Trouble sleeping is one of the most common complaints patients have when visiting their physician. In fact, Over 20% of Americans may suffer from chronic sleep loss or untreated sleep disorders.
Underlying causes of insomnia include high stress, improper diet, food and environmental allergies, sleep apnea, overuse of caffeine, poor blood sugar control and others. The CDC reports that poor sleep can contribute to weight gain, chronic headaches, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, an impaired immune system, trouble thinking and attention problems. Dangerous accidents can also be a result.
People living in the United States have experienced a substantial decrease of sleep time over the last half-century. There has been a decline in sleep duration of 1-2 hours per night. During this time the incidence of obesity has doubled. There is a strong correlation between higher body mass index and shorter sleep duration. Now we know that one of the mechanisms for these changes is due to alterations in the hormones that affect hunger and appetite.
One study published in the Annals of internal medicine, December 2004 indicates that sleep deprivation alters hormonal imbalance to increase hunger and appetite. The study shows that subjects who were deprived of sleep had a significant decline in blood levels of the hormone leptin. Leptin is a hormone that reduces appetite. In addition, levels of the hormone ghrelin, which functions to increase hunger, were increased by 24%. As a consequence of these hormonal changes, hunger and appetite rose substantially, especially for calorie dense foods with a high content of carbohydrates. The subjects developed a strong desire for cake, candy, cookies, ice cream and pastry, as well as bread, pasta, cereal and potatoes. Salty foods such as chips, salted nuts, pickles and olives also were in high demand.
Here are some things to consider when trying to improve sleep. Go for a 15-20 minute walk before going to bed. Avoid heavy exercise within 2-3 hours of sleep. Also avoid heavy meals, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before going to bed. Try to avoid taking naps during the day, since this may interfere with going to sleep at night. Blue light from electronic devices has been shown to reduce levels of the sleep hormone melatonin. Discontinuing the use of TV, tablets and smart phones at least an hour before you go to sleep can be helpful. Supplementation with targeted nutrients can also be effective for improving sleep.
At the Institute for Progressive Medicine we have great success treating chronic sleeping problems without the use of prescription sleep medications.