In Functional Medicine, Natural Health & Lifestyle

According to a study from the Institute of Medicine50 to 70 million Americans suffer with chronic sleep issues which hinder their daily functioning and adversely affect their health and longevity.

If you suffer with insomnia or struggle to sleep soundly, you know it’s more than a mild annoyance or inconvenience. It greatly hinders your quality of life.

Being exhausted all day long, only to find yourself unable to sleep at night (or wide awake at 3 a.m.), is brutal…especially when you know that sleep is a crucial part to healing when you have an autoimmune condition.

Your body’s healing mechanisms are most active during your sleeping hours.

If you’re wide awake and staring at the ceiling at 3 a.m., you’re fighting an uphill battle by reducing your body’s ability to heal.

That’s why doing what you can to sleep well every night is essential.

Work with your functional medicine doctor to find and address the root causes of your sleep dysfunction. And, strive for a lifestyle that supports restful sleep.

You’ll feel better. You’ll have more energy. And, your body will be more supported for healing.

What Can You Do?

Address the cause.
Sometimes our lifestyle is to blame (like long hours at work, high levels of stress, caffeine or alcohol use, poor dietary choices or too much or too little exercise).

However, it’s more often the seemingly unrelated underlying issues that must be addressed. These include hormone fluctuations, blood sugar imbalances, adrenal dysfunction, depression or anxiety, or unresolved emotional or spiritual issues.

If it’s not clear what the cause is for you, find a health-care provider that is trained to dig deep to find the causes and address the lifestyle factors that may be contributing.

Consider testing.
If it’s not obvious what’s causing the issue, ask your health-care provider to order routine blood work and ask if additional specialized functional medicine testing is appropriate.

When looking at sleep, doing a “salivary hormone test”, which helps assess your adrenal gland function, circadian rhythms, and hormone levels is a great place to start.

Also, a genetic methylation test (MTHFR) may be appropriate. It looks at methylation issues which may reduce your ability to make neurotransmitters and melatonin, a hormone necessary for sleep.

If there’s any suspicion of sleep apnea (or if the cause still remains a mystery) sleep studies may be appropriate.

Refine your lifestyle choices.
Although not always easy, making some changes to your lifestyle can be a sleep game changer. Here are a few tips:

  • Avoid caffeine, sugar and alcohol. All of these reduce your ability to get quality sleep even after you think the effects have worn off.
  • Get outside at least 20-30 minutes a day. Exposure to direct sunlight stimulates healthy circadian rhythms.
  • Move your body at least 30 minutes a day (but avoid exercising after dinnertime as it may be too stimulating.)
  • Eat your smallest meal at night at least 2-3 hours before bedtime and include a high-quality protein.
  • Strive to get at least 8 hours of sleep per night.
  • Keep regular sleep hours as much as possible (go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday, even weekends.)
  • Include stress reducing activities throughout your day: yoga, walking, journalling, deep breathing, a gratitude practice, or any activity that relaxes you.
  • Avoid stimulating activities before bed like television, exercise, or any device use (computers, phones, etc).
  • Create a nighttime routine: a cup of chamomile tea, bedtime yoga or other calming activities.
  • Try a warm bath before bed with epsom salts and calming essential oils.

Improve your chances of getting a good night sleep.

  • Make your bedroom a device-free zone (no cell phones, computers or television).
  • Create a sanctuary in your bedroom (calming colors, comfortable bedding, minimal clutter).
  • Sleep in total darkness (use dark curtains or wear an eye mask).
  • Keep the room a comfortable temperature (notice if you wake feeling too hot or too cold in the middle of the night and adjust the thermostat accordingly).
  • Use a white noise machine or a fan (especially if your bedroom is not sound proof) or use earplugs.
  • Add a few drops of calming essential oils to your pillow (like lavender).

What’s Your Take?

When you have an autoimmune condition, getting a good night’s sleep every night is a key component to regaining your health.

If you aren’t sleeping well, you aren’t healing well.

Making changes to your bedroom, tweaking your bedtime routine, refining your lifestyle and addressing the underlying root causes can make a big difference.

Do you or have you suffered with disrupted sleep?

What’s been helpful to you? Please leave a comment below.


Want to learn more about how functional medicine can help you feel better? Check out my FREE Email Series, 7 Keys to Reversing Autoimmune Conditions, you’ll learn:

  • why reversal and remission are possible for you,
  • what simple things you can do to feel better soon,
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  • and, so much more.
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Showing 4 comments
  • Megan Barnhard

    I love this topic, Dr. Deborah! I recently decided I wanted more energy, so I knew I had to address my sleeping. So far, what’s helped most is giving myself a bed time and a firm wake-up time. I kept finding myself staying up late to wash dishes, fold laundry, or work. (Not exactly the thrilling dream of staying up late that we look forward to as kids, right?!) So, I gave myself a bedtime window. And I made that window when I wanted to be in bed, not when I wanted to get up from the couch and clean up from dinner and start washing my face and packing my husband’s lunch for the next day, etc.

    But it’s hard to convince yourself to go to bed if you don’t feel tired. So, one more vital piece that has really helped is making myself a morning routine, which includes exercise, and creating an exercise schedule so that I already know what I’m doing first thing. When the alarm goes off, I know that I have to get up right then because I have important sh*t to do! That’s my time! Getting up earlier — and prioritizing exercise — has helped me feel ready to go to bed at my chosen bedtime.

    I’m finding that having more knowledge about sleep is also incredibly helpful. I learned that my workouts are only really benefiting me if I’m getting good sleep so my body can rebuild. When I learned that the reason I get a second wind around 11:00 pm is because my body is generating energy for healing and repairing itself, it stopped me in my tracks! I don’t want to steal the energy that is meant for keeping my brain and body healthy to return emails! No way!

    Thanks for the great tips!

    • Dr. Deborah Anderson

      Hi Megan!

      I love that you mentioned your morning routine. I’m a big fan of starting the day with intention. And, I never thought about it’s impact on sleep…I think you’re on to something! When I practice my morning routine my day flows so much better and I find that my to-do list gets done with greater ease and efficiency. Thus, more time for relaxation at the end of the day. :)

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
      Dr. Deborah

  • Suzy

    I think women in their late 30’s and 40s should also get their hormone levels checked. Not producing enough progesterone can have a similar effect.

    • Dr. Deborah Anderson

      Hi Suzy,

      I agree! :) Hormone imbalances definitely play a role in sleep quality…especially in women. Checking hormones is important when looking for the root causes of sleep issues! Thanks for sharing your experience.

      All the best to you!
      Dr. Deborah