Sleep issues and chronic disease. Is the lack of a good night’s rest the simple answer to your problems?

The Consequences of Poor Sleep

Did you know there is such thing as World Sleep Day? This important day falls in March to draw attention to the issue of sleep issues and chronic disease. New research shows that throwing off our body’s natural circadian rhythms over the long term can critically disturb the body and brain. Sleep issues can cause weight gain, impulsive behavior, and loss of memory. (1) Increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and thyroid deregulation are also side effects of not getting the right amount of sleep at night.

Lack of Sleep Can Disturb Your Blood Sugar and Cause You to Gain Weight

Sleep deprivation reduces natural production of leptin, a hormone produced that triggers our “fullness” or satiety feeling. At the same time sleep deprivation increases ghrelin, a hormone which triggers hunger.

Results of one study conducted at the University of Chicago in Illinois showed that when sleep was restricted, leptin levels went down and ghrelin levels went up. Appetite increased proportionally, and the desire for high carbohydrate, calorie-dense foods increased by a whopping 45%. (2)  Due in part to these findings, researchers suspect these cravings are due to the fact that your brain is fueled by glucose. Therefore, when lack of sleep occurs, your brain searches for carbohydrates.  When we eat carbohydrates, blood sugar levels increase.  As a response, the body releases insulin to manage concentrations of glucose, keeping it in the optimal range.

The American Diabetes Association reports that people who regularly do not get enough sleep can become less sensitive to insulin. (4) This increases their risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. In this way sleep issues contribute to chronic diseases of blood sugar dysregulation.

Lack of Sleep is Harmful to the Thyroid Gland

Sleep deprivation also can affect the thyroid.  One study showed that after 6 days of only getting 4 hours of sleep, the normal nocturnal thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) rise was strikingly decreased, and the overall mean TSH levels were reduced by more than 30%. (3)  TSH stimulates the production of T4 and T3 which fuels the metabolism of almost every tissue in the body.

Dr. Nikolas R. Hedberg, author of the book “The Thyroid Alternative”, expresses any patients who suffer from insomnia and sleep problems also present with low thyroid symptoms and abnormal TSH levels. (5) This is just one of many examples of how sleep issues are associated with chronic disease.

Sleep Issues Are Harmful to Your Brain

Lack of sleep can also result in difficulty recalling facts and information as well as reducing the ability to focus attention.  Elizabeth Gould, lead researcher from a study done by the Princeton University concluded that sleep deprivation decreases neurogenesis by elevating stress hormones. (4) As a result the stress hormones accumulate in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which stops the growth of cells that lay down new memories.

The Importance of REM Sleep

There are four different stages of sleep, each one deeper than the last.  During the deep stages of Non-REM sleep, the body repairs and regenerates tissues, builds bone and muscle and appears to strengthen the immune system.  REM sleep plays a key role in learning and memory. During REM sleep, your brain consolidates and processes the information you’ve learned during the day.  So think twice before you decide to pull an all-nighter before going to work. You’ll be better off going to bed sooner in the night to wake up early the next day.

Could Your Medications Be Causing Your Sleep Issues?

If you are taking certain medications, they may be interfering with your sleep.  “Certain heart medications for blood pressure, arrhythmia, and angina have been reported to increase your chance of insomnia and nightmares,” says James Wellman, MD, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Georgia in Augusta. (6)

Patients taking stimulant-like medications for ADHD to boost alertness have been reported to spend more time in non-REM sleep and less time in REM sleep. (6) Similarly, of 25 drugs that are currently used to treat depression, 22 suppress REM sleep. (7) Medications used for asthma, pain relief, colds, and allergies also can affect sleeping cycles.

You Should Take Melatonin for Sleep…or Should You?

Many people will try taking the hormone Melatonin as an aid used to help with going to sleep. However, the body naturally produces its own melatonin. “Melatonin is a sleep and body clock regulator, not a sleep initiator,” says Dr. Michael Breus, seen on the Dr. Oz Show (known as The Sleep Doctor).  According to research conducted at MIT, the correct dosage of melatonin for it to be effective is 0.3 – 1.0 mg. Dr. Breus explains that many commercially available forms of melatonin contain 3-10 times the amount your body would need! In fact, there is some evidence that higher doses may be less effective. In Europe, melatonin at very high doses has been used as a contraceptive. (8) If you supplement with melatonin regularly your body’s natural production will lessen. This creates an even greater need for the hormone.

Tips for a better night’s rest:

  • Exercise: Aerobic activity can help stimulate circulation, hormones and serotonin production.  Serotonin is associated with mood, sleep, appetite, memory, and learning.
  • Find a bedtime routine that makes you feel relaxed, and repeat it each night to regulate your internal clock.  Examples include reading, taking a hot bath, writing in a journal, meditation, and prayer.
  • Don’t a lot of liquid right before bed to reduce the number of times you get up to urinate.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine several hours before bed.
  • Reduce alcohol (or avoid it altogether) which will also keep you from entering the deeper stages of sleep.
  • Avoid carbohydrate rich night-time snacks and include more protein-rich foods. Protein can provide the L-tryptophan needed to produce melatonin and serotonin.
  • Formula 303 taken 2x before bedtime acts as a natural relaxant. It contains valerian root which is used to calm your nerves and mood.
  • Vitamin D levels should be checked.  Lower levels of Vitamin D put you at risk for depression and low serotonin levels.
  • Magnesium and B-Complex.  Lower Magnesium could be causing anxiety.  B-Complex can optimize Magnesium performance.

Is it just the lack of sleep you are suffering from?  Or is there something more important going on?  Are your sleep issues contributing to development of chronic disease in your body?

A comprehensive blood test will show underlying deficiencies and toxicities which, in turn, can direct you towards the proper nutrients you need for your body.  Get tested today and see how to enhance your body’s foundation towards optimal wellness… and a full night’s rest.



  1. Society for Neuroscience. “Disruption Of Circadian Rhythms Affects Both Brain And Body, Mouse Study Finds.” ScienceDaily, 28 Oct. 2009. Web. 30 Nov. 2012.
  2. Bouchez, Colette. Losing Weight While You Sleep. WebMD Jan 1, 2007.  Accessed on 29, November 2012
  3. Van Cauter, Eve. Knutson, Kristen. The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Hormones and Metabolism.  Medscape Neurology. 2005;7(1)
  4. The Franklin Institute Online.  Renew-Sleep and Stress. 2004. Accessed on 28, November 2012
  5. Dr. Hedberg, Nikolas.  The Thyroid and Thyroid Hormones.  The Immune Restoration Center. February 8, 2011
  6. Sheehan, Jane. “Is Your Medication Making You Lose Sleep?” Everyday Health Media. August 18, 2010. Accessed on 29, November 2012
  7. Smith, Mark. Hurd, Cameron, Sleep Deprivation. Macalester College.
  8. Dr. Breus, Michael. Melatonin: Not a magic bullet for sleep. September 24, 2010. Accessed on 28, November 2012

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