Sleep deprivation is an extremely common problem faced by many of my clients in private practice.
Here are my top three scenarios you might identify with when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.
1) INSOMNIA or WAKING UP FREQUENTLY SOON AFTER YOU DO FALL ASLEEP
This is an extremely common problem faced by many of my clients. The most common reason for this is going to bed with high levels of cortisol–the opposite of what healthy adrenals should be doing. With normal adrenal function, your bedtime cortisol levels should be low. Most clients experience symptoms which include lying awake for a long time before falling asleep for the night…or if you can fall asleep well, you tend to wake up often within the next hour or two.
Why the high cortisol?
It’s usually a left-over remnant of when you used to have high cortisol all day long, but which has since fallen to low levels of cortisol except for bedtime, or the afternoon. These symptoms can present in certain individuals due to a continued hypothyroid state or due to undiagnosed hypothyroidism.
Another cause is low bedtime cortisol, which has caused issues with falling or staying asleep at bedtime. Low cortisol seems to cause high adrenaline, and the latter results in a fitful sleep pattern during the night.
Get tested. There are a range of tests which check for cortisol within the body. A simple test we undertake at the clinic is called a Baseline Hormone Profile test. This test simply tests whether you have a high or low level of cortisol within the body.
For high bedtime cortisol, clients have had success with cortisol-lowering herbs like Holy Basil or others, taken a good hour or two before wanting to fall asleep.
For low cortisol, clients often have to use a small dose of adrenal herbs. Even supplementing with sea salt has been reported to help with sleep. Additionally, if bedtime cortisol is below the range, there’s a good chance your cortisol is low most of the day, which the saliva test will reveal.
2) WAKING UP ANYWHERE AROUND 3 – 4 AM
Waking up a good three to four hours before you would normally start your morning is a strong sign of low cortisol, which in turn causes hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). And the latter can push your adrenaline up, causing you to wake up hours before you are supposed to. You might also feel shaky or hungry.
Patients who overcome these symptoms have succeeded by eating a complex carbohydrate at bedtime (for example, a gluten-free wheat cracker with cheese or nuts. If you need to avoid gluten, berries and cream cheese can also assist. The same strategy is used if waking up around 3 am or so, which will help raise your blood sugar levels and you’ll fall back asleep better.
3) WAKING UP FREQUENTLY WITH NO SET PATTERN
Time to check your sex hormones, which can get messed up with conditions like low thyroid function, or made worse because of adrenal sluggishness or cortisol use.
Low estrogen can cause hot flashes, waking you up. A study titled Sex Hormones, Sleep and Core Body Temperature in Post Menopausal Women reveals that low estradiol (E2) and higher luteinizing hormone (LH) levels are strongly related to lessening the quality of your sleep.
Low progesterone is also known to cause insomnia and even anxiety, and may cause sleep apnea.
In men, low testosterone can negatively affect the quality of your sleep, i.e. you won’t stay in your deep sleep cycle long enough for the recuperation of your body and mind.
Low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which can cause depression, is also implicated with insomnia. High cortisol can also be caused by Lyme or reactivated Epstein Barr Virus–the latter of which at least 95% of adult have dormant in their bodies, but which can reactivate due to stress or illness.
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