Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause both. For many chronic insomniacs, the pain of a poor nights sleep, shows up with dwindling energy levels the following day. Insomnia takes a toll on your mood, your work performance, you concentration levels and your quality of life. But worst of all insomnia can become a vicious cycle, if you let it and don’t address the root cause.
If you have thyroid disease including autoimmune Hashimoto’s disease or Graves disease, then struggling with sleep or Insomnia is no stranger to you.
If your are interested in learning what might be causing your sleep problems then stay tuned because in today’s article, I will be sharing six overlooked areas causing your Insomnia and what you can do to fix them. As Functional Medicine practitioner, these are things that I have seen over an over causes sleeping problems with my patients.
In Today’s Article You Will Learn
- Reasons why you struggle with falling asleep, staying asleep, or both.
- Underlying metabolic conditions that cause sleep disturbances,
- Supplements that can help Support better more restful sleep
- Foods you should avoid when sleeping is a problem and finally,
- Some lifestyle tips to implement today when it comes to sleeping.
Poor Sleep is A Vicious Cycle….
You know….. when ever you have problems with sleep, it becomes a vicious cycle- You cant sleep at night so by the time morning comes around, you wake up tired and have no energy, so you make some coffee or drink some soda or you use energy drinks for the caffeine, now come night time, you are back to tossing and turning and not being able to fall asleep.
So you wake up you wake up tired again. This vicious cycle goes on and on and on.
6 Things Causing Your Sleep Problems
So there are Six things I want to be on your radar and if what I just described…… you might want to Jot these down and take notes.
- Cortisol and Melatonin Levels
- Blood sugar
- COMT Gene
- Estrogen Dominance (Hormone Imbalance)
- Glutamate/GABA imbalances
Let unpack these and get into how they cause problems with sleeping and what you can do to naturally sleep better.
#1 Cortisol Levels and Insomnia-
A common finding I see with many patients who struggle with fatigue accompanied by insomnia is High Night Time Cortisol Levels.
Cortisol is a hormone made in the adrenal glands and these glands sit on top of your kidneys and they make three main categories of hormones that can be causing insomnia.
As I go through these hormones, ask yourself if you can relate to some of the symptoms- because if you can, stay tuned and I will tell you how you want to correct these. If you can relate, you may have problem in one or more of these adrenal gland hormones.
The first group of hormones produced by the adrenal glands are called Mineralocorticoids: the most important one is aldosterone. This hormone helps to maintain the body’s salt and water levels which, in turn, regulates blood pressure.
Now the problem is that Low levels of aldosterone, will cause the kidneys to excrete loses excessive amounts of salt or (sodium) and, consequently when you lose sodium, you lose water.
This will leady to dehydration and low blood pressure.
So you find yourself craving salt, you are fatigue all the time, maybe you urinate frequently, or you have problems with your blood pressure.
Other symptoms might include things like Headaches or muscle spasms, confusion and even restlessness? Do you think these things might cause you to have Insomnia toss and turn and lose sleep?
These are all symptoms associated with low sodium caused by problems with the adrenal glands
The next category of hormones made by the adrenal glands that could be causing problems with staying asleep and falling asleep are your Glucocorticoids: This is where I see the bulk of problems related to sleeping disorders.
The most important hormone here as it relates to sleep is cortisol. This hormone is involved in almost everything.
Cortisol is necessary for thyroid function, ovarian function, its needed to regulate inflammation, its needed to regulate blood sugar, it breaks down fat to be used for energy, it helps maintain healthy bones. It is also one of your fight or flight hormones. If you look at this illustration, you can see all the things that cortisol can influence.
So, ask yourself do you suffer with hormonal imbalances, thyroid problems, joint pain, headaches, fatigue in addition to Insomnia and sleeping problems?
Many research studies show that having high cortisol levels can cause insomnia. We also know that in times of High cortisol you will have low melatonin. Melatonin helps you feel sleepy so when you have low melatonin levels you don’t feel sleepy.
So if you are person who takes melatonin and you don’t notice it helping, a different strategy would be to focus on reducing the high cortisol levels which in turn could increase your melatonin levels.
Testing Cortisol Levels
The best way to determine if someone has high cortisol levels is through testing. There are two ways to test cortisol levels. One is in the blood and the other is in saliva.
I believe the best method of testing cortisol levels for people who have problems sleeping is going to be done through a Cortisol saliva test, not a blood test.
There are a couple of problems with a blood test as it relates to cortisol and sleeping.
One of the shortcomings is that it only involves a one sample collection, and this collection is usually done in the morning.
If you only have one sample of cortisol done in the morning, you could be missing the problems with your high cortisol levels later in the day and at night.
Why Testing Cortisol Levels In Saliva Is Better Than Blood When You Struggle With Insomnia
A Cortisol saliva test is unique in that regard in that it can measure the cortisol levels in the morning, afternoon, evening, and right before going to bed.
This can give us the most complete and accurate picture of total cortisol production throughout the day and what’s really going on at night causing or contributing to insomnia.
Blood Sugar, Cortisol and Insomnia
Let me show you two different tests of some recent patients that show you problems related to cortisol and sleep.
The first example is a patient of mine who wakes up exhausted, tosses and turns all night long, but has no problem falling asleep- In this test you notice that this patient has a high am cortisol but normal evening. This sleeping problem is characteristic of having high morning cortisol levels usually caused and rooted in a blood sugar- problem.
Because one of the functions of cortisol is to arouse the brain and body as wells as regulate blood sugar levels.
People who are diabetic, insulin resistant or have hypoglycemia are also at risk for Insomnia and sleeping problems.
If you have blood sugar levels that is dropping at 2, 3am or 4am in the morning, this can be seen as a stress response to the body.
Your body does not want low blood sugar or low glucose, so in an effort to prevent this low glucose state, your adrenals pulse out cortisol and adrenaline which wake up your brain and your body.
So here’s the key……if you are person who can fall asleep fine, but you find yourself waking up or tossing and turning every morning at 2 am 3am or 4 am- your sleeping troubles might be rooted in a blood sugar problem, especially if you see high morning cortisol levels.
A while back, I did a video on the connection between blood sugar and thyroid function.
I highly recommend that you watch this video if you suspect a Thyroid- blood sugar component to your sleeping problems.
Blood Sugar-Thyroid- Insomnia Connection
How would you know if you have a blood sugar connection to your thyroid? Well…One of the new patient forms I have new patients complete for me prior to becoming a patient is called a metabolic assessment form.
This form allows me to see various symptoms that may point to a blood sugar issue.
If you look at this list of symptoms and you can relate to half of these, it’s very likely your insomnia and trouble sleeping is rooted in some kind of blood sugar problem.
If you want to watch that video I just referenced the one that talks about the blood sugar and thyroid connection, that video is titled, “12 tips to balance your blood sugar when you have a thyroid problem”
Can’t Fall Asleep?
The next patient I want to show you is a patient who can’t fall asleep-this person feels fatigued and tired for most of the day, but come night time, it’s like a gust of energy hits them. They are wired and tired all at the same time.
They get their 2nd wind so to speak- the patient is very physically fatigued, but his mind is going, going, going, he or she is restless, they can’t settle down. Their mind is racing, their legs are twitching, their exercising at 10 or 1pm at night
What you notice in this case, is that we have High evening cortisol levels that are causing the insomnia and trouble getting to sleep.
This is why it is so important to run a saliva cortisol test– If this person had testing done in the morning- which is the typical times patients have their cortisol levels tested in traditional medicine, the cortisol levels might be normal-
This is the typical patient who comes to me saying my doctor ran all these tests, I’ve spent all this money and everything is normal.
Sometimes you have to use different kinds of tests that dig just a little deeper into the problem.
Inflammation, Autoimmune Disease, Stress and The Connection to Insomnia
Now, it’s important to realize, that there are many factors that can throw off your cortisol levels.
I see Insomnia very often in my patient who are chronically inflamed. So what do I mean by chronically inflamed?
Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation
Are you a person who has nagging neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, spinal pain, do you have Fibromyalgia?
Do you have an inflammatory autoimmune disease? diseases like Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis Or Hashimotos Thyroid disease,
How about inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s or Ulcerative colitis?
These are all health problems that can create and contribute to a vicious cycle of adrenal dysregulation which call upon your adrenal glands to pulse out cortisol and adrenaline leading to sleep problems.
So What Do You Do If You Are Chronically Inflamed and Have Trouble With Sleeping?
So, first let me tell you three things that I tell all my patients and perspective patients when it comes to insomnia and then I will tell you about some of the natural things you can take that might help.
#1 Change the way you think about sleep- Think about your insomnia and sleep problem as a symptom not a cause. The diagnosis of insomnia tells you nothing about the root cause?
The cause of your insomnia needs to be explored and by watching todays video, you will have a handful of things that you and your doctor can explore and rule in or rule out. Always think about the BIG picture when it comes to your chronic health problem.
#2 There are many potential metabolic problems that are causing your insomnia and sleeping troubles and sometimes even though you think your other health problems (IBD or fibromyalgia or your thyroid problem) are being properly managed, it may not be managed well enough and so those health challenges are still a contributing piece of the puzzle that need attention.
This is why if you are not already working with a doctor who specializes in functional medicine that you either consult our practice or another practice that has the experience and can look at ALL the health puzzle pieces and put them together for you.
#3 The proper testing will show exactly where your body needs support but also where it doesn’t. You can’t fix something that you don’t know!
So if this is something you need help with contact my office, let’s set up a 30 minute consult, and lets figure out what could be some of the potential root causes behind your insomnia. So…
The next thing I want to talk to you about is some of the natural remedies that can help address the high cortisol, blood sugar, and the inflammation behind insomnia and other problems with staying or falling asleep,
Supplements To Help You Sleep when you have High Night Time Cortisol Levels
Let’s start with high night time cortisol levels.
If you have high night time cortisol levels, then one of my favorite supplements which can usually help with this is, something called phosphatidylserine.
Phosphatidylserine has been shown to reduce or blunt cortisol levels and ACTH levels and by blunting this cortisol response, you will sleep better.
Supplements To Help You Sleep… If You Are Inflammed
If you are a person who has inflammatory autoimmune disease or fibromyalgia or Rheumatoid arthritis then one of the supplements I have seen great improvement in reducing the inflammatory cause of insomnia by using Wobenzym plus and Boswellia AKBA and Inflamma-bLOX
These three supplements are my all-time favorites when it comes to dealing with the pain and inflammatory component that causes excess Cortisol.
Supplements to Help you Sleep, When You Have a Problem with Your Adrenal Glands
There are additional herbs that can help with problems related to cortisol and these fall under a category known as adrenal adaptogens that I often use as well for people with insomnia.
These adrenal adaptogens can help with problems where a person might have both high and low cortisol levels causing their sleep problems.
If you have never heard the term adrenal adaptogens before, Adaptogens adapt to the body’s needs.
Another words, If we have a problem with high cortisol- adaptogens can help that, if we have a problem with low cortisol, adaptogens can also help there as well.
So…. A Couple Of Things I Want You To Remember.
Problems with cortisol levels are rooted in physical stress, chemical stress and emotional stress.
It’s not just the people who are emotionally stressed with depression, anxiety or suffering with mental health problems having problems with cortisol levels, it is also people who excessively train and workout, it is people who are exposed to toxins and chemicals on regular basis, its people who have autoimmune diseases and flare ups.
The bodies response to all these forms of stress is the release of cortisol and adrenaline.
We are not quite done yet with the adrenal glands.
COMT Gene Mutations and Insomnia- Too Much Fight or Flight
Another category of hormones but also neurotransmitters that the adrenal gland produces as it relates to problems with Insomnia and trouble sleeping are your catecholamines.
These include adrenaline, noradrenaline, dopamine. These hormones/neurotransmitters increase electrical activity in the brain thereby promoting excitement, motivation and arousal.
While these are all good things to have in the morning when you first get out of bed and during the day, high levels of catecholamines are not going to help you fall asleep at night.
Catecholamines are interesting because they not only affect how you sleep but they impact your mood, happiness, focus, and the enthusiasm you experience in life.
So what do you do if you are noticing that you have lost that Zest and energy for life and you also struggle with sleeping problems?Pay special attention here.
If you notice that you have symptoms such as depression, lack of motivation, social withdrawal, you have become a worrier, you feel like you have lost your zest in life, you might also have a problem with the COMT gene.
In the last three or four years, I have been testing more and more patients who have sleep problems for a mutation in the COMT gene and I am finding problems with this gene in an overwhelming majority of them.
COMT Gene Affects Your Fight Or Flight Hormones
The COMT gene is one of the genes responsible for the rate of breakdown of your catecholamines. In other words it breaks down adrenaline, nor adrenaline and dopamine which are excitatory neurotransmitters. It’s involved in how you handle stress, and in part your tolerance to pain. Problems with COMT gene or even the MTHFR gene may be another culprit behind your sleeping problems, mood swings, tolerance to pain and your anxiety levels. Again all things worth exploring when we talk about Root Cause Medicine.
So Just A Quick Recap…..
- High cortisol levels are a root cause insomnia.
- High Cortisol affects Melatonin levels.
- Fluctuating blood sugar can cause a Fight/Flight Response
- Pain and Inflammation can disrupt HPA axis leading to insomnia
- COMT Gene Mutations Can Cause Problems with Catecholamine Production.
- High levels of Catecholamine (adrenaline and dopamine) Cause of insomnia
- Various Supplements can help address the causes behind Insomnia.
- Testing is important to understand what the cause of your Insomnia is. Every body is different.
There are two more problems I want you to consider when it comes to Root cause medicine and sleeping problems-
- Hormonal imbalances and
- Glutamate/GABA Imbalances.
Hormonal Imbalances and Sleeping problems
Let’s first talk about how hormonal imbalances and how they affect sleep for both men and woman.
Whenever I work with a woman who struggles with sleep, I want to know if she has any of the classic signs of a hormonal imbalance, I want to know if she is taking the pill, how long she has taken it, why she is taking it. I want to know if she is menopausal, or perimenopausal.
The reason this is so important is that for many of these women the most common culprit behind many of the perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms experienced and insomnia or trouble sleeping, comes down to estrogen dominance.
Estrogen Dominance Can Cause Sleeping Problems
Estrogen dominance can show up in a few different presentations in woman and having too much estrogen in the body is not good for sleep.
When we talk about Estrogen, estrogen should always be tested with progesterone- so that you can evaluate for this estrogen dominance. So a woman can have estrogen dominance if;
#1 Low Estrogen and Low Progesterone
#2 Normal Estrogen levels, Low progesterone
#3 High Estrogen Levels due to HRT and Poor Liver Clearance
Having Estrogen dominance interferes with sleep quality because it is Progesterone that has a calming effect on the brain and the body and here’s why…..
Whenever we talk about neurotransmitters of the brain, we classify them as either excitatory or inhibitory based on how they affect the body and how they affect the brain.
Progesterone acts on specialized receptors called GABA receptors.
If you watched any of my videos on anxiety or depression, I talk about GABA being a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect on the brain and body.
Essentially, it’s like putting the brakes on. BUT…
Balance Between Estrogen & Progesterone Is The Key To A Good Nights Sleep
Studies on progesterone show that when balanced with estrogen, progesterone induces sleep, it increases melatonin levels, it has a hypnotic or calming effect on the body,
studies also show that progesterone is a potent respiratory stimulant. What this means is that Progesterone has been shown to decrease in the number of central and obstructive sleep apnea episodes.
So, while there are many benefits to progesterone please keep in mind that before you go out and start taking progesterone, it’s absolutely essential to be tested to see if you need it.
Guys! Your Not off the Hook Here-Estrogen Dominance in Men Can Cause Insomnia
What about estrogen dominance in men? For many men who get diagnosed with low testosterone, the cause of their low testosterone, is not that their testes have stopped producing testosterone, but rather the testosterone being produced is being converted into estrogen.
For men this is called Andropause or Man-O-Pause and can be devastating for men.
How Do I Know If I Have Andropause?
For Men Estrogen Dominance (Andropause) shows up on testing in a few different presentations.
- Normal testosterone but HIGH estrogen
- Low Testosterone and Normal Estrogen
What can you do if you are a man or woman is struggling with estrogen dominance as a culprit behind insomnia or other sleeping problems?
Hormones To Be Tested If You Suffer With Insomnia
The Key for men and woman who struggle with insomnia is to always get the proper hormones tested.
At a minimum there are 4 tests that you should have done, but I recommend the more Comprehensive Panels below for either men or woman.
#1 Estrogen levels,
#2 Testosterone levels,
#3 Free testosterone levels and finally
#4 Sex hormone Binding Globulin levels.
Comprehensive Hormone Panel For Men
6 Ways To Sleep Better When You Have Hormonal Imbalances-Support Your Hormones
As with any hormonal imbalance, there are a couple things really stand out to me but these are especially important if you have thyroid disease or Hashimoto’s disease
#1 Support that liver detoxification pathways
#2 support those adrenal glands with adrenal adaptogen.
#3 Eat your Leafy greens (dandelion root, kale, swiss chard, spinach, arugula)
#4 Eat more Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, bok choy, etc)
#5 Eat more Onions, garlic and foods rich in Fiber (things like berries, chia seeds, flax, psyllium, etc.)
#6- One of my all-time favorite supplements specifically designed to help with estrogen dominance when you have thyroid problems is EstroQuench.
Things To Remember About This Article- Key Points
So just a few important closing points to today’s video for those of you suffering with insomnia, trouble staying asleep or trouble falling asleep.
#1 It is very common for people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions to have trouble falling and/or staying asleep.
#2 Numerous factors can be responsible for insomnia in people with these conditions…. we talked about several of them today. If you visit my website where you will see a transcript of this video, I have provided additional videos and links and resources for you to read on these topics.
#3 There are many layers to Insomnia, things High cortisol levels, imbalance in blood sugar levels, decreased melatonin production at night, estrogen dominance, Inflammation, and neurotransmitter imbalance such as GABA and glutamate. All of these factors that you can learn more about by visiting my website.
#4 While correcting sleeping problems including insomnia can sometimes be very challenging because again there are multiple causes, the good news is that once you identify the Root cause of your sleeping problem, there is no reason why your sleep shouldn’t improve. And with better sleep you would be surprised at how many areas of your life will improve.
If you need help with improving your sleep naturally and you want to get down to the root cause, we can help you!