Is a Sleep Disorder Keeping You From Getting Enough Rest?

Tiffany Lester, MD
March 6, 2017

Many Americans are suffering from a sleep disorder that will go undiagnosed.

How can you tell if it’s really a problem?

You wake up after a full 8 hours of sleep. You hit the snooze button. Once, maybe twice. Then you drag yourself out of bed searching for the nearest source of caffeine. Sound familiar?

Sleeping through the night is not a guarantee to wake up refreshed and alert. Sleep is about quality, not quantity. Quality sleep means you cycle through all 4 stages at least 5 times before awakening in the morning. Each stage allows you to clear out the cobwebs from the day and detox without any distractions.

For most of us, losing just one night of sleep makes us irritable, craving carbs, and gives us brain fog . It also affects us on a much deeper level when the problem becomes chronic. Research says that after just three nights of sleeping 4-5 hours, our insulin sensitivity (the hormone that controls our blood sugar levels) is lowered making us less responsive to big upswings in glucose when we eat carbs. This is the exact same process that leads to diabetes. A sleep disorder and sleep deprivation basically throws your body into a pre-diabetic state which can lead to unwanted weight gain.

We have all had a sleepless night here and there. It’s normal to wake up not feeling 100%. However, this should be the exception not the rule. If you are consistently waking up feeling exhausted, having a comprehensive evaluation by one of our highly trained Parsley Health doctors is essential to determine the root cause of your sleepless nights to try to figure out if you might be suffering from a sleep disorder.

Some common reasons you may not be sleeping soundly include the following:

Your cortisol is spiking at night.

Cortisol is a major factor in our stress response. Normally it should start to rise about 3 AM and peak around 6 or 7 am. Then it slowly declines throughout the day and is low at night so you can sleep soundly. If your cortisol is elevated at bedtime, you are likely tossing and turning the entire night. This is a common sleep disorder that often goes undiagnosed. Tip: Meditating for at 20 minutes at night can help switch on your parasympathetic nervous system allowing your body to fully relax for a peaceful slumber. If this doesn’t help you likely need in-depth testing by one of our Parsley Health doctors.

You have a mineral deficiency.

Most of us live these crazy, stressful lives and spend 8-10 hours a day sitting and/or slouching over a laptop. This may lead to tight neck muscles and hip flexors. Couple this with a deficiency in relaxing minerals like magnesium and it’s a recipe for disaster. Rubbing a quality magnesium oil into your muscles before bed will help your muscles and mind relax into a peaceful slumber.

You are exercising after 8 pm.

Exercise is key to maintain a healthy weight and sound mind. However timing is everything. For a restful sleep, the ideal time to work out is in the morning. If that’s not possible, try to workout before 8 pm so that you don’t disrupt your natural circadian rhythm. Adding in a warm bath or hot shower before bed will raise your body temperature which is naturally followed by a drop. This is another way to prepare our bodies for sleep given that research has shown cooler temperatures are better for a good night’s rest.

You have a “Netflix and chill” addiction.

The blue light that emits from our devices lowers melatonin, the master sleep hormone. This tells our brain it’s ok to watch just one more episode of Chef’s Table knowing that we have to wake up in 5 hours. Do yourself a favor. Turn off all your devices at least one hour before going to bed so you have adequate melatonin to fall asleep and stay asleep.

The subsequent problem is that people try to replace the lost melatonin with a supplement. This doesn’t work for everyone.

I hear from patients all the time who have tried melatonin to help with their sleep issues and ended up feeling even worse than they do when they can’t get enough sleep. I am constantly being asked How much melatonin should I take to sleep? Why isn’t melatonin helping me sleep?

There are plenty of reasons why melatonin might not be working for them, but one of the most common is that they could be taking it wrong.

It’s helpful to first understand a little about what melatonin is and what it does.

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland—a pea-sized gland in the middle of our brain. Its purpose is to regulate our circadian rhythm to fall in line with the natural dark/light cycles of the sun. When the sun goes down, our pineal gland gets turned on by the suprachiasmatic nucleus which is located in the hypothalamus. Then melatonin levels rise quickly to make you sleepy.

However, if you are not in a dimly lit environment, the brain is tricked into thinking it is still daytime.That’s why you don’t get sleepy when you’re on your tablet or watching TV. The blue light emitted from electronic devices suppresses our natural production of melatonin. So even if we know we are tired and need to go to sleep, our brain is getting the opposite message.

Some people may be wary of trying melatonin due to side effects. This usually occurs because the dosage is too high.

Most people overdo it with the melatonin and then claim it doesn’t work. You only need tiny doses to support your natural sleep cycle. As little as 1-3 mg about an hour before you go to bed can boost your melatonin by 20 times. If melatonin still doesn’t work for you, it’s likely your sleep problems have other causes and need further workup by one of our Parsley Health doctors. The short answer is: Try to take less, and then call your doctor.

Tiffany Lester, MD

Dr. Tiffany Lester is a board-certified Integrative Medicine Physician who has practiced a holistic approach to health for over a decade. She is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, where she completed her training in internal medicine. She also graduated from the Integrative Medicine Fellowship at the University of Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil, and has extensive training in functional medicine through the Institute of Functional Medicine. Dr. Lester is also featured as a teacher for the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and regularly contributes to national wellness publications.

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