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When Counting Sheep isn’t Enough – Part 1

By Claire Bacon, ACN, CNC

Do you know that with chronic lack of sleep (less than 6 hours), the risks for ALL causes of mortality are increased? Or that lack of sleep can impair your metabolism, make you 30% hungrier, decrease your thyroid function by 30% and contribute to mood disorders? How about that taking sleep medications has a direct relationship with dying earlier – from all causes? Clearly, we need to pay attention to the amount and quality of our sleep, and make improvements naturally and ASAP, if needed!

Sleep and Weight

Among overweight adults who were put on a diet, sleep turned out to be a significant determinant of success: subjects who slept (on average) seven hours and twenty-five minutes per night lost more body fat than those who slept five hours and fifteen minutes per night.

“Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity“. Annals of Internal Medicine 153 (2010):435-441

Is My Sleep Disturbance Normal or Not?

Who in this modern world hasn’t had an occasional restless night? Every now and then, it’s not uncommon to have a night where you don’t rest so well, for whatever reason. Maybe you had a heavy dinner too late, or maybe it was that extra martini or glass of wine you just couldn’t turn down. Certainly, if you have argued with a family member or are under pressure at work, you may find yourself tossing and turning, and it seems obvious to know what’s going on.

But what about when your sleep disturbance turns chronic, and you’re trying everything restful you can, yet still you’re looking at the clock at 3 a.m., or 4, or 5? If you’re not getting good zzzz’s on a regular basis, it’s time to figure out how to make things right again. Here, we’ve provided our thoughts on the reasons for lack of sleep, and some helpful remedies you may like to try…

HPA Axis Dysfunction

The HPA Axis stands for the “hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis”. You may have heard us speak about this during our nutrition consults, and maybe you have not really understood what that meant. In a nutshell, it means the way that your endocrine glands secrete hormones and communicate to one another. After prolonged periods of chronic stress, whether emotional stress, chemical stress (food), or physical stress (overtraining), the adrenal glands can become less effective in producing cortisol according to a proper circadian rhythm.

Rather than having high cortisol in the morning to wake you up and give you energy all day, and tapering off until night, sometimes people may feel low and dragging through the day, only to feel a “second wind” at night and then not be able to go to bed. Or sometimes the person may get only light sleep through the night, not the deeply restorative sleep (with dreaming) that helps you feel refreshed in the morning. If someone is trying to adapt to the stresses of working a night shift, certainly the circadian rhythm is affected and will need some support.

Glycemic Management

It is extremely common for people these days to have way too many carbohydrates in their diet. Whether it be bread, orange juice, bagels, pasta, candy, or alcohol, to the body it all feels like a whole bunch of sugar, which requires insulin in order to be processed and managed by the body. After a long period of consuming too many carbs like this (even if you are working out like crazy and “burning them off”), the pancreas can get fatigued and insulin receptors on the cell membranes can become dull and ineffective – this is the beginning of insulin resistance.

Insulin Resistance

Did you know, insulin resistance can impair your sleep? Typical symptoms can include:

  • frequently being hungry even just after eating,
  • getting weak & dizzy in between meals,
  • cravings for sweets and starches,
  • and frequent urination.

Not only that, but waking up too early, wide awake and not being able to go back to sleep, is often a symptom of impaired glucose metabolism. How does that work? In the middle of the night, your blood sugar level can sometimes drop too low, and the body must turn up cortisol to bring more glucose to the brain. The problem is that cortisol really shouldn’t come up that high until 7 am, which should naturally wake you up, refreshed and ready for the day.

Dietary Choices

In this case, the individual must work on the diet, to bring in more healthy fats and protein, and a lot less carbohydrates. It may be helpful to eat a snack of turkey meat or almond butter right before bed, so the fat can help keep blood sugar stable through the night. We also like to recommend our favorite sugar-busting supplements:

These supplements help re-sensitize insulin receptors and get the cell membranes working better.

If you have been feeling that carbohydrates and frequent sweet snacking have been controlling your life, please talk to us about doing a 10-day Blood Sugar Cleanse. Getting your carbohydrates in check not only can improve your sleep, but also can improve your lipids and inflammatory responses throughout the body.

Helpful Supplements for Sleep

We recommend several key herbs and glandular supplements to help support proper signaling of the HPA axis:

  • Hypothalmex (the master conductor of our endocrine system),
  • Symplex F or M (for females or males),
  • Ashwagandha Complex or Ashwagandha Forte,
  • Adrenal Complex (containing Rehmannia and Licorice), or
  • Our Adrenal-Immune tonic (Ashwagandha, Rehmannia and Echinacea). All tonics are only available in-office.

Calming Minerals

In addition, we also recommend key minerals to help calm and feed the body the nutrients it likely needs to relax:


Other herbs that we know to be sedative in effect are:

Some people also get great benefit from supplementing with the neurotransmitter, GABA.

When properly recommended and applied, the above supplements are only supportive of proper sleep signaling and won’t “force” the body to do anything. Often, we like to use several of these supplements in combination, to give a synergistic effect, when stronger support is needed. The variety of helpful nutrients can be confusing, so please give us a call if you would like a recommendation for the best food and herbal support for you.

Looking Ahead to More Tips…

In our next segment, (Part 2) we’ll be discussing the Biomeridian Clock and the influence of Electronic Devices on your sleep. Until then, we wish you restful sleep and sweet dreams!

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