Insomnia and sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation is a serious problem for most Americans.  Sleep is related to the autonomic nervous system, which enables allows our body to do perform necessary functions without thinking about it.  Examples would be swallowing, blinking, stretching, and sleeping.  Trying to fall asleep should be easy, after all, when we were children, the function of sleep did not require sleep aids!  Insufficient sleep is associated with many chronic health issues, including weight problems.  This is because the ill effects span throughout the entire body, disrupting normal metabolic functions.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, and children and teens need more. Approximately 29 percent of U.S. adults report sleeping less than 7 hours per night and an estimated 50-70 million has chronic sleep and wakefulness disorders. Ten percent of American adults report experiencing chronic insomnia.

Sufficient sleep is increasingly being recognized as an essential aspect of health promotion and chronic disease prevention in the public health community. Insufficient sleep is associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes>, cardiovascular disease, and mental illnesses including depression. It can also result in drowsy driving which can lead to motor vehicle accidents.

Newer research shows we may require more than this, and less can interfere with important metabolic bodily functions.  Most of us have experienced problems trying to fall asleep, and the frustration that comes with it.  Many insomniacs also feel the fear of insufficient sleep and how this can impair their ability to be fully present and able to work or take care of others when they feel so tired and foggy the next day.

Research confirms the serious consequences resulting from lack of sleep.  Several studies indicate that insufficient sleep can cause insulin and blood sugar levels to fluctuate erratically, resulting in sharp increases in cortisol (the “stress hormone”),  which mimics blood sugar behavior that occurs in diabetics.

Consequences of insufficient and quality sleep
Most importantly, our lack of deep sleep prevents us from achieving the cellular healing needed for our cells to repair themselves from chemical, emotional and physical stress most of us experience daily.  Lack of sleep impairs our immune system, opening us up to opportunistic infection. Lack of sleep contributes to impaired mental clarity and problem solving. Experiencing insufficient sleep on a nightly basis leads to what is called a cumulative “sleep deficit”. This means if we miss more than one night of normal sleep, we can’t just “make it up” with one good nights rest following the period of sleep deficit.  Instead, it may take several nights of normal sleep to correct the deficit.

Types of insomnia
Most of us think that insomnia is only one type, but there are actually two main types of insomnia:  “sleep onset insomnia” and “sleep maintenance insomnia.”  Sleep onset insomnia is the inability to fall asleep, while sleep maintenance insomnia is the inability to stay asleep.  Both types of insomnias can occur simultaneously.  When considering nutritional deficiencies for insomniacs, we must start by looking at the areas of the body that deal with energy production and regulation.

Adrenal Glands, Cortisol levels and Sleep
Having the appropriate levels of cortisol during the right times of the day is an important factor.  When cortisol levels are high, we can pop out of bed in the morning. When cortisol levels are low in the evening, we can relax and fall asleep at night.  The health of our adrenal glands is a key factor in how cortisol translates to helping us to feel alive in the morning and ready for a good night’s sleep in the evening.  We can get insights to what is happening by using the Adrenal Stress Index Test.

The Adrenal Stress Index (ASI) test is done via saliva, and can help determine the health of your adrenal glands.  The ASI monitors the adrenal gland’s secretion of cortisol, which influences a person’s circadian rhythms, also known as your biorhythms or sleep/wake cycle.  An important factor in assessing ASI results is to identify both the cortisol quantity and the circadian rhythm of the cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands.  Having the right quantity of cortisol but at the wrong time of the day will not help you sleep, or wake feeling rested.  Identifying and correcting the circadian rhythm of your cortisol can make the world of a difference in your sleep cycle.

Cortisol production, which yields an energy increase, should peak when we wake up in the morning, then taper off gradually during the day, and then dip to its lowest levels a few hours after we fall asleep, allowing us to reach a deep restful sleep.  For many people, this is not the case.  Some people may actually show a reversing trend with cortisol levels peaking later in the day, or even at night, thus making sleep extremely difficult.

The thyroid gland’s role to getting a good night’s sleep
Our thyroid gland also plays a major role in regulating energy output in our body, which in turn affects our sleep.  Every single cell in the body has a receptor for thyroxin, or thyroid hormone. In situations of hyperthyroidism, the production of thyroid hormone becomes elevated which affects our entire body to include specific areas of the brain that regulate sleep; the result can be a lack of normal sleep producing signals from these areas of the brain.

Brain health and sleep
Our brain also requires the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and melatonin. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that affect our nervous system and are considered chemical messengers. Neurotransmitters not only contribute to feelings of pleasure, euphoria, happiness and help us concentrate, but inadequate amounts of neurotransmitters make it difficult for us to sleep.  Similar to the body’s needing the appropriate amount of cortisol during different times of the day, we also need to have the proper amounts of these neurotransmitters at the proper time of day if we want to achieve a deep restful sleep.

While over the counter and prescription medications can provide some chemical assistance, usually it will mask the problem of why a person’s sleep is not restful, versus providing corrective help at the cellular and foundational levels that your body needs.  We use specific nutrients to help the body boost its natural production of neurotransmitters, and bring balance to these areas of the brain.

According to a Harvard newsletter, over the counter and prescription medications can disrupt healthy sleep.  Medications such as cold and flu medicine (Nyquil, Dayquil, Theraflu), nicotine replacement products (nicoderm), antihistamines (Benadryl, Dimetapp), thyroid medications (thyroxin, Levathyroid), antidepressants (Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac), pain relievers (Anacin, Excedrin), high blood pressure medications such as beta blockers and diuretics , steroids, drugs used to treat heart arrhythmias, and any medication that contains alcohol to name a few.  You can view the list yourself by clicking on the link that follows.

Alcohol and sleep
Although alcohol may help someone fall asleep due to its relaxing and calming effects, it interferes with certain areas of the brain that allow us to achieve a deep restful sleep.  The result is that we feel less rested the next day.

Adrenal Stimulants
Common food related stimulants are often used to mask a person’s feelings of fatigue.  This is done in place of correcting the problem at the cellular level, and using these substances will often end up rapidly depleting our energy and contributing to poor sleep. Examples of these products are concentrated quick energy drinks and sodas, both of which contribute to “adrenal burnout.”

Adrenal burnout occurs when we burden and stress our adrenal glands with foods that provide a “quick fix” as well as stimulants.  Examples of these would be refined sugars and excessive caffeine, both of which can cause our adrenal glands to severely malfunction.  The use of these types of stimulants give us a temporary feeling of energy at the expense of our adrenal glands, which is similar to the tale of robbing Peter to pay Paul.  At some point Peter will run out of money.  There are consequences to stressing our adrenal glands with excessive stimulants rather than allowing our adrenals to be healthy and provide the proper nutritional support.  Malfunctioning adrenal glands contribute to erratic circadian rhythms and cortisol production leading to poor quality sleep.

By working with the Adrenal Stress Test and other blood work, we can help correct adrenal gland issues while developing the most effective nutrient program to repair and correct the problem, which in turn can help you get the quality sleep that your body needs to maintain good health both physically and mentally.

Insufficient sleep:

Functions of the autonomic nervous system:

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