Do You Have Trouble Falling Asleep Or Staying Asleep?
Too much Party Time? Or too much stress, sugar…or unhealthy gut.
If you experience an elevation of the hormone cortisol at night, it will suppress your production of melatonin. This will impact your ability to sleep – the quantity and quality (and off course if you have to go to the loo…. that is another story).
Melatonin is your ‘sleep hormone’, besides being a super anti-oxidant.
Most of it is produced in your gut; a smaller amount is produced in your pineal gland in the head. This gland is very light sensitive, another reason you want to avoid bright lights at night, excessive computer use and are sleeping in a dark room.
Sleep And Your Gut Health Connection?
Since most melatonin is produced in your gut, you also want to consider the health and balance of your gut flora. Digestive ailments and inflammatory gut conditions all interfere with melatonin production, serotonin production and the stress hormone cortisol.
Cortisol and melatonin work together in a 24-hour cycle, called the Circadian Rhythm. Cortisol should be highest in the morning and should wane during the day until about 4-6pm, when melatonin starts to rise. Melatonin peaks at midnight – If you are in bed, sleeping!
If your daily energy is ‘off’ – most likely your sleep will be ‘off’ too!
The cortisol and melatonin rhythm can be disrupted by food allergies, chronic emotion, financial and mental stress, liver congestion, estrogen / progesterone imbalances, parasites, leaky gut, infections, auto-immune conditions, stimulants e.g. Red Bull, coffee, caffeine, sugar, cardio exercise in the late afternoon, adrenaline charged sports or TV shows, argument with a spouse etc.
All must be assessed and addressed when chronic sleep problems are in play.
Lack of sleep is big stressor and will dramatically affect energy, brain and mental health, weight management. Ironically, it will also affect the ability to sleep.
Being jacked – up on stimulants, which I call fake energy, decreases the ability to sleep. Even the cup of coffee or Green Tea in the mid afternoon can play a role for some individuals.
The Circadian Cycle: The Primal Awake/Sleep Cycle
Melatonin roughly peaks at midnight and then begins to wane. Cortisol starts to rise in the early morning, about 5-6 am. This primal Circadian Rhythm is a continuous 24-hr cycle. It plays a large role in anti-aging, mood and disease prevention.
Any breakdown in the cycle, creates physical health or mental health problems. Sleep challenges can be indicative of a non-optimal diet, microbial, infections, Lyme Disease, emotional stress overload, imbalances in brain chemistry, food sensitivities, gut issues and more…
Adrenals, Alcohol, Sugar – And Your Sleep?
Consider: If your adrenals have low energy, you will have low energy.
Drinking coffee, eating sugary treats, cigarettes, medications and alcohol consumption will adversely spike cortisol, your stress hormone. This will directly affect your ‘sleep hormone’, melatonin, which is produced in your pineal gland and in your gut.
Melatonin output will be compromised and this results either difficulty in falling asleep or the ability to stay asleep. The sleep challenges induce a cycle of ongoing fatigue or feeling ‘wired-but tired’ with use of stimulants to pep us up.
Conventional medicine does not recognize adrenal function or fatigue, unless the adrenals are ‘crashed out’ and you will have to live on cortisone medication. The medical diagnosis for adrenal pathology is Cushing’s Disease. (This often made an appearance in my favorite TV show, ‘House’).
Consider Additional Support For Your Adrenals – they affect your sleep!
Often individuals will stop taking supportive adrenal nutritional or herbal supplements when in crisis mode. Yet that is the time, when adrenal support is so important!
Got Hot Flashes or PMS?
When the adrenals are stressed, sleep quality will be affected as well as blood sugar balance. All directly affect our sex hormones, this is a time when PMS and Hot Flashes are also in play.
Nutrients and Herbals? (Not to be taken as medical advice.)
From a nutrient perspective, vitamins including vitamin B Complex (esp. B6/B120, foliate (avoid folic acid), vitamin C complex, CoQ10, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Cod Liver Oil, minerals including magnesium, selenium, calcium, manganese, zinc, amino acids e.g. L-Theanine or Taurine – all play an important role to keep your energy going during high stress.
Herbs can include Ashwaganda, Rhodiola, Withania, Rehmannia, Eleuthro, Kava, California Poppy, Licorice (not with high blood pressure).
All support you during stress – and this will also increase you ability to get a good night’s sleep. Insomnia is a symptom. It is essential to address root causes.
All pharma sleep meds are only tested for a 6-week period, not for long-term use. Side effects of these meds are well known, yet use of sleep meds is prevalent.
How Can We Affect And Improve Our Sleep?
By improving daily eating, lifestyle habits, stress reduction and limiting toxic exposures!
- Eating of meals and snacks on a daily regular schedule supports your blood sugar balance and thus affects the day/sleep cycle, also known as the Circadian Rhythm.
- By maintaining a level blood sugar with good energy throughout the day, you can avoid desire for stimulants that raise your cortisol in the later afternoon or at night. Consumption of complex carbs, protein and healthy fats is crucial to support blood sugar balance.
- Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach, the fun “Happy Hour’, is really creating a not so good situation as the cortisol will spike up in response to the incoming alcohol.
This creates a yo-yo effect with the release of insulin, resulting in a drop of blood sugar. If not food is consumed, it is easy to reach for another drink…. this certainly adds pounds on the hips and can contribute to sleep imbalances hours later…. It is important to always consider a protein/fat snack before drinking any alcohol.
Make your Happy Hour, a ‘Happy Adrenal’ hour – and get a good night’s sleep too.
What About Exercise?
Overdoing cardio exercise can over stimulate adrenal function and results in excessive cortisol production. Elevated cortisol levels will prevent you from falling asleep
Being too busy: Stress Reduction
We live in a world of high expectations. It is important to be mindful of not always having ‘to do’. Setting rest times, blocking out I-phone or BB time, I call it a techno-detox, is important. Be selfish and set time aside where you do ‘nothing’. It is harder to do.
Chronic Sleep Problems? Consider this saliva test:
A saliva test is very helpful to address any challenges with sleep and the Circadian rhythm. Testing of bioavaliable cortisol and melatonin during the daily rhythm can be very helpful to gather more information of why there is a disruption and imbalance of the cortisol and melatonin seesaw balance.
If you choose to do the adrenal stress self-test, do keep a food and lifestyle diary for that day. It matters what you eat, move and sleep – and is helpful with the interpretation of the test results. Contact me for more information at Rika@NYIntegratedHealth.com
A test only provides information. It is the interpretation of the test results that matters and the action taken upon results. We are more than just numbers on a lab test, however, they provide good information about your stress.
Conventional medicine does not recognize adrenal function within the context of sleeping problems. (Unless the adrenals are ‘crashed out’ and you will live on cortisone.)
Nutrition, lifestyle, gut health, emotional stress, detox ability and mental wellness all come into play regarding your ability to sleep.
Not managing blood sugar is the #1 stress on your system!
I compare it to a 6-Alarm fire. Before addressing any symptoms:
- Optimizing blood sugar balance with customized nutrition,
- Addressing lifestyle,
- Supporting detox ability
Discussing the sleeping environments is a must to ensure a good night’s sleep in the long-term.
ALSO, it is our behavior that must change, if we wish to improve our health. We all know what we should be doing….but doing it is another matter. Maintaining unhealthy habits can prevent us from getting a good night’s sleep.