Having difficulty sleeping?

By Athlete's Care on May 15, 2012

By Dr. Michelle Basu Roy, Naturopathic Doctor at Athlete's Care at The Yorkville Club

Decreased sleep quality affects more than 70 percent of North Americans and although is it extremely common, it is abnormal and a sign of suboptimal health.  Waking for merely three seconds or more at any point during the night is classified as interrupted sleep. Understanding how to interpret your sleep patterns based on neurotransmitter,  hormonal and organ imbalances is essential to improving sleep quality.   

Ideal sleep cycles occur in accordance with the sun cycle, where sun rise stimulates waking and sunset stimulates sleeping.  Light triggers the release of cortisol, our body's stress hormone. Cortisol decreases in the afternoon as the sun sets leading to an increase in melatonin, our body's sleep hormone.

Problem 1 - Difficulty falling asleep                                                                          
Difficulty falling asleep is often the result of a reversal of the cortisol curve, leading to an evening, as appose to the normal morning, cortisol peak.  Chronic stimulus and stress from internet and cell phone use, nutrient void foods, chemical exposure from cosmetics, cleaners and pollution in addition to emotional stress lead to alterations in our body's secretion of cortisol.  Essentially, our attention spans are constantly stimulated and cortisol is chronically elevated, leading to poor immune function, increased belly fat, anxiety and trouble falling asleep.

Magnesium: Magnesium is vital in hundreds of enzymatic processes in the body its deficiency is an epidemic due to poor soil quality.  Magnesium deficiency, can alter cortisol activity, leading to disruptive sleep. Supplementing with Magnesium Taurate before bed may be helpful.

Inositol:  Inositol has adaptogenic or balancing affects on cortisol, helping to better match cortisol to the normal cortisol curve.  Inositol also shown to be effective at reducing anxiety related food cravings. Supplementing with Inositol should also be considered.  

Neutral bath: Taking a bath that is the same temperature as your body can help reset your nervous system leading to a decrease in cortisol and a subsequent increase in melatonin.

Problem 2 - Waking up one to two hours after bed time                                                 
This likely indicates a problem with blood sugar regulation.  Adequate balance of macronutrients, including dietary fats, protein and carbohydrate acts to stabilize blood sugar. Macronutrient requirement is dependant on body fat percentage, genetic predisposition, chronic disease and energy requirement. Certain individuals may benefit from carbohydrates prior to sleep to increase serotonin and promote rest.

Avoid eating close to bed and consider taking a fibre powder with dinner to slow the release of glucose into the blood. Having your biosignature hormone profile accessed can also be helpful in determining your ideal macronutrient intake.

Problem 3 - Waking up between 1-3am                                                                 
Waking up between 1-3am may be related to liver toxicity based on traditional chinese medicine (TCM).  Our liver is our primary organ of detoxification and can be negatively affected by environmental toxicity, poor digestion, food allergens and emotional issues related to irritation and anger. 

Supporting optimal digestion and liver detoxification is essential.  Some simple things to consider include drinking warm water with lemon juice on rising, consuming liver specific foods such as dandelion and tumeric and addressing emotions of irritation and anger.  Supplementing with magnesium glycinate may also be helpful givens its affinity to reduce cortisol and support liver detoxification.

Problem 4 - Waking up between 3-5am                                                                          
Waking up between 3-5am may be related to antioxidant stress from elevated cortisol, environmental toxicity and diets saturated with omega 6 and trans fats.  According to TCM, the lung meridan is most active between 3-5am and can be affected by feelings of depression and sadness.

Increase antioxidant rich foods such as green tea, cocoa, thin skinned dark fruits and spanish wines and address emotional issues of sadness. Taurine is also a supplement to considered as it has been shown to decrease antioxidant stress and stimulate GABA, which acts to inhibit the nervous system and stimulate sleep.