sleeping pattern all my life, through every stage of health and constitution.
This now is the first approach that ticks all the boxes, explains everything and gives positive preliminary results when I tweak the dials that are involved.
For other people experiencing this type of insomnia I suggest assuming your body too is experiencing some stress reaction and figuring out what causes yours. I doubt it’s the same colonic issue I have but it might be. Especially if your MAO A gene is faulty you’ll recognize the alertness of your insomnia. This is separate from what causes the stress reaction. But if you are homozygous for MAO A then your dopamine is too high and interfering with stomach emptying and colon motility.