Insomnia is one of the most common health challenges we see at our office, the Natural Medicine Institute in The Villages, FL. Additional issues causing sleep deprivation can often include adrenal stress, cortisol imbalances, hormone imbalances, neurotransmitter imbalances and blood sugar imbalances. The first question I ask patients is “What is your sleeping problem? Do you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or both? “
One of the tests we often recommend to specifically identify the root cause of sleep issues is called an Adrenal Stress Index Test or ASI. This is a saliva hormone test done in the privacy of your own home utilizing 4 saliva samples over a 24 hour period. This functional medicine test will determine what your cortisol (stress hormone) levels are.
Cortisol is secreted by your adrenal glands as apart of normal healthy body functioning. The cortisol level should be the highest in the morning, not to stress you, but essentially to wake your body and organs up to get ready for the day’s activities. Normally, as the day progresses toward the evening the cortisol levels should decrease and be lowest at night. It makes sense doesn’t it, that you want your stress hormone levels to be lowest at night so you can sleep. That however, is often the problem for many people with cortisol hormone imbalance issues.
When we have patients do the ASI test the results often indicate that the cortisol pattern of stress hormone release is the exactly opposite of what it should be. We find that the cortisol is low in the morning, which is why many people with insomnia cannot drag themselves out of bed in the morning and the cortisol is elevated at night which is why they cannot sleep.
Fortunately, we can offer a variety of ways to help re-balance your cortisol levels by supporting your adrenal glands through proper diet and lifestyle modification, along with a variety of all natural, whole food based supplements and herbs. Each patient we see is individually evaluated for what their body needs to correct these issues. We never use a one size fits all approach to adrenal gland support. Depending on what tests well for a patient we may use adaptogenic herbal products such as Adrenal PX. Some people need glandular support with Adrenal Desiccated or building block support from Avinocort. It all really depends on what your body needs are and what tests well for you.
What further compounds this issue is that at times when your cortisol is elevated this often affects your blood sugar levels. Ideally, your body wants to have your blood sugar level remain pretty much constant 24/7. During the day if your blood sugar drops, you get hungry and you eat something and the blood sugar level comes up. At night if your blood sugar level drops, essentially your adrenal glands kick in sounding the alarm “your blood sugar has dropped, eat something.” I don’t know about you, but for most people that wake up at 2 or 3 A.M the first thought on your mind is not “Maybe I need to go make myself a turkey sandwich. ” No, usually you might go to the bathroom and try to get back to sleep as quickly as possible. Blood sugar imbalance issues can be caused by a variety of factors. Typically, we see it occur in people that have poor diet, eating and lifestyle habits such as too much processed junk food, sugar, alcohol and not enough fresh vegetables, fruit and exercise. If you are someone that suffers from hypoglycemia or Type II diabetes the problem can be worse. Many times blood sugar issues can be corrected with a variety of vitamin and mineral combination products such as GlucoBalance or GS-85 and of course healthy eating and lifestyle choices.
Additionally, neurotransmitter imbalances can cause a disruption in the normal 24 hour circadian rhythm sleep/wake pattern. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that the body, brain and nervous system uses to communicate with itself about the status of the body. Some neurotransmitters are made in the brain, others in the gut or GI tract. Having a healthy GI tract is critically important for proper sleeping to take place. A functional medicine test that we use to determine neurotransmitter levels is a simple urine sample done in the privacy of your own home, then sent to the lab that will tell us if there are any neurotransmitter imbalances that may be contributing to your insomnia problem.
One of the functions of the good probiotic bacteria that live in our digestive systems making up what is known as our microbiome, is to produce neurotransmitters such as Serotonin, which is one of the “feel good” neurotransmitters. Other important neurotransmitters include Epinephrine, Norepinephrine, GABA, Glutamine, and Dopamine.
The microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria, viruses and other organisms that live on our skin, in our mouths, and our GI Tract. Dysbiosis (an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria) can lead to leaky gut issues which can affect neurotransmitter production and ultimately our ability to get restful sleep. One of the functional medicine tests that we can have patients do again in the privacy of their homes and then sent in to a lab for analysis, is a stool sample test called a GI Map Test. This test will tell us about the balance of good bacterial that live in our digestive systems, as well as the potential harmful, bacteria, viruses, worms, parasites and protozoa that may be part of the root cause of insomnia. We find that patients presenting with dysbiosis and leaky gut , 80-90% of their health challenges can get on the road to being corrected by correcting these issues including insomnia. Good probiotic supplementation utilizing one specifically formulated to correct dysbiosis and leaky gut such as Megaspore Biotic is a good place to start. In addition, a product containing many of the nutritional factors to correct leaky gut such a GI UltraMax can be used.
Sometimes what patients need in addition to correcting their diet and lifestyle is a good all natural, non-habit forming sleep aid. Generally, if insomnia is an occasional issue one of these natural supplements we utilize appropriately named Sleep or another named Tranquinox may help with temporary or occasional insomnia. However, if your insomnia issue is long standing and is affecting other areas of your life including work, social activities or other aspects of your health then a more thorough evaluation of the factors mentioned above is called for.
Our goal at the Natural Medicine Institute is to provide for each patient we have the privilege of serving a custom personalized road map back to health utilizing the principles of natural, holisitc health care guided by science based modern functional medicine testing.