Brisbane Mind & Body Clinic

Insomnia: Causes, Effects and Remedies

Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterised by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Unless you have trouble breathing (for example, with Sleep Apnoea), this is actually a psychological condition rather than a physical one. You can think of insomnia as an extension of anxiety, because in many cases, anxiety is a bit part of it. 

Insomnia affects millions of people worldwide. It impairs daily functioning, work, relationships and overall health and well-being. Understanding insomnia, its causes, and effective treatments, including the roles of diet, natural remedies, exercise and cognitive behavioural therapy is essential for managing and overcoming this sleep issues.

Defining Insomnia

Insomnia can be classified into two main types: acute and chronic. Acute insomnia is short-term, often triggered by stressful events or environmental changes, and typically resolves without the need for medical intervention. Chronic insomnia, however, is long-lasting, occurring at least three times per week for three months or more. It can be caused by various factors, including medical conditions, medications, psychological issues, or lifestyle habits.


Symptoms of insomnia include difficulty falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night, trouble returning to sleep, waking up too early, and feeling tired upon waking. These symptoms can lead to daytime consequences such as fatigue, mood disturbances, impaired cognitive function, and reduced quality of life.

Not sure if your poor sleep classifies as insomnia? You can answer some short questions in an Insomnia Severity Index.

The Impact of Diet and Exercise

Diet plays a crucial role in sleep quality. Consuming a balanced diet with a variety of nutrients supports overall health and promotes better sleep. Certain foods and nutrients are particularly beneficial for sleep:

  • Tryptophan-Rich Foods: Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep. Foods like turkey, chicken, milk, nuts, and seeds are rich in tryptophan.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium helps relax muscles and calm the nervous system, which can enhance sleep. Foods high in magnesium include leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
  • Melatonin-Rich Foods: Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles. Consuming foods like cherries, grapes, and tomatoes can help boost melatonin levels. Studies have shown that consuming two kiwi fruits before bedtime can boost melatonin!
  • Complex Carbohydrates: Whole grains, legumes, and vegetables can stabilise blood sugar levels and promote the release of serotonin.

Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime, is also essential. Heavy or spicy meals close to bedtime can cause discomfort and disrupt sleep, so it’s best to opt for light snacks if hunger strikes late at night.


Regular physical activity is another vital component of good sleep hygiene. Exercise helps regulate the body’s internal clock, reduces stress, and promotes restful sleep. The timing and type of exercise can influence sleep quality:


  • Aerobic Exercise: Activities like running, swimming, and cycling increase heart rate and improve cardiovascular health, contributing to better sleep.
  • Strength Training: Weightlifting and resistance exercises can enhance sleep by reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms.
  • Yoga and Stretching: These activities promote relaxation and can help prepare the body for sleep.


While regular exercise is beneficial, it’s important to avoid vigorous physical activity too close to bedtime, as it can increase alertness and delay sleep onset. Aim to complete exercise at least a few hours before going to bed.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)

Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is a highly effective treatment that addresses the thoughts and behaviours contributing to insomnia. Research shows that CBT-I is more effective than medication for long-term management of chronic insomnia, with benefits that persist over time.

CBT-I involves several components:

  • Cognitive Techniques: These techniques help identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs about sleep, replacing them with more positive and realistic ones.
  • Behavioural Strategies: These strategies include sleep restriction, which limits the time spent in bed to match actual sleep time, and stimulus control, which involves creating a strong association between the bed and sleep by avoiding activities like watching TV or eating in bed.
  • Sleep Hygiene Education: Educating individuals about healthy sleep practices, such as maintaining a regular sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and avoiding stimulants, is a key part of CBT-I.
  • Relaxation Techniques: Methods such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and mindfulness meditation can help reduce arousal and promote relaxation before bedtime..


It is essential to find a trained CBTi practitioner to ensure you get the best (and safest) results with this therapy. 

Treatment with Nutrients and Herbs

In addition to lifestyle changes and behavioural therapies, certain nutrients and herbs can support better sleep:

Herbal Medicine: There are a huge number of herbs which support sleep. They do this by being mildly sedative or generally supportive of the nervous system. Herbs should always be prescribed by a trained Herbalist or Naturopath, to ensure safety with any medications or supplements you may be taking, or other health conditions. 

Melatonin Supplements: Melatonin supplements can be useful for regulating sleep-wake cycles, particularly for individuals with disrupted circadian rhythms, such as shift workers or those with jet lag. It’s best to talk to your GP about this. 

Magnesium: As mentioned earlier, magnesium supplements can help relax muscles and calm the nervous system.

Essential Oils: Using some oils in a bath, or on a pillow can promote relaxation and sleep. Lavender is always a good option. 

Chamomile tea: A popular remedy for insomnia, known for its mild sedative effects and ability to reduce anxiety.


Insomnia is a complex condition with multiple contributing factors. Understanding the role of diet, exercise, cognitive behavioural therapy, and natural remedies can provide a comprehensive approach to managing and overcoming insomnia. 

If insomnia remains a big part of your life, don’t wait for it to get better on it’s own. See a healthcare professional for personalised treatment and support.

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