Got Autoimmune? 10 Strategies for Good Sleep

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“It’s critical that adults aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night to receive the health benefits of sleep, but this is especially true for those battling a chronic condition.”

M. Safwan Badr, MD, MBA, former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM)

Poor sleep seems to be a hallmark of autoimmune disorders. Add peri- or menopause to the equation and good sleep can become even more rare. Recently I heard a lecture by integrative physician, Mark Menolascino, MD in which he defined “sleep deprivation as anything less than 8 hours a night.” Well, that makes for a huge number of sleep-deprived people!

Mark Hyman, MD put it in perspective:

Army sharp shooters’ accuracy is almost 99% when they get eight hours of sleep. It drops to 79% when they get six hours of sleep. It drops to 35% when they get five hours of sleep, which is the equivalent of drinking two to three alcoholic beverages. Lack of sleep — sleep deprivation — is like driving drunk.

Why is Sleep So Important?

There are many reasons, and two of the biggies include:

  1. We take out our cellular trash via the glymphatic system — the brain’s lymphatic system. Gotta get rid of the debris to make room for new neural networks.1Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain, Xie, L., et. al., Science. 2013 Oct 18; 342(6156): 10.1126/science.1241224. doi: 10.1126/science.1241224, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3880190/
  2. Our bodies and brains repair, reorganize, reset, restore and regenerate during sleep.2Sleep: A Health Imperative, Luyster, F., et. al., Sleep. 2012 Jun 1; 35(6): 727–734. Published online 2012 Jun 1. doi: 10.5665/sleep.1846, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3353049/ Get fewer than eight hours and your body and brain miss out on needed repair and regeneration functions.

Health Implications of Lost Sleep are Huge

Studies have demonstrated detrimental effects of prolonged sleep deprivation on a variety of systems with noticeable changes in hormonal, metabolic, and immune function. Sleep deprivation can lead to negative health outcomes including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity, all of which are associated with increased mortality risk.3Sleep: A Health Imperative, Luyster, F., et. al., Sleep. 2012 Jun 1; 35(6): 727–734. Published online 2012 Jun 1. doi: 10.5665/sleep.1846, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3353049/

Can You Make Up for Lost Sleep?

The Harvard School of Public Health recommends that for short-term debt, like six hours in a week, you can add in a couple extra hours over the weekend and an extra hour a night during the week until you’ve repaid the six lost hours. For longer sleep loss, a vacation or stay-cation may be in order. Give yourself a chance to turn the alarm off and sleep until your body wakes naturally.

Getting to the Roots of a Good Night’s Sleep

There are many reasons why you may have trouble getting good sleep. Stress, hormonal imbalance, room temperature, blue light or EMF exposure, pain, inflammation, depression, too much caffeine or alcohol, snoring partners & undiagnosed sleep apnea, cuddly pets and modern life itself seem to conspire against us to getting the restorative sleep we need.

Here are 10 tips to improved sleep and better health based on recent science, coaching clients and personal experience:

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    Get at Least 8

    If you have an autoimmune condition, you need more sleep than most. According to American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) president, Dr. Badr, 8 – 9 hours is critical, not indulgent. Adding to that, at a recent thyroid seminar I learned that 8 – 10 hours may be required.4Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS, MNeuroSci, etc., a leading expert in non-pharmaceutical applications to chronic illnesses, autoimmune disorders, and complex neurological disorders. Research is clear that < 6 hours a night negatively impacts gene expression.5Effects of insufficient sleep on circadian rhythmicity and expression amplitude of the human blood transcriptome; Möller-Levet, Carla S., et al.; www.pnas.org/content/110/12/E1132Surprisingly, even a few lost hours of sleep is damaging.6Loss Of Sleep, Even For A Single Night, Increases Inflammation In The Body; Elsevier; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080902075211.htm

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    Get Some Morning Sun

    Getting the right light exposure across daytime, evening, and night is crucial to helping you get regular deep sleep. Go for a morning walk and let the sun hit your eyes without sunglasses to reset your circadian rhythm, increase HGH (human growth hormone), strengthen your eyes, and boost your immune system. 7Using the Power of the Sun to Improve Eyesight and Boost Immunity, Richard Stosser, http://www.naturalnews.com/022961_eye_eyes_health.html#ixzz3nzxPq0gi

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    Put Your Home In Airplane Mode

    Electric & Magnetic Fields (EMFs) are invisible and potentially harmful environmental toxins which emanate from electronics. You would be wise to protect yourself from potential EMF radiation, especially at night when your body is attempting to restore and rejuvenate.8Dr. Jack Kruse, Neurosurgeon & health educator,https://www.jackkruse.com/reduce-emf-exposure-in-your-home-or-office/At night, turn off your WiFi router (or replace your router with an ethernet cable), put all devices on airplane mode and unplug or remove electronics from your bedroom. Use a battery operated alarm clock, if needed. To test your home for EMF levels, get a Gauss measuring device; and to learn more, check out the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website.

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    Block Blue Light at Night

    Artificial lighting and electronics may be causing you serious sleep issues by disrupting your circadian rhythms.9What’s in a Color? The Unique Human Health Effects of Blue Light; Holtzman, D.C.; Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Jan; 118(1): A22–A27. doi: 10.1289/ehp.118-a22 As silly as it sounds or looks, get a pair of amber or yellow colored “night-glasses” like “BluBlockers” to wear after 5 pm. Other helpful ideas: download free f.lux software to adjust your screens to the time of day. Lastly, use red LED lights as night light.

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    Sleep It Off

    Try getting to bed a little earlier tonight. Losing as little as 30 minutes of sleep per day on weekdays can have long-term consequences for body weight and metabolism, which may promote the onset of, or exacerbate the progression of, type 2 diabetes mellitus.10Endocrine Society. “Losing 30 minutes of sleep per day may promote weight gain and adversely affect blood sugar control.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 March 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150306082541.htm>

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    Take A Stand for Sleep

    Say NO to sleep shame. Most people who brag about needing very little sleep just haven’t hit the wall — yet. A graphic example is a family friend who used to brag: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” She didn’t know how prescient she was. One morning on the long drive home from her vacation house, which she had been cleaning into the wee hours, she fell asleep at the wheel, veered off the road and into a telephone poll. She died instantly.

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    Be A Detective

    Before you leap in and follow top 10 lists on how to improve your “sleep hygiene,” get curious: Reflect on why you are not getting optimal sleep. Is it that you can’t shut off your mind? Is it that you can’t fall asleep, or is it that you can’t stay asleep? Then explore answers to those questions.

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    Try and Try Again

    One attempt at earplugs that don’t work is not sufficient. It took me trying 3 different types before I landed on the ones that work for me: moldable silicone, but you may prefer soft foam or rubber varieties. It also took me a few types of eye masks to find a comfortable fit. Now I have my ear plugs and eye mask dialed in, have the optimal dark & quiet environment for me.

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    Write it Down

    If you suffer from the occasional “midnight monkey mind” with thoughts that jump from planning to fretting, to lists of things you “should do,” you may be well served by putting a note pad and pen and small red LED flashlight by your bed to capture your ideas. Getting thoughts out of your head and onto paper frees you to get back to a more peaceful slumber.

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    Pratice Patience

    It took me months to dial in the right approaches. For me the optimal elements include winding down with a good book after 8:30 pm, silicone earplugs and a soft eye mask, a cool room with fresh air, and 200 mg of magnesium before bed. When I need extra help, my favorite sleep supplement is Kavinace Ultra PM which contains 3 gr melatonin plus GABA and 5-HTP.

I’d love to hear from you. What works for you?

Take good care!

p.s. Before you go, please accept our FREE gift: Your Optimal Food Guide ebook, which can help you figure out which foods can help you reverse autoimmune conditions or just optimize your health.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Last year I fell into a hole…stress and pre-menopause caused my seratonin levels to plummet to the point that extreme anxiety manifested in my body and mind. Desperate, I turned to a drug which in turn caused insomnia which in turn caused more desparation to sleep so another drug. Almost a year later, I am off the insomnia drug (after 6 mths of horrible withdrawal) and close to going off the anti-anxiety drug. I am getting incredible sleep by doing ALOT of what you have suggested above. I have a ritual every night and practice mindfulness and meditation. I have many tools that I never knew existed. I take a stand for sleep all of the time. I am still monitoring closely and patient about learning more about my body cycles, mind, exercise and nutrition in combination with sleep. Thanks for this wonderful blog.

  2. I had a few episodes in my life where I needed medication for sleep. Thankfully I work with a functional medicine doctor who has diagnosed me with mast cell disorder. Elevated histamine is a factor for sleep.
    I have a protocol with her for balance.
    The 2 items that helped specifically for getting off sleep med. is magnesium Glycinate and Adrenacalm by apex Energetics.
    Great post!!

    • Thanks for sharing your sleep success formula, Heidi! So important to keep digging to get to those root causes like you did. Wonderful. And thank you for your feedback.

  3. Eye mask, unplugging of electriics, and listening to Eckhart Tolle on YouTube on how to stop thinking helped me a lot. Magnesium baths also. Recently tried CBD oil and am having the deepest sleeps like when I was a kid!!

    • Fantastic, Sheila. May I ask what dose CBD oil works for you? I’ve noticed they have started selling it in a few Bay Area health food stores, and I am trying to determine best therapeutic dose for pain/headaches and sleep. Many thanks and take good care!

  4. i agree with much said here, but 8 years ago i had to after trying all natural methods and then non addictive sleep meds- i had to take temezepam. I have an illness that effects my ability to swallow food and that is hard enough. when my sleep went even my natural doctor tested temezapam and it was good for me. I go to a sleep specialist neurologist in NYC and he gives me the meds. I get 7 hours and without it get two. For me it is a lifesaver. I think it is best if you can and it works to go natural but for the people who have to take a med to live then that is okay too. Life is not so black and white. would i have rather had something natural work for me. Yes. Did it- no. Do i hope one day to be able to sleep naturally. yes…just as much as i want to swallow food again. I wrote this because without knowing a persons history or reasons for not sleeping it is easy to judge or say it is not right or healthy. We can not say what is right or best for anyone other then ourselves. BTW i have an autoimmune condition that causes both issues.

    • Jules, I do understand that black and white thinking is usually limiting. My role is not to judge but to offer choices that are backed by science and experience so that people who are seeking to heal their autoimmune conditions can find more options and freedom. I wish you the best in getting to the roots of your health issues. Take care!

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