Sleeping right is a key element to the Magnificent Seven Lifestyle. Unfortunately, for many this important task is often a difficult one. Every day I talk to patients who have problems falling asleep, staying asleep, or being tired each morning no matter how much sleep they get. Conventionally the options for sleep problems are prescription medications which only improve time to sleep and sleep duration by a few minutes. So what can you do if you are struggling with sleeping?
There can be numerous underlying causes for sleep disturbances. Let’s spend a moment reviewing some of the most common and obvious.
Stress disrupts your sleep. It does this by a variety of mechanisms, but one of the simplest is the effect stress has on melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone secreted by the pineal gland to help you fall asleep at night. Babies have high levels of melatonin and is one reason they sleep for hours each day (and the reason we use the phrase sleep like a baby for deep sleep). Melatonin is manufactured from serotonin, which you have probably heard of as the “feel good” neurotransmitter. Stress depletes your levels of serotonin. So if your serotonin levels are low, not only will you be anxious and depressed, you will have problems making melatonin and getting a good night’s rest.
You can measure your stress response with a salivary hormone profile called the Adrenal Stress Index. Take these two case studies for example:
In these two examples you see that the midnight sample of the cortisol is elevated. Both of these individuals have experienced sleep disturbance problems. The key is to manage the stress appropriately, decrease the cortisol burden and improve the manufacture and conversion of serotonin into melatonin.
(2) Blood Sugar Dysregulation
This problem really ties into the stress problem as well. Typically if I hear a patient say that they can fall asleep but wake up later at night and have a difficult time going back to sleep, then blood sugar drops and spikes should be considered. Your brain requires a constant steady supply of fuel…glucose. If you are insulin resistant or have reactive hypoglycemia then you can experience these sleep disturbances at night.
(3) Detoxification Challenges
Meridian therapy (acupuncture) introduces a concept of the horary cycle. This is a time when organs have their natural “high” points and natural “low” points. Your body naturally detoxifies at night when you are sleeping. If you are consistently waking up between the hours of 1-3 AM this may indicate a stressed out liver and detox system.
So Why Is Sleep Important?
Sleep is vital to allow for repair of body damage from normal everyday life. It allows the body, brain, and mind a chance to be rejuvenated. There is a lot going on when you are sleeping! While you are sleeping there is an intricate cascade of healing events. When you don’t sleep your body becomes inflamed. Inflammation is the underlying process to the development of every known chronic disease…including cancer, obesity, heart disease and neurodegenerative disorders. If you are taking strong anti-inflammatories for joint pain, muscle pain and body aches…yet you aren’t sleeping properly…you will not be able to quench the fires of inflammation effectively enough to reduce your pain.