Functional Medicine for Sleep Issues
Feeling tired? Research continues to demonstrate the importance of restful sleep for our overall health. We are even learning that how you sleep as a child or teen can affect your heart health and risk for cardiovascular events later in life! In 2016 a review was done of 75 studies to learn more about how sleep relates to inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol, abdominal fat, and steady blood sugar levels, and this review indicates poor sleep during childhood and adolescence contributes to increased cardiovascular risk later in life (1). The evidence reviewed shows the strongest connection between poor sleep and risk for abdominal fat, increased blood sugar levels, and increased blood pressure later in life. Another study of women after menopause shows that the quality of sleep is an important factor in whether someone may develop insulin resistance even if they have not had a history of an insulin related disease (2).
A recent study on adults aged 20-74 looked at the relationship between how much sleep we get and poor health outcomes (3). About half of the adult population in the United States sleeps less than 6 quality hours per night. This study evaluated people sleeping soundly less than 6 hours/night and showed increased risk for having a stroke or developing heart disease, increased risk for any kind of death, increased risk for a cancer related death, and increased the chances of developing cardiometabolic risk factors. In this case, cardiometabolic risk factors were stage 2 high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes. This study clearly shows the increased risk of sleeping less than 6 hours/night, and, if you are not sleeping enough, it gives you a clear goal to work toward for improving your overall health.
Sleep and the Immune Response
Sleep is one of the best ways to maintain or develop a healthy immune system. While we sleep, our bodies make proteins called cytokines that help us fight infection and inflammation. Our bodies make more of these cytokines when we are under chronic stress, have inflammation, or encounter an infection (4). If we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies will make fewer infection fighting cytokines putting us at higher risk for infection. Have you ever had a really stressful time in life, slept less than normal, and then gotten sick? There is research showing that reduced sleep increases your risk of getting the common cold because of our body’s reduced ability to fight off infection when we have slept less (5). This is one of the reasons I tell many patients the one of the best things they can do when they are sick is sleep! Seven to nine hours of sleep per night contributes to optimal health (6).
What Causes Poor Sleep?
The number one cause of poor sleep is anxiety (7), and many of us have been feeling increased anxiety due to personal life stressors, global pandemic, finances, relationships, and more. It is unclear if anxiety causes poor sleep, if poor sleep causes anxiety, or if it is a combination of the two. The good news is there are things we can do to lower our sleep related anxiety including setting priorities on your to-do list, meditating, working on decreasing anxiety and stress, exercising, talking with someone, setting aside more time for sleep, and playing soft music (7). If you want help reaching these goals, our Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach (FMCHC) Amber can help you meet these goals and support you as you work on lifestyle modifications to get a healthier night of sleep.
What Can I Do to Sleep Better?
To improve your sleep, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends prioritizing sleep by making time for uninterrupted sleep, exercising regularly in the mornings or afternoons (avoid exercising right before sleep), using your bedroom for sleep – avoid watching TV or working in your bedroom, making your bedroom comfortable, avoiding watching the clock, and establishing a bedtime routine (7). Taking in more daylight and eliminating exposure to artificial light also helps with sleep. Daylight helps your body know it is time to be awake and exposing yourself to natural daylight can help you sleep better. If you spend most of your day inside, try to be near a window or take breaks to get outside – it could help you sleep better at night (8)! Studies also show that napping can boost your immune function, make you more alert during the day, and help with brain function (9). If you nap, make time to sleep for 20-30 minutes in the early afternoon so it doesn’t interfere with nighttime sleep. Finally, plan your larger meals, caffeine, and alcohol consumption and avoid nicotine. Eating a heavy meal before bed, alcohol close to sleep, and caffeine outside of morning or early afternoon hours can all lead to poor sleep (10, 11, 12). If you want help implementing some of these healthy sleep habits, make an appointment with FMCHC Amber.
Want to Know More?
Check out the information on MOVEMENT, SLEEP, and STRESS in the link below. Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach Amber can help you implement changes to meet your goals of protecting your heart and living a healthier lifestyle!
Information on MOVEMENT, SLEEP, and STRESS
Learn how Regenerative Medicine can help with Sleep Issues related to pain on our Regenerative Medicine site