Why Does Sleep Elude You When You Most Need It?

Man sitting on edge of bed, depressed.

Ever wake up at 2, 3 or 4 am and feel wide awake.. then your brain turns on and it’s over.  

This is a common scenario for women in their 40’s, 50’s and up.  

Here are themes to consider from an integrative medicine standpoint if you having trouble sleeping: 

1) You may be eating foods that you are sensitive to which can cause chronic inflammation and more time spent in sympathetic (fight or flight) vs. parasympathetic mode (rest and digest).  Common inflammatory foods that those with chronic health (especially gut health) problems are:  

  • Gluten
  • Dairy (all – even ghee and yogurt) 
  • Eggs 
  • Soy
  • Corn 
  • Nuts
  • Seafood 

2) Chronic health conditions often affect the liver which helps to control blood sugar and temperature regulation while you sleep.  If you are waking up around 3-4 am and are having a difficult time getting back to sleep, this can be your liver sending you a message that it is having a rough time.  How to make your liver happier?  Feed it a liver-loving diet like..   

  • Eat lots of plant foods – fruits and veggies.  Load up your plate with organic baby spinach before piling on the rest of dinner or lunch; add lots of greens to your soups, stews and casseroles.   Choose superfood fruits like wild berries and/or apples.
  • Less fatty foods – Cook in water instead of oil.  use less oils in cooking, eat less nuts/nut butters, olives, avocadoes, fatty meats, cooking oils, gravies, dressings and sauces.  
  • Keep plant-based during the day from 7 am – 4 pm consider having animal/fish proteins at night but lower fat options like fish/seafood/white meat chicken or turkey.  

3) In many chronic health conditions mineral status is suboptimal.  Minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, etc help to support the immune system as do trace minerals.  Many of us have limited our diets to exclude mineral-rich grains and eat foods grown in mineral-poor soils.  Furthermore, things like prescription medications, stress, high sugar foods, loose stools/diarrhea can cause us to lose more minerals.  Even having an excess of toxic heavy metals can cause a loss of much needed minerals (conditions like KPU – kryptopyroluria, cause the body to excrete higher levels of zinc).  

Conditions promoted and worsened by a lack of minerals – 

  • Migraines 
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Diabetes
  • Insomnia 
  • Fatigue 
  • Restless legs 
  • Depression 
  • Infections

4) Alteration in brain chemicals– if you are suffering from a chronic health issue it can be from a combination of bad bugs (pathogens), toxicity and possibly stress.  All possibly causing inflammation.  Inflammation can put your body in constant fight or flight mode which is opposite to rest and digest.  Being in constant high gear mode – can cause excess cortisol to be released from the adrenals which will then negatively affect sleep.  Also, the presence of toxic heavy metals in the brain such as aluminum and/or mercury can reduce sleep quality.  Mercury, for example, has been shown to increase excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain and is known to cause sleep disturbances.   
5) Too much caffeine – if you are tired during the day, you are more likely to seek caffeine to prop you up.  Caffeine gives an incessant boost to cortisol production which can make you wired and tired later at night thus feeling full of energy at 8 pm but pooped at 8 am.  Try to have no more than ½-1 cup of a caffeinated beverage daily (before 5 pm). 

6) Not enough (screen free) down time – looking at your phone/computer and/or TV screen after 8 pm can cause an imbalance in your melatonin production.  After 8 pm, opt for more natural experiences with a book, magazine or conversation with a loved one 💕.  Even better, get a few moments alone and do 2-5 minutes of deep breathing to “clear” your mind of the day’s events.  

Some people look for relief with supplements.  

Here is a protocol by Lissa Rankin MD – as posted on psychologytoday.com 

(check with your primary care physician before taking any new supplements)

  • Taurine 1000-2000mg daily before sleep. You can repeat the dose if you wake up at night to help you get back to sleep.
  • L-tryptophan, taken with taurine, helps promote sleep. Taurine has a calming effect and L-tryptophan has a more hypnotic effect. Take 500-3000mg before sleep. Begin with 500mg and increase every third day by 500mg as needed. If you wake up at night, take half your nighttime dose.
  • Vitamin B6- 100-300mg/day with food.
  • Magnesium glycinate 400-1000mg/day with food. Begin with the lowest dose and increase by 100mg/day. Reduce your dose if your stools are loose.
  • Valerian root extract—use as directed on the label.

Products I like – (check with your primary care physician before taking any new supplements)

  • David Winston’s PhytoCalm herbal formula 
  • Bio Nutrition California Poppy vegi caps 
  • Quicksilver Scientific CBD Synergies Sleep formula 
  • Mary Ruth Organic – Nighttime Minerals 
  • Quicksilver Scientific – Quinton Minerals Isotonic formula 
  • Cal/Mag/Zinc combination supplement before bed 
  • Calm – magnesium

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