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Posts Tagged ‘insomnia’

715 sunlight for sleep

It’s now common knowledge that nighttime exposure to computer, tablet, and TV screens sabotages sleep —the light they emit simulates sunlight, thus suppressing sleep hormones. However, plenty of daytime sunlight is vital for good sleep. Most of us don’t get near enough.

Research shows the average person spends less than an hour a day outside. For shift workers it’s even worse. Lack of exposure to sunlight inhibits production of melatonin, a hormone that puts us to sleep.

A Finnish rat study observed one group living under fluorescent lighting and another group exposed only to sunlight through windows every day. While both groups received the same duration of both light and darkness during the study, the rats exposed to sunlight produced significantly more melatonin.

It’s not that the artificial light was detrimental. It simply wasn’t strong enough — the sunlight was more than seven times brighter than the fluorescent light. This is what boosted melatonin production. Researchers assert variation of light throughout the day, from dawn to dusk, also supports healthy melatonin production.

During a sunny day, lux levels (which measure the intensity of light) reach 50,000. Compare this to indoor lighting, which ranges in the low to mid hundreds at the most. For most of human history we have lived with natural light and it plays a significant role in the function of the body and brain.

Why melatonin and light rhythms are so important

Anyone who has suffered through insomnia and sleep deprivation understands the importance of sufficient and quality sleep.

However, melatonin and our sleep-wake cycle (also called circadian rhythm) are intertwined with every system in the body, affecting much more than how rested or tired we feel. Heaps of studies point to the importance of a healthy sleep-wake cycle for overall immune, hormonal, and mental health.

For instance, one study found that women suffering from PMS show chronically low melatonin levels. Just two hours a day of exposure to sunlight increased their melatonin levels and relieved their symptoms.

A German study showed subjects with mood imbalances exhibited healthier serotonin levels after just one week of light therapy.

Another study showed subjects experienced a 160 percent increase in melatonin at night after just a half hour of exposure to bright light from a light box.

How to get enough outdoor light in an indoor world

It’s not easy getting enough sunlight when you’re indoors all day working or going to school. But it’s vital for healthy sleep, brain function, and metabolic function to get enough light exposure.

Some solutions are obvious — spend time outside as much as you can. Eat lunch outside and go for a walk on your breaks. Maybe you can even work outside on your laptop if your job is portable.

If possible, work near windows that get plenty of natural light. One study showed employees working near a window received twice as much light as their coworkers who didn’t and hence enjoyed more sleep.

If sufficient exposure to natural light isn’t possible, indoor light therapy has been shown to help relieve sleep and mood imbalances.

Look for a light box that delivers plenty of lux and is big enough for sufficient exposure. The Center for Environmental Therapeutics provides criteria for purchasing a reliable light box, which they recommend using for at least a half hour in the morning.

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daylight saving blues copy

If you’re still feeling knackered from the time change with daylight saving  you’re not alone. Changing the time throws a kink in the fragile and sensitive human biological clock, leaving many people feeling continuously jet lagged for a few weeks.

An hour of lost sleep might not sound like a big deal, but if you or your friends and coworkers are any indication, it makes for some groggy and grumpy days, bouts of insomnia, and feeling generally off.

It’s not just a hunch — scientific studies have demonstrated various ways in which the bi-annual time change messes with our health.

The body has genes that flip on and off to keep us in a steady rhythm of sleeping and waking. When we throw those genes off beat by artificially changing the time, the effect extends into the rest of the body, including muscles, the skeleton, the pancreas, etc. The disruption is felt body-wide.

How daylight saving time can impact health

This disruption dulls the brain and throws the body’s systems off, resulting in serious and even fatal consequences for some people.

For instance, past studies have shown driving fatalities, workplace injuries, and heart attacks go up after the spring-forward change in time. An Australian study found that even suicides increase after the time change.

Unsurprisingly, work productivity goes down as well, causing losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Night owls, people who naturally are more inclined to stay up late and sleep later in the morning take the longest to recover.

Worst of all, some studies suggest our bodies never really adjust to time changes. We’re designed to sync with natural changes in light throughout the year, not artificially inflicted ones.

How to recover from daylight saving time

Although people complain and we see a spate of news stories every spring bemoaning the change in time, we’re nevertheless stuck with it until politicians add it to their to-do list.

Understanding the effect of the time change on your body can help you better know how to ease the transition into suddenly waking up an hour earlier.

Avoid overdoing it for a while. Because you know your whole body is struggling to adjust to being thrown out of whack, don’t expect too much from yourself. Avoid scheduling high-risk or energy demanding activities the week after the time change. And be extra careful driving.

Schedule in some naps and restful mornings. If you’re like most people, you’ll be sleep-deprived for a week or two. Take a lunch nap in your car at work, let yourself rest on a weekend morning, and be extra disciplined about getting to bed early enough.

Wear orange glasses at night. Wear some orange safety glasses a couple of hours before bed to shield your eyes from artificial blue light from light bulbs, the TV, and computer and phone screens. This facilitates production of sleep hormones and will help ease you into the new schedule.

Get some sunshine during the day. Our bodies were designed to wake and sleep according to the light of the seasons, not an industrialized schedule. Get as much natural light as you can during the day and avoid artificial sources of blue light (computer, TV, smart phones) in the evening.

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crash and awake copy

Are you often wide awake around 3 or 4 a.m., your mind racing with anxiety, but then collapsing into a near coma in the late afternoon? This maddening cycle of waking up and falling asleep at inconvenient hours is often relieved by managing low blood sugar.

Why you’re wide awake at 3 or 4 a.m.

Although sleep is a time for the body to rest, your brain is still busy working on repair and regeneration, transforming the day’s impressions into lasting memories, and keeping you entertained with dreams.

The brain demands more fuel than any other organ, about 20 percent of the body’s total supply. These needs don’t abate during sleep, when your body is fasting.

In the absence of food, the body keeps the brain going by gradually raising the adrenal hormone cortisol, which triggers the production of glucose to feed the brain through the night.

At least in theory.

Chronic low blood sugar breaks this system down because it skews cortisol rhythms and release. When your brain starts to run low on fuel during the night, cortisol may lag in triggering glucose release.

The brain cannot wait until breakfast and perceives this lack of fuel supply as an emergency. As a result, the body releases more urgent “fight-or-flight” adrenal hormones, which raise blood sugar back to safe levels.

Unfortunately, these adrenals hormones are also designed to help you either flee from danger or fight it. This does not bode well for a sound night’s sleep and explains why if you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m., it’s usually with a mind racing with worry.

Meanwhile, 12 hours later when you could really use the energy to finish a work project or deal with after-school duties, you crash and can barely function thanks to blood sugar and cortisol levels bottoming out. Reaching for that shot of caffeine may pull you through, but in the long run it’s only compounding the problem.

How to fall asleep if you wake up at 3 a.m.

If you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. with a racing mind, eating a little something may feed your brain and calm your mind so you can fall back asleep. But do not eat something sugary, which will spike blood sugar and perpetuate the cycle. Instead, eat some protein and fat.

Examples include nut butter, a little bit of meat, boiled egg, or a coconut snack. Have these prepared ahead of time and even next to your bed so you don’t have to go into the kitchen and turn on bright lights. You will not feel hungry because adrenal hormones are appetite suppressants, but you don’t need to eat much.

How to avoid the afternoon crash

To avoid the afternoon crash without caffeine you need to stabilize blood sugar as a way of life. Eat frequently enough to avoid sending blood sugar into a nose dive, and avoid foods that cause blood sugar to spike and crash: Sugar, caffeine, energy drinks, too many carbohydrates, and starchy carbs.

How do you know if you have low blood sugar?

Low blood sugar symptoms include:

  • Sugar cravings
  • Irritability, lightheadedness, dizziness, or brain fog if meals are missed
  • Lack of appetite or nausea in the morning (this is caused by stress hormones)
  • The need for caffeine for energy
  • Eating to relieve fatigue

A variety of nutritional compounds can further support your blood sugar handling and stress hormone functions so you sleep better. Ask us for advice.

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five things that cause insomnia copy

It seems almost everyone has insomnia these days, including, possibly, you. People either can’t fall asleep, they wake up after a few hours of sleep and can’t go back asleep, or they aren’t able to sleep deeply. The reasons for insomnia vary from person to person, but it’s typically not due to a sleeping pill deficiency.

Instead, the reasons behind insomnia or poor sleep can be startlingly straightforward, although addressing them may take some diet and lifestyle changes.

In this article I’ll go over often overlooked issues that cause insomnia and poor sleep. Don’t assume a powerful sleeping pill is your only answer. Look at the underlying causes first and address those.

Five things that can cause insomnia

Low blood sugar. Do you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m., racked with anxiety and unable to fall back asleep? That could be caused by a blood sugar crash, which raises stress hormones (hence the anxious wake up). Eating small but frequent meals, never skipping meals, and avoid sugary and starchy foods are important to keep blood sugar stable. Additionally, eating a little bit of protein before bed and at night if you wake up may help.

High blood sugar (insulin resistance or pre-diabetes). Do you fall asleep after meals yet struggle to fall asleep at night? Do you wake up feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck, but are wide awake at bedtime? It could be high blood sugar, a precursor to diabetes, is driving your primary stress hormone cortisol and keeping you up. A telltale symptom of high blood sugar is falling asleep after meals, especially starchy meals. Minimizing sugary and starchy foods, not overeating, and exercising regularly can help you rewind insulin resistance and sleep better at night.

Too much blue light. Are you staring into a computer, phone, tablet, or TV screen right before bed? If so, you’re confusing your body’s sleep hormone production. The body recognizes blue light as daylight, which suppresses the production of melatonin, our main sleep hormone. Limiting your exposure to blue light at night can help boost your body’s production of sleep hormones. Wear orange glasses two hours before bed, use orange bulbs in your nighttime lamps, and limit your evening screen time to boost melatonin.

Inflammation. If you are chronically inflamed it drives up your stress hormones, which can keep you awake. This is particularly true if you’re experiencing inflammation in your brain, which can cause anxiety. One of the most common causes of chronic inflammation is an immune reaction to foods, especially gluten, dairy, eggs, and various grains. Screening for undiagnosed food sensitivities and an anti-inflammatory diet can help you hone in on what’s causing your insomnia or poor sleep.

Hormone imbalances. Hormone imbalances can significantly impact sleep. Low progesterone, which is a common symptom of chronic stress, heightens anxiety and sleeplessness. An estrogen deficiency in perimenopause and menopause has been shown to increase anxiety, insomnia  and sleep apnea. In men, low testosterone is linked with poor sleep and sleep apnea. Also, low hormone levels can be inflammatory to the brain, increasing anxiety and insomnia.

Many things can cause insomnia and poor sleep, however these are some of the more common. While you are addressing the underlying factors of your sleep issue, you can aid your ability to sleep with safe and natural compounds, depending on the mechanism. Ask my office for more advice.

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sleep wake cycle and dementia copy

Do you have trouble falling asleep? Do you fall asleep around 2 or 3 a.m. and sleep until noon? Or do you wake up at 4 a.m. and can’t fall back asleep?

Studies show insomnia does more than make the days drag — it raises your risk of dementia later in life. Heart disease, diabetes, obesity, mood disturbances, constipation, prostate cancer, and breast cancer have all been linked with poor sleep.

Poor sleep is a growing problem, as is dementia. Twenty percent of the population is estimated to sleep too little (less than 6 hours a night). Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder today, affecting 64 million people, and one in three people over 65 will die of dementia.

Researchers found a particularly strong link between poor rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and dementia. These people do not go into the deep enough REM sleep that induces paralysis. Instead, they have vivid, violent dreams that they act out through punching, kicking, screaming, and even jumping out of bed.

Sixty-three percent of people with this REM disorder develop dementia or Parkinson’s later in life.

The sleep wake cycle and dementia risk

Our circadian rhythm regulates our sleep/wake cycles — when we feel tired at night and alert in the morning. A healthy circadian rhythm is tied to daylight and darkness and governs sleeping and waking.

However, when this sleep/wake cycle becomes overly imbalanced, your risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases increases.

This is because the area of the brain that governs the circadian rhythm, the hippocampus, also plays a role in short-term memory and learning. The hippocampus is the first area of the brain to degenerate in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Constant problems with your cycles of sleeping and waking could point to problems in the hippocampus and an increased risk of dementia later in life.

The sleep-wake cycle and dementia

Researchers have found the risk of dementia was higher in older women with weak circadian rhythms, and tracking circadian rhythms over time has been shown to predict cognitive decline in older adults.

Are you at risk for dementia later in life?

How do you know if your circadian rhythm is off balance? Look at whether you suffer from any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Difficulty waking in the morning
  • Not feeling rested after sleep
  • Poor recovery from exercise
  • Drop of energy between 4 –7 p.m.

Preventing dementia by supporting sleep

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to better regulate your circadian rhythm and lower the risk for dementia. A primary tactic is to regulate cortisol, an adrenal stress hormone. Studies show high cortisol from constant physical or mental stress degenerates the hippocampus.

Stress isn’t just a lifestyle issue. Stress is also be caused by blood sugar swings, inflammation  food intolerances, hormone imbalances, and other metabolic issues. Inflammation in particular is associated with degeneration of the hippocampus. High homocysteine on a blood panel, a telltale sign of inflammation, is one way to determine whether inflammation is undermining your brain health.

Inflammation and dementia

A primary way to normalize the circadian rhythm and reduce your risk of dementia is to reduce inflammation. Your diet is the first places to start. This includes removing foods to which you are sensitive (gluten and dairy are among the more common), stabilizing your blood sugar, and eliminating processed foods.

Ask us about an anti-inflammatory diet, improving sleep, and other tools to lower the risk of dementia.

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433 electronics cause insomnia copy

Do you like to play a little Candy Crush or surf Facebook before bed? Or maybe you’re vegging out in front of your giant LED television or reading a novel on your iPad. Then when you turn the lights off you toss and turn frustratingly into the wee hours of the morning, glancing constantly at the bright blue numbers on your alarm clock just inches from your face. You’re not alone – Americans are alarmingly insomniatic and sleep-deprived these days. The CDC says insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic and research has established that the constant exposure to blue light from electronic devices is a major culprit.

How smart phones, computers, tablets, and TVs cause insomnia and wreck your health

The bad news is not only are these much-loved devices causing chronic insomnia, but also long-term health problems because of the blue light they emit. Our brains perceive blue light as daytime light, which suppresses melatonin, the sleep hormone. Melatonin also plays a role in immune function, and chronic melatonin suppression has been linked to a higher risk of prostate, colorectal and breast cancers. Chronic sleep deprivation is also linked to obesity, diabetes, chronic inflammation, and other metabolic disorders.

In the latest study that looked at the effects of these devices on sleep, one group of subjects read on an iPad for four hours before bed while the other group read from a printed book in dim light. After a week, the groups switched. In just five nights, the iPad group displayed reduced levels of melatonin, they took longer to fall asleep, and they spent less time in the restorative REM sleep  They also reported being sleepier and less alert in the morning, even after 8 hours of sleep, and showed disruption in their sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm.

Because blue-light emitting devices have such profound biological effects, the research team proposed they be subjected to the same safety evaluations as drugs. A sleep poll shows 95 percent of Americans uses some kind of light-emitting device at least a few nights a week before bed, making this a national concern.

What to do to sleep better without totally unplugging

The obvious answer to sleep better is to quit using blue-light emitting devices at nightfall. But for most Americans that’s simply asking too much. Luckily strategies exist to protect your melatonin production:

  • Use the Kindle e-reader that does not have a backlit screen. Or just read a regular book.
  • Put orange bulbs in your lamps that you use at night, especially next to your bed.
  • The simplest way to protect yourself from blue light at night is to wear orange glasses. You can buy a cheap pair from Amazon or choose from more style options at Low Blue Lights.
  • Install the f.lux app on your computer or Android phone (it won’t work for iPhones). This turns the light on your screen an orangeish-pink hue.

Ask my office for other ways to support healthy sleep.

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430 how fall back asleep at 3 am

Do you often wake up at 3 a.m., your mind racing with thoughts, and you can’t fall back asleep? Try this crazy sounding but highly effective tip: Eat something! Make sure it’s not something sweet but instead something with protein and fat, such as nut butter, a bit of hard boiled egg, or some meat. Make sure to keep some food next to your bed with a glass of water so you don’t wake yourself up too much by going to the kitchen. You won’t feel hungry and most likely won’t feel like eating, but do it anyway as an experiment. Chances are you will fall right back to sleep. Why?

If things go according to plan you don’t bolt awake at 3 a.m. While you’re sound asleep you’re brain is hard at work and needs plenty of fuel. It is forming memories, clearing out old cells, regenerating — all while you’re fasting, having gone hours without eating. In order to give the brain the energy it needs, the body gradually raises cortisol, an adrenal hormone. Cortisol triggers the release or synthesis of glucose to fuel the brain during the nightlong fast and you sleep through the night.

That’s if things are working right. If you suffer with chronically low blood sugar then you are one of those people who is likely to bolt awake at 3 or 4 a.m. People with low blood sugar will have difficulty making enough cortisol to sustain the brain during the night. To compensate and keep the brain going, the body then releases “fight-or-flight” adrenal hormones. These adrenal hormones raise blood sugar back to a safer level to give the brain fuel. Unfortunately, they also raise stress, which can cause anxiety or panic in the middle of the night. This explains why you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. with a racing mind, an infinite to-do list, in a panic, or some other stress-addled state.

Things you can do during the day to avoid waking up at 3 a.m.

Although a few bites of food may help you fall back asleep, it’s better to prevent that anxious wake up call in the first place. If low blood sugar has you waking up every morning at 3 a.m. try the following tips:

  • Always eat breakfast, even if you don’t feel like it, and avoid sugary, high-carbohydrate foods with breakfast. Low blood sugar will cause you to wake up with no appetite. You may even feel nauseous. Eat anyway, you need to break the nightlong fast and stabilize your blood sugar.
  • During the day eat frequently enough so blood sugar does not crash.
  • Avoid sweets and starchy foods (breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, etc.) and adopt a lower-carbohydrate diet. People with low blood sugar symptoms typically eat too many sweets and starchy foods as well as frequently skip meals. Eat enough protein and healthy fats to sustain your energy.

Ask my office about nutritional compounds that can help you manage your blood sugar better and sleep through the night.

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