By Lynn Kettell-Slifer
Why can’t I sleep? According to the Sleep Foundation, insomnia affects as much as half the population. If you suffer from this potentially debilitating condition, you are not alone! Getting a good nights’ sleep offers a multitude of benefits, including improved immune function, better memory/concentration, better overall health, and improved ability to manage stress.
If sleep is so good for my body, why am I not sleeping?
Your body is complex! That’s why I believe in the Functional Medicine approach, which evaluates the complex interaction of body systems that can affect the quality of your sleep. Let’s review the more common factors that affect sleep:
- Stress/Lifestyle: Chronic stress impacts sleep in any number of ways, from affecting neurotransmitter levels (those fun chemicals that regulate mood and sleep) to immune function and hormone levels. Think about constantly being in a state of “running from a bear”. That natural fight or flight response has become a chronic state for so many of us, and it’s not healthy!
- Hormonal Imbalances: Stress, autoimmune conditions such as thyroid disease, and menopause are a few of the factors that can result in hormonal imbalances. Hormones out of balance can have a profound impact on sleep quality.
- Dietary Consumption: You truly are what you eat. Consuming certain foods and beverages are sure to have a negative impact on sleep. Poor dietary choices can lead to nutritional deficiencies. I often see nutritional deficiencies in my sleep-deprived patients, as deficiencies in a host of essential nutrients play a role in sleep. In addition, the timing of your meals can impact sleep quality.
- Medications/Supplements: Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can contribute to insomnia. And yes, even supplements can contribute to insomnia. I’m a huge proponent of seeking knowledgeable medical advice before experimenting with supplements or over-the-counter remedies, as many can be harmful to your health.
What can I do to improve the quality of my sleep?
- Reduce stress and practice good sleep hygiene. Visit our website https://HealthPartnersLLC.net or Sleep Foundation https://www.sleepfoundation.org for tips on improving your sleep hygiene. One more fun fact- sleeping “in the buff” can improve sleep quality. A study conducted at the University of Amsterdam showed those who slept naked had better quality sleep due to our improved ability to regulate body temperature without clothing.
- Balance your hormone levels. Have your hormone levels checked! In addition, Imbalances and/or improper dosing of thyroid and sex hormone replacement medications can often be the culprit. I frequently see elevated thyroid and sex hormone levels in patients on these medications, often because they are not being monitored well. Hormone medications are very helpful and necessary for many patients but must be closely managed to avoid excessive dosing and side effects, which can be significant.
- Monitor what you consume and when you consume it. Eating difficult to digest foods along with eating or drinking late in the evening can impact sleep- the digestive process takes energy and should be “at rest” for the body to fully relax. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but once that alcohol is metabolized into sugar (in the middle of the night), sleep is disrupted. And don’t forget about caffeine- did you know that caffeine can take 9-12 hours or more to metabolize depending on your genetic makeup? That cup of coffee you had at lunch may well be contributing to your insomnia. For those of you interested in digging deeper, a complete diagnostic nutritional analysis provides a baseline nutritional status and highlights deficiencies in essential nutrients that may impact sleep.
- Know your medications and supplements. Take an inventory of all medications (including over-the-counter) and supplements. Many common prescriptions and over-the-counter medications (anti-anxiety, ADD, steroid, allergy to name a few) can cause insomnia. Sleep medications, while helpful for many, are listed as controlled substances by the FDA for a reason. Most have the potential for addiction, and research shows they can contribute to cognitive decline with frequent use. Weaning from sleep medications can be difficult and may take months to years. Supplements can negatively affect sleep as well, even those that are marketed as sleep aides. You are a unique individual, and just because “it worked for my friend” doesn’t mean it will be effective or even safe for you. There are a variety of nutraceuticals that can have a positive impact on sleep, but I caution that not all are safe or effective. Find a reputable online source (a basic site for non-medical patients is www.https://webmd.com) or ask your pharmacist for information about interactions. *Please be advised that I am NOT recommending you discontinue or change dosing on any prescribed medications without first speaking with your prescriber. I simply advise that you understand the benefits, risks, side effects, and potential interactions of all medications and supplements you are taking.
If you suffer from insomnia, I encourage you to use the basic guidelines above and seek medical advice if symptoms are affecting your quality of life. Addressing and correcting the underlying causes of chronic insomnia can take months to years, but it can be done! Here’s to a good dream!
About the Author: Lynn Kettell-Slifer is a Georgetown University educated Family Nurse Practitioner with Advanced Practice training in Functional Medicine through the Institute for Functional Medicine (https://www.IFM.org). She owns and operates a Functional Medicine Practice, Health Partners LLC (https://www.HealthPartnersLLC.net ) based in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Her patients are both local and from multiple locations nationwide.