If you have problems sleeping you are not alone. It is estimated that 50-70 million Americans have chronic sleeping problems.
Getting enough sleep is crucial to good health, and nutrition can influence sleep. There are diet, food and nutrient strategies that can be used to help you sleep better.
Problems associated with lack of sleep:
Lack of sleep is associated with weight gain and obesity in children and adults. When we are tired, we tend to make poor food choices that affect weight gain. For example, we tend to crave calorie dense foods that are higher in carbohydrates.
Lack of sleep can adversely affects hormones related to hunger (ghrelin) and fullness (leptin). Studies have shown that those that sleep less have lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin, so if you are lacking sleep, you may be hungrier, and therefore eat more.
Studies have also shown that men who sleep 5-6 hours or less are twice as likely to develop diabetes, and both short and long duration sleep times (durations longer than 8 hours) are associated with type 2 diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance in men and women. This means that optimizing sleep quality and quantity can have positive benefits for optimizing blood sugar control.
Sleeping problems are associated with cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and stroke, and hypertension.
Sleep loss is associated with mood and behavior problems.
Adults with chronic sleep loss have more mental distress, depressive symptoms, anxiety, and alcohol use.
There are a variety of reasons for sleeping problems and this is where we start looking to identify why you might have these issues in the first place. We start with things we eat or take that can keep us awake:
Decongestants like Sudafed
Ritalin or other stimulants
Herbs: Ginkgo biloba, Guarana, Siberian ginseng, Ephedra, Ma huang, Bitter orange, Kola nut
Medications: Beta blockers, Albuterol, SSRIs (antidepressants), Prednisone and other steroids
We want to avoid the things we can that may be contributing to sleeping problems like drinking alcohol and caffeine, smoking and use of elicit drugs. If you are on prescription medications that you feel are causing problems for you talk to your doctor before changing any prescribed medicine regimen.
Often sleeping problems are a symptom of another medical problem, and by addressing that underlying problem, we can improve sleep.
There are all sorts of conditions can interfere with sleep:
Diet, sleep affect each other. Anxiety makes getting restful sleep challenging and difficulty sleeping can cause anxiety. Reducing levels of anxiety is important, and meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises are examples of interventions my clients find helpful in reducing their anxiety levels.
Depression is linked to poor sleep. Insomnia can cause depression, and remember that antidepressants (like Prozac or Wellbutrin) can adversely affect sleep.
Pain from any number of conditions can lead to poor sleep. Arthritis, headaches, reflux, and fibromyalgia, anything that causes pain can make it hard to fall asleep, and hard to stay asleep. Pain gets worse with lack of sleep. Addressing the underlying cause of pain can help improve sleep quality.
GERD (gastroesophageal reflux)
Eating too much and eating too close to bedtime can cause GERD. Ideally, you should wait 4 hours between eating and going to bed.
There is a wide range of other reasons for GERD, so this is also something we explore when reflux is present, and GERD has many other problems associated with it aside from sleeping disturbances.
Insomnia is considered a symptom of menopause. There are nutritional interventions that can help. Many are herbals. Keep in mind with herbal medicine that many pharmaceutical drugs are created based on the action of herbal medicines. Because of this, herbals can cause side effects and drug interactions just like pharmaceutical drugs can. The message here is don’t self medicate with herbals (for insomnia or any other reason). Talk to a professional to see what’s right for you.
Obstructive sleep apnea
This is disordered breathing during sleep. People that have sleep apnea have a greater risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, irregular heartbeat, diabetes, stroke, asthma, some cancers, cognitive and behavioral disorders in children and adults, and car accidents.
Common symptoms include snoring or gasping during sleep, and feeling fatigued during the day.
Many people that suffer from sleep apnea live in larger bodies, so nutrition plays a big role. Appropriately nourishing your body to reach a healthy weight is a primary intervention for sleep apnea, and often helps resolve the issue.
Sleep disordered breathing (general)
There are numerous other reasons that someone may be experiencing sleep disordered breathing, and The Breathe Institute in Los Angeles, CA specializes in addressing all causes of sleep disordered breathing using a multidisciplinary approach.
Desynchronosis is a disrupted circadian rhythm. It’s common in jet lag, and it shift workers, so those who work at night. It’s when your body’s internal clock is out of balance.
Our circadian rhythms tend to change based on our stage in life.
Teenagers generally like to stay up late and wake up late, and as we get older we tend to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier.
Often those with desynchronosis have abnormal cortisol levels. Cortisol is your stress hormone and it should be higher in the morning and lower at night. Very often I see clients with abnormal cortisol levels, not following this ‘right’ pattern.
How we address the issue(s):
From a nutritional standpoint, we look at diet first of course to identify dietary triggers for the problem.
We also look for underlying conditions that are preventing adequate sleep, like sleep apnea, and reflux.
We can look to food as medicine to address any nutrient deficiencies that may be contributing to the issue. For example, food is a source of neurotransmitter precursors, where your neurotransmitter balance regulates your sleep, and mood in general.
Deficiency of certain vitamins and minerals can also disrupt sleep, so we can address these deficiencies by choosing foods containing the nutrients and supplement where necessary.
If you have problems sleeping, it is worthwhile to check out why. Contact me today and we can explore diet, food, nutrients and lifestyle interventions to help bring you relief and a good night’s sleep!
"Your nutritional needs are as unique as your fingerprint, and they are dictated by your individual biochemistry. As a functional and clinical nutritionist, I can help you interpret your body's nutrient needs and customize a plan to reach your health and wellness goals. This is personalized nutrition." -Jennifer Caryn Brand, MPH, MS, CNS, Clinical Nutritionist
Wishing you a delicious weekend!
Functional and Clinical Nutritionist
Copyright © 2018 Jennifer Caryn Brand Nutrition, All rights reserved.