Many people consider their sleep patterns normal. Your current sleep pattern may be normal for you, but that does not mean it is good, or healthy. Do you have trouble falling asleep because your mind is racing? Do you wake up several times per night? Do you average <6 hours of sleep per night? Is it extremely hard to wake up each morning without some sort of jolt from your coffee pot or energy drink? If you answered yes, these are signs that your body is likely not getting the optimal recovery it needs each night. The cumulative effect of this insufficient rest over months and years can be causing your body to deteriorate faster than it should. The situation is more serious than we commonly give it credit for, and the value of restoring balance is more immeasurable than most of us realize.
COMMON CAUSES OF POOR SLEEP PATTERNS
1) Bad habits - This is number one because it is far too easy in our informational age to be in front of a screen (TV, phone, tablet, computer, or laptop) until right before you lay your head on the pillow. Screen time can be detrimental to sleep for a couple reasons. One is the blue light emitted from these screens actually disrupts your normal circadian rhythms and can make it very difficult to fall asleep. Another is dependent on the content. Too much stimulation can be taxing to your brain before bed. Take a mental inventory of your routine and consider a shift so that you have a couple hours before bed to wind down… away from blue light. Alternatively, consider getting some blue light blocking glasses or downloading programs on your devices that block blue light for you. Though it may seem obvious, it’s worth noting that a good, consistent bedtime is also important. You must allow yourself sufficient time in the bed.
2) Lack of Sunshine and Earth - This may stem mainly from our worldview but research is starting to back up the notion that need more interaction with nature. There are now over 20 published studies on the health benefits of touching the earth. Not just going for walk and breathing the air but literally putting bare skin on the earth. Leather moccasins will work too. One of the most common reports of those that start trying to “ground” more is better sleep and less pain. Sunshine goes hand in hand with “earthing” or “grounding.” Sleep quality has been linked to sufficient vitamin D and by far the best source of vitamin D is natural sunshine. Sunshine during daylight hours also helps our circadian rhythms stay healthy. Being inside with artificial light all day is far from natural. So kick your shoes off midday and go for a short walk outside in the sunshine if at all possible!
3) Medications - Commonly prescribed medications may be the culprit. Although there are many more, here is a list of several medications that have insomnia as a potential side effect:
1. Alpha-blockers (for blood pressure and prostate issues)
2. Beta-blockers (blood pressure medications)
3. Corticosteroids (used most often for anti-inflammatory purposes)
4. SSRI antidepressants (anxiety/depression medications)
5. ACE inhibitors (blood pressure medications)
6. ARBs (blood pressure medications)
7. Cholinesterase inhibitors (Alzheimer’s medications)
8. H1 antagonists (used for allergies)
9. Glucosamine/chondroitin (used for joint pains)
10. Statins (used for high cholesterol)
These are very common medications. If you are on any of these medications and struggle with sleep issues, then talk with your doctor about an alternative, or consider with your doctor whether it’s appropriate to wean off of it for a time to see how your sleep responds. I would recommend avoiding the common scenario of just adding another medication on top of this to help with the side effect of another medicine. That is a vicious cycle you would do well to avoid.
SUPPLEMENTs - proceed with caution
Melatonin is the most commonly used sleep supplement. But there is concern around overly using melatonin. We need to understand that it is a hormone. In some countries it is very tightly regulated because overuse can cause problems and imbalances in the body.
5-HTP and L-Tryptophan are also commonly used to help fall asleep. These supplements can be helpful temporarily but overuse can lead to imbalances in dopamine. Dopamine imbalances aren’t fun. Common symptoms of dopamine imbalance are anxiety, depression, lack of motivation and fatigue.
Our recommendation is focus on lifestyle changes first, as discussed above. If you are still having trouble with sleep, consider an E-Consult with us to let us put together a protocol to help you restore normal sleep patterns. We want to avoid causing more glitches while we work to fix existing problems. And if you suspect your sleep disturbance is much more complicated, then let’s dig deeper with a full Functional Medicine Consult and see what we can uncover.
Co-written by: Jake Duncan PA-C and Derek Lang D.O.