Tag Archives: insomnia

Crash in the afternoon but wide awake at 3 or 4 a.m.?

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Are you often wide awake around 3 or 4 a.m., your mind racing with anxiety, but then collapsing into a near coma in the late afternoon? This maddening cycle of waking up and falling asleep at inconvenient hours is often relieved by managing low blood sugar.

Why you’re wide awake at 3 or 4 a.m.

Although sleep is a time for the body to rest, your brain is still busy working on repair and regeneration, transforming the day’s impressions into lasting memories, and keeping you entertained with dreams.

The brain demands more fuel than any other organ, about 20 percent of the body’s total supply. These needs don’t abate during sleep, when your body is fasting.

In the absence of food, the body keeps the brain going by gradually raising the adrenal hormone cortisol, which triggers the production of glucose to feed the brain through the night.

At least in theory.

Chronic low blood sugar breaks this system down because it skews cortisol rhythms and release. When your brain starts to run low on fuel during the night, cortisol may lag in triggering glucose release.

The brain cannot wait until breakfast and perceives this lack of fuel supply as an emergency. As a result, the body releases more urgent “fight-or-flight” adrenal hormones, which raise blood sugar back to safe levels.

Unfortunately, these adrenals hormones are also designed to help you either flee from danger or fight it. This does not bode well for a sound night’s sleep and explains why if you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m., it’s usually with a mind racing with worry.

Meanwhile, 12 hours later when you could really use the energy to finish a work project or deal with after-school duties, you crash and can barely function thanks to blood sugar and cortisol levels bottoming out. Reaching for that shot of caffeine may pull you through, but in the long run it’s only compounding the problem.

How to fall asleep if you wake up at 3 a.m.

If you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. with a racing mind, eating a little something may feed your brain and calm your mind so you can fall back asleep. But do not eat something sugary, which will spike blood sugar and perpetuate the cycle. Instead, eat some protein and fat.

Examples include nut butter, a little bit of meat, boiled egg, or a coconut snack. Have these prepared ahead of time and even next to your bed so you don’t have to go into the kitchen and turn on bright lights. You will not feel hungry because adrenal hormones are appetite suppressants, but you don’t need to eat much.

How to avoid the afternoon crash

To avoid the afternoon crash without caffeine you need to stabilize blood sugar as a way of life. Eat frequently enough to avoid sending blood sugar into a nose dive, and avoid foods that cause blood sugar to spike and crash: Sugar, caffeine, energy drinks, too many carbohydrates and starchy foods.

How do you know if you have low blood sugar?

Low blood sugar symptoms include:

  • Sugar cravings
  • Irritability, lightheadedness, dizziness, or brain fog if meals are missed
  • Lack of appetite or nausea in the morning (this is caused by stress hormones)
  • The need for caffeine for energy
  • Eating to relieve fatigue

A variety of nutritional compounds can further support your blood sugar handling and stress hormone functions so you sleep better. Ask me for advice.

Five things you can address that cause insomnia

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It seems almost everyone has insomnia these days, including, possibly, you. People either can’t fall asleep, they wake up after a few hours of sleep and can’t go back asleep, or they aren’t able to sleep deeply. The reasons for insomnia vary from person to person, but it’s typically not due to a sleeping pill deficiency.

Instead, the reasons behind insomnia or poor sleep can be startlingly straightforward, although addressing them may take some diet and lifestyle changes.

In this article I’ll go over often overlooked issues that cause insomnia and poor sleep. Don’t assume a powerful sleeping pill is your only answer. Look at the underlying causes first and address those.

Five things that can cause insomnia

Low blood sugar. Do you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m., racked with anxiety and unable to fall back asleep? That could be caused by a blood sugar crash, which raises stress hormones (hence the anxious wake up). Eating small but frequent meals, never skipping meals, and avoid sugary and starchy foods are important to keep blood sugar stable. Additionally, eating a little bit of protein before bed and at night if you wake up may help. Continue reading

Poor sleep habits linked with dementia

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Do you have trouble falling asleep? Do you fall asleep around 2 or 3 a.m. and sleep until noon? Or do you wake up at 4 a.m. and can’t fall back asleep?

Studies show insomnia does more than make the days drag — it raises your risk of dementia later in life. Heart disease, diabetes, obesity, mood disturbances, constipation, prostate cancer, and breast cancer have all been linked with poor sleep.

Poor sleep is a growing problem, as is dementia. Twenty percent of the population is estimated to sleep too little (less than 6 hours a night). Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder today, affecting 64 million people, and one in three people over 65 will die of dementia.

Researchers found a particularly strong link between poor rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and dementia. These people do not go into the deep enough REM sleep that induces paralysis. Instead, they have vivid, violent dreams that they act out through punching, kicking, screaming, and even jumping out of bed.

Sixty-three percent of people with this REM disorder develop dementia or Parkinson’s later in life.

The sleep wake cycle and dementia risk

Our circadian rhythm regulates our sleep/wake cycles — when we feel tired at night and alert in the morning. A healthy circadian rhythm is tied to daylight and darkness and governs sleeping and waking.

However, when this sleep/wake cycle becomes overly imbalanced, your risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases increases.

This is because the area of the brain that governs the circadian rhythm, the hippocampus, also plays a role in short-term memory and learning. The hippocampus is the first area of the brain to degenerate in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Constant problems with your cycles of sleeping and waking could point to problems in the hippocampus and an increased risk of dementia later in life.

The sleep-wake cycle and dementia

Researchers have found the risk of dementia was higher in older women with weak circadian rhythms, and tracking circadian rhythms over time has been shown to predict cognitive decline in older adults.

Are you at risk for dementia later in life?

How do you know if your circadian rhythm is off balance? Look at whether you suffer from any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Difficulty waking in the morning
  • Not feeling rested after sleep
  • Poor recovery from exercise
  • Drop of energy between 4 –7 p.m.

Preventing dementia by supporting sleep

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to better regulate your circadian rhythm and lower the risk for dementia. A primary tactic is to regulate cortisol, an adrenal stress hormone. Studies show high cortisol from constant physical or mental stress degenerates the hippocampus.

Stress isn’t just a lifestyle issue. Stress is also be caused by blood sugar swings, inflammation  food intolerances, hormone imbalances, and other metabolic issues. Inflammation in particular is associated with degeneration of the hippocampus. High homocysteine on a blood panel, a telltale sign of inflammation, is one way to determine whether inflammation is undermining your brain health.

Inflammation and dementia

A primary way to normalize the circadian rhythm and reduce your risk of dementia is to reduce inflammation. Your diet is the first place to start. This includes removing foods to which you are sensitive (gluten and dairy are among the more common), stabilizing your blood sugar, and eliminating processed foods.

Ask me about an anti-inflammatory diet, improving sleep, and other tools to lower the risk of dementia.

Your phone, computer, tablet, and TV cause insomnia

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Do you like to play a little Candy Crush or surf Facebook before bed? Or maybe you’re vegging out in front of your giant LED television or reading a novel on your iPad. Then when you turn the lights off you toss and turn frustratingly into the wee hours of the morning, glancing constantly at the bright blue numbers on your alarm clock just inches from your face. You’re not alone – Americans are alarmingly insomniatic and sleep-deprived these days. The CDC says insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic and research has established that the constant exposure to blue light from electronic devices is a major culprit.

How smart phones, computers, tablets, and TVs cause insomnia and wreck your health

The bad news is not only are these much-loved devices causing chronic insomnia, but also long-term health problems because of the blue light they emit. Our brains perceive blue light as daytime light, which suppresses melatonin, the sleep hormone. Melatonin also plays a role in immune function, and chronic melatonin suppression has been linked to a higher risk of prostate, colorectal and breast cancers. Chronic sleep deprivation is also linked to obesity, diabetes, chronic inflammation, and other metabolic disorders.

In the latest study that looked at the effects of these devices on sleep, one group of subjects read on an iPad for four hours before bed while the other group read from a printed book in dim light. After a week, the groups switched. In just five nights, the iPad group displayed reduced levels of melatonin, they took longer to fall asleep, and they spent less time in the restorative REM sleep  They also reported being sleepier and less alert in the morning, even after 8 hours of sleep, and showed disruption in their sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm.

Because blue-light emitting devices have such profound biological effects, the research team proposed they be subjected to the same safety evaluations as drugs. A sleep poll shows 95 percent of Americans uses some kind of light-emitting device at least a few nights a week before bed, making this a national concern.

What to do to sleep better without totally unplugging

The obvious answer to sleep better is to quit using blue-light emitting devices at nightfall. But for most Americans that’s simply asking too much. Luckily strategies exist to protect your melatonin production:

  • Use the Kindle e-reader that does not have a backlit screen. Or just read a regular book.
  • Put orange bulbs in your lamps that you use at night, especially next to your bed.
  • The simplest way to protect yourself from blue light at night is to wear orange glasses. You can buy a cheap pair from Amazon or choose from more style options at Low Blue Lights.
  • Install f.lux or a similar app on your computer and phone. This turns the light on your screen an orangeish-pink hue.

Ask me for other ways to support healthy sleep.

Awake at 3 a.m.? Try this quick and easy trick to fall back asleep

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Do you often wake up at 3 a.m., your mind racing with thoughts, and you can’t fall back asleep? Try this crazy sounding but highly effective tip: Eat something! Make sure it’s not something sweet but instead something with protein and fat, such as nut butter, a bit of hard boiled egg, or some meat. Make sure to keep some food next to your bed with a glass of water so you don’t wake yourself up too much by going to the kitchen. You won’t feel hungry and most likely won’t feel like eating, but do it anyway as an experiment. Chances are you will fall right back to sleep. Why?

If things go according to plan you don’t bolt awake at 3 a.m. While you’re sound asleep you’re brain is hard at work and needs plenty of fuel. It is forming memories, clearing out old cells, regenerating — all while you’re fasting, having gone hours without eating. In order to give the brain the energy it needs, the body gradually raises cortisol, an adrenal hormone. Cortisol triggers the release or synthesis of glucose to fuel the brain during the nightlong fast and you sleep through the night.

That’s if things are working right. If you suffer with chronically low blood sugar then you are one of those people who is likely to bolt awake at 3 or 4 a.m. People with low blood sugar will have difficulty making enough cortisol to sustain the brain during the night. To compensate and keep the brain going, the body then releases “fight-or-flight” adrenal hormones. These adrenal hormones raise blood sugar back to a safer level to give the brain fuel. Unfortunately, they also raise stress, which can cause anxiety or panic in the middle of the night. This explains why you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. with a racing mind, an infinite to-do list, in a panic, or some other stress-addled state.

Things you can do during the day to avoid waking up at 3 a.m.

Although a few bites of food may help you fall back asleep, it’s better to prevent that anxious wake up call in the first place. If low blood sugar has you waking up every morning at 3 a.m. try the following tips:

  • Always eat breakfast, even if you don’t feel like it, and avoid sugary, high-carbohydrate foods with breakfast. Low blood sugar will cause you to wake up with no appetite. You may even feel nauseous. Eat anyway, you need to break the nightlong fast and stabilize your blood sugar.
  • During the day eat frequently enough so blood sugar does not crash.
  • Avoid sweets and starchy foods (breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, etc.) and adopt a lower-carbohydrate diet. People with low blood sugar symptoms typically eat too many sweets and starchy foods as well as frequently skip meals. Eat enough protein and healthy fats to sustain your energy.

Ask me about nutritional compounds that can help you manage your blood sugar better and sleep through the night.

Why sleep is more difficult for women

female hormones sleepIs there a torture worse than hitting the sack exhausted from a long day only to toss and turn for hours, unable to fall asleep? Or perhaps you fall asleep but later bolt awake and can’t fall back asleep?

By the time women hit their mid 30s or early 40s, many struggle with sleep. Either it’s difficult to fall asleep, difficult to stay asleep, or both. Although sleep difficulties can have many causes, fluctuations of female hormone prior to and during the transition to menopause can steal many hours of precious sleep.

Female hormone imbalances and sleep problems

When a woman enters perimenopause, her production of estrogen and progesterone begins to decline. Ideally the adrenal glands, which produce stress hormones, take over production of these hormones to ensure a smooth transition into menopause. Unfortunately, most women today enter perimenopause (pre-menopause) in a state of chronic stress and their adrenals glands are either producing too much or too little of stress hormones. To take on the added job of producing sex hormones is simply more than they can handle. That’s when sleep issues can kick in, as balanced levels of estrogen and progesterone are necessary for healthy sleep. Other symptoms may include hot flashes, night sweats, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and more.

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Wake up at 3 a.m. and can’t fall back asleep? Consider low blood sugar

image8Do you consistently wake up around 3 a.m. and can’t fall back asleep? Although the reasons for sleep problems can be complex, waking up too early is often a symptom of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, and can be remedied through dietary changes and nutritional therapy.

Why you wake up at 3 a.m.

The brain is highly active at night, transforming short-term memory into long-term memory and carrying out repair and regeneration, Continue reading

Can’t sleep? Turn the lights off earlier

insomnia-melatonin-lightCan’t fall asleep? You may need to turn the lights off earlier. Studies show exposure to light after dusk, particularly light from computer screens, iPads, iPhones, televisions, and other electronic items, significantly inhibits the production of melatonin, your body’s sleep hormone.

Insomnia is a national problem, affecting about 30 percent of Americans and fueling a $2 billion sleep medication industry. Although prescription sleep medications are common, they also come with troubling side effects and a four times higher risk of death.

While the natural sleep aid melatonin may be safer, taking melatonin supplements can disrupt your body’s delicate balance of hormones and create a dependency. Research shows it also stimulates inflammation, which could worsen autoimmune disorders, such as arthritis or Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, in some people.

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