You probably already know that sleep is extremely important for your body to function optimally. And if fat loss is a goal, sleep needs to be a priority.
But if you struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep, you don’t need another person telling you that you should get 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
After all, if you could sleep, you would. There are MANY reasons that you might struggle with sleep. Maybe you’re a night owl and feel most productive at night. Maybe night is the one time of day you have to yourself, and you just don’t want to go to bed! Maybe you toss and turn and simply can’t sleep.
Insomnia (including trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or early morning awakening) is not the problem, it’s the result of the problem. And while allopathic care can be extremely beneficial to provide some relief from sleepless nights, (especially since lack of sleep disrupts other functions in the body such as hormone regulation), I prefer to look for the reasons why you might not be sleeping. After all, poor sleep is not due to a Benzodiazepine deficiency.
Each person’s reason for insomnia may be different, which is WHY the protocol requires a personalized approach.
Six common reasons you might struggle with getting a good night’s sleep:
- Chronic Stress or HPA (hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal) Axis Dysfunction. Your adrenal glands, two small endocrine glands that sit above the kidneys, produce and release cortisol in response to the hypothalamus and pituitary glands (both are endocrine glands in the brain). Ideally, cortisol levels are highest in the morning, and gradually drop over the day, being lowest a few hours after bedtime. If your cortisol spikes before bed, you’ll have a tough time falling asleep. If your cortisol spikes overnight, or too early in the morning you’ll have trouble staying asleep.While it’s impossible to remove all sources of stress, do your best to manage stress in your life. Strategies might include mindset work, journaling, prayer, and counseling. Taking magnesium at night can help with stress and help improve sleep. I personally take 400 mg of magnesium bis-glycinate each night before bed.
- Blood sugar dysregulation: One of the reasons why cortisol might spike in the wee hours of the morning is if your blood sugar levels drop. Many people with HPA Axis Dysfunction experience sleep and find themselves waking up between 1 and 3 in the morning. Prioritize protein, fat, and fibre at your meal to help stabilize blood sugar. Having a snack with protein, high-fibre carbs and a bit of fat before bed may also help with maintaining blood sugar overnight.
- Melatonin rhythm disruption: Melatonin, produced in the pineal gland and gut, along with cortisol are the key hormones that regulate our circadian rhythm. We produce melatonin in response to darkness and stop production in response to light. If you don’t get enough light exposure during the day, or if you get too much light exposure at night (think computer screens and ipads) your melatonin rhythm will be disrupted. Do your best to get access to daylight during the day. Turn off screens at least one hour before bedtime to help with sleep.
- An overburdened liver. Your liver is a marvelous organ. It performs around 500 functions, including detoxifying harmful substances, metabolizing hormones, breaking down fat, and storing blood sugar as glycogen. Liver problems such as cirrhosis and fatty liver disease are linked to insomnia, but even smaller liver problems can affect sleep. In Chinese medicine, waking up between 1-3 AM is a sign of poor liver function. An overburdened liver can decrease the clearance of trouble metabolizing the hormones that regulate the sleep/wake cycle. Reducing the burden on your liver (reducing toxic load, alcohol, processed foods) and supporting the liver with supplements and a whole foods diet can help sleep.
- Sex hormone imbalance. We’ve already talked about some hormones (melatonin and cortisol) and their effect on sleep. Drops in estrogen and progesterone, or an imbalance between the two hormones can also bring sleep disruptions. Many women struggle with sleep during perimenopause and menopause. Sex hormone imbalance may be due to many different reasons, such as an overburdened liver, chronic stress, excess body fat, and gut dysbiosis… so please just don’t google ‘how to balance hormones’ and follow any generic guidelines!
- Poor sleep hygiene! Yes… it’s so SIMPLE, but when I get honest with my clients (and they get honest with me), their sleep routine needs an upgrade. I think that when we realize WHY sleep is so important, and believe that things like shutting off screens and calming the nervous system at night will actually make a massive positive impact on our energy and health, we’ll make the effort because it’s worth it!
Friend, if you’re struggling with sleep, I feel you! It’s FRUSTRATING. I encourage you to look beyond the band-aid solutions (though they may be helpful to give you some relief) and see it as a sign that your body needs some EXTRA support.