Healthy Beginnings

Insomnia: What to Do When Medications DO Work?

There are an estimated 100 million people in the United States suffering from sleep disturbances/insomnia. That’s about one third of the entire U.S. population. Ambien (Zolpidem) is one of the most frequently sold drugs in this country, which acts to help people who have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Zolpidem belongs to a class of medications called “sedative hypnotics.” It works by slowing activity in the brain, to allow sleep. The drug, if taken for more than two weeks, is addictive to the degree that if you stop it immediately, you will get withdrawal symptoms–do not so without help from your doctor. This dose of drugs may change your mental health in unexpected ways, even if properly dosed (aggressiveness, unusual out-going behaviors, hallucinations, sleepwalking, feeling like you are outside your body, memory problems, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, easily agitated, slow speech, depression, suicidal thoughts and more). You get the idea–there is a better way.

Indeed, you can’t sleep because your brain is over-active–particularly a part of your brain called the mesoncephalon (upper brain stem). This over-activity of the upper brainstem essentially puts a person’s brain in a continual “fight flight” syndrome, and abnormally affects people’s circadian rhythms. Fight flight mechanisms are designed to keep one’s system “stimulated” for about five to 20 minutes–not continually. This is the mechanism the “sedative hypnotics” address, and they do so by depressing other parts of the brain–hence the myriad of side effects listed above. This same mechanism can be strengthened so that your brain’s fight flight syndrome can be slowed down and balanced by the stronger parts of the brain. The discipline that addresses this core cause/mechanism of insomnia is called Functional Neurology, and with thorough evaluative procedures and specialized testing, it can determine the imbalances in the brain and correct these deficiencies with non-drug stimulations to the brain, bringing it under control–no drugs, no side effects.

Metabolically, the brain nerve cells also require proper “fuels” to respond to treatment properly. Metabolic imbalances (blood sugar imbalances, inflammation, abnormal cortisol/adrenal issues, GI problems) in the body can cause insomnia on their own, or make the above referenced brain mechanism unable to correct itself or respond to the brain based exercises. These imbalances can be ferreted out–again through an organized assessment of all the patient’s symptoms that cause them to not be able to fall or stay asleep. Most patients engage in trying one supplement or another herb/botanical at a time, in a hit or miss approach; which can’t ever get to the root cause of the problem, unless they are very lucky.

The Functional Medicine doctor uses an organized approach that embraces classic and specialized testing to assess all of the potential metabolic pathways and dysfunctions that lead to the various patterns of insomnia.

Combining the clinical assessment protocols of Functional Neurology and Functional Diagnostic Medicine, it is rare that the cause of insomnia–whether neurological (brain), metabolic (imbalances in blood chemistry) or as in most cases, BOTH–cannot be determined and corrected long-term without drugs or surgery.


1. Kharrazian, Datis. DHSC, DC, MS. Why do I still have thyroid symptoms when my blood tests are normal? Morgan James Publishing, LLC. Garden City, N.J, 2010.
2. Rutherford, Martin, BA, BS, DC, CCST. Power Health – Back to Basics.1st Books. 2003.

For more info, contact Dr. Rutherford or Dr. Gates at (775) 329-4402, or visit online at