Approximately 21% of North Americans have some form of sleep disorder; ranging from intermittent insomnia to something more serious, such as sleep apnea. Many are unaware that there are solutions. This point is established in “Solving the Brain Puzzle” when Bill shares the story about the farmer at the Emu conference. Just a few quick pointers and the man’s entire life changed for the better.
While it may be a quick and easy solution for some, that is not always the case. For this reason, you must understand the root cause of your sleep issues in order to improve them.
Obstructive sleep apnea: This is when the airway becomes blocked, resulting in a blood oxygen decrease and the body rousing itself to force oxygen intake. Signs and symptoms include excessive tiredness during the day, loud snoring, dry mouth or sore throat in the morning, greater hunger and weight gain, mood instability and morning headaches.
Non-obstructive sleep apnea: This form of sleep apnea will result in the same symptoms mentioned above, but may occur due to genetic predisposition or lifestyle.
Treating Sleep Apnea may involve:
- reducing alcohol intake
- use of a CPAP machine
- use of concentrated oxygen through the night
You may need to experiment with different masks, nasal prongs and other accessories to make your CPAP or oxygen most effective for you.
If you have done these things and still struggle with sleep apnea, you may benefit from some mitochondrial support. Our mitochondria end up bearing the burden of oxidative stress generated by poor quality sleep. Mitochondrial support can include Coq10, Omega 3’s, l-Carnitine, Ribose and Magnesium. See the mitochondria chapter of “Solving the Brain Puzzle” for the full list of support.
Hormone imbalances: Hormone imbalances such as hypo or hyperthyroidism, HPA axis dysregulation (adrenal fatigue), and menopause can impact our quality of sleep. Symptoms may include feelings of stress, panic or excessive fatigue that follow a daily or monthly pattern. Have your health care provider assess thyroid hormone levels with the markers TSH, free T3, free T4 and reverse T3. It is important that the assessment is not based on TSH alone. Please read “Solving the Brain Puzzle” or view our video on thyroid disorders if you are unclear as to why.
If you suspect adrenal imbalance or menopause are impacting your sleep ask your practitioner to run a 4-5 point saliva or urine hormone test. The Dutch Test or Rocky Mountain are both good options. These tests will look at your personal cortisol (and other hormone) rhythms over the course of 24 hours. Based on this, your practitioner may prescribe support for breaking down or boosting certain hormones at specific times during the day.
Food Intolerances: Do you experience excessive drowsiness or hyperactivity after eating? Sleep symptoms resulting from food intolerances may show up immediately or even hours later. Doing a trial removal of gluten, dairy, corn and soy for 6 months is a must do for our clients and often brings success. Beyond those 4 items, we also see oxalate, salicylate and histamine overload as being problematic for sleep. Periodically clients have completely random sensitivities. If elimination is too stressful, use the Great Plains food sensitivity panel to discover your personal sensitivities.
TBI/Brain Injury: At least 30% of those with Traumatic Brain Injury experience insomnia and fatigue post injury. Healing of TBI and related symptoms can be supported by nutrient dense nutrition, nootropic and other supplements, craniosacral therapy, oxygen and the passage of time.
Neurotransmitter imbalances: High or low dopamine or serotonin, low GABA or poor breakdown of stress related neurotransmitters can result in poor quality sleep. Symptoms will go hand in hand with fatigue, anxiety, poor self-worth, depression and general moodiness. Have your health care provider run an Organic Acids Test to determine which are at play for you. The solution may be as simple as taking a supplement like tryptophan, or you may need to look further depending on the state of imbalance.
Microbiome: The intestinal microbiota and our sleep/circadian rhythm have a bi-directional impact on each other. To improve the health and diversity of your microbiome you need to have your *sleep-wake cycle and feeding cycle** nailed down. But, to improve your quality of sleep you need a diverse microbiome producing a healthy amount of neurotransmitters and short chain fatty acids. Some research has even found specific microbial genus to be associated with healthy (Blautia + Ruminococcus) or poor sleep (Prevotella). If you have a history of antibiotic overuse, you may be especially at risk for experiencing insomnia.
* sleep-wake cycle (or circadian rhythm), but did you know your body has multiple circadian rhythms – for example, each organ has its own rhythm. The result of this is that each individual organ is strongest or most active at specific times of the day.
**feeding cycle refers to the timing of eating your meals. Your microbiome is happiest when you eat your meals within an 8-10 hour window, and even better if you live in a geographic location where this can match up to daylight hours.
Circadian Training: You may find benefit from re-training your hormonal sleep-wake rhythm. To accomplish this you would practice exposing yourself to natural lighting first thing upon waking. This will encourage cortisol to rise first thing, which will make you feel awake. Make sure to expose yourself to natural light throughout the day, especially if you work indoors. In the evening use smart light bulbs, screen protectors or avoidance to limit your exposure to blue light from computers, phones and TV’s. Adopt a relaxing sleep routine, such as meditation, deep breathing or reading to encourage melatonin release. Following the feeding cycle mentioned above also helps to support this.
General Suggestions for Improving Sleep:
- Sleep in complete darkness
- Keep the temperature of the bedroom less than 20°C (70°F)
- Remove Electromagnetic Fields
- Move alarm clocks from beside your bed to two meters or more away. Make the time difficult to see.
- Consider a gentle dawn or light-increasing alarm clock. Use your bed for sleeping, not for work or television.
- If your partner or pet impairs your sleep, consider separate rooms.
- Aim for bed at 10:00 p.m., no later than 11:00 p.m.
- Keep a consistent bedtime
- Establish a bedtime routine
- Avoid fluids for two hours before bed
- Go to the toilet just before bed
- Avoid bedtime snacks, especially grains and sugars
- Take a hot bath, shower, or sauna before bed
- Try wearing socks to bed, as it may reduce night waking
- Wear an eye mask
- Quit your work one to two hours before bed
- No TV or blue light from the computer or smartphone screen before bed
- Listen to relaxing music
- Read a calming book or journal before bed to quiet your mind
- Minimize drugs, avoid caffeine after midday, and avoid alcohol, as it costs you sleep during the night .
- Exercise regularly
- Practice EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)
- Increase your melatonin by exposure to bright sunshine or a full-spectrum fluorescent bulb in winter
- Specific probiotics, such as Usana BB12 or lactobacillus gasseri have been found to be supportive of sleep
- Balance your microbiome: reduce pathogens and increase beneficial microbes
- Use probiotics such as lactobacillus gasseri or lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Support your mitochondria
- Try calming supplements or herbs before bed: GABA, 5-HTP, tryptophan, passionflower, skullcap, SAMe, magnesium