Get Good Sleep to Beat Autoimmune

“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 is a hallmark of autoimmune disorders and a big risk factor for poor immune function, which none of us can afford right now. Add peri- or menopause to the equation and good sleep can become even more rare. Mark Menolascino, MD defines “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.1
  2. Our bodies and brains repair, reorganize, reset, restore and regenerate during sleep.2 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.3

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, 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. Before you reach for a sleeping pill, which studies show may be linked to higher mortality rates compared with people who don’t use them,4, get curious about why you are not sleeping well.

From a Functional Medicine perspective, we always ask why things are the way they are, to get to the root cause(s) level, which is where healing happens. I know it’s tempting to reach for a pill or a supplement; but when we don’t dig deeper, we stay stuck at the symptom level, drifting sideways, and never curing the actual problem(s). I encourage you to get curious and 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.

Here are 12 strategies to help you get better sleep:

Aim for 8 or more

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.5 Research is clear that < 6 hours a night negatively impacts gene expression.6Surprisingly, even a few lost hours of sleep is damaging.7

Get to Sleep By 10

Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan, a sleep expert and author of Tired But Wired: The Essential Sleep Toolkit writes, “The 90-minute phase before midnight is one of the most powerful phases of sleep, because it’s the period where the body is replenished and rejuvenated on every level – physically, mentally, emotionally and, I believe, spiritually as well.” Do what you can to move everything up earlier, like dinner at 6 pm, shutting down electronics by 9 pm, and getting in bed by 9:30 pm. Remember, time in bed does not equal time asleep. To track your actual sleep time, consider investing in an Oura ring. It’s one of my all time favorite tracking devices.

Get Some Morning Sun

Getting the right light exposure across daytime, evening, and night is crucial to helping you get regular deep sleep; and to help you fall alseep by 10 pm. 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. 8

Put Your Home In Airplane Mode

Electromagnetic 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.9 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. To test your home for EMF and other electromagnetic radiation levels, get a quality electric field measuring device

Block Blue Light at Night

Artificial lighting and electronics may be causing you serious sleep issues by disrupting your circadian rhythms.10 Wear amber or yellow colored “night-glasses” like “BluBlockers” 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.

Sleep Off Weight

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.11

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.

Use Essential Oils

One of the most gentle yet powerful sleep remedies may be essential oils. Of 15 quantitative studies and 11 clinical trials on the effects of inhaled essential oils on sleep quality, it was found that peppermint, lavender, and jasmine were the most effective aromatic essences in sleep quality12 Another gentle but effective remedy when you can’t sleep is to place a few drops of Five Flower Essences under your tongue.

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 that I have my earplugs and eye mask dialed in, I have the optimal dark & quiet environment for me.

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 notepad 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.

Tape Your Mouth Shut

The science on Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (aka OSA or just sleep apnea) is compelling. If you don’t sleep well, snore, are frequently tired, or have adrenal fatigue, you may be a mouth breather at night, which puts you at greater risk for diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and dementia. The gold standard may be to have a sleep study done; but it’s understandable if you don’t want to sleep in a hospital or sleep facility with electrodes, noise, and risk of infections. A simple solution may be to just tape your mouth shut at night. I’ve used this mouth tape every night for the past five years. I get fewer sore throats and colds, and I’ve noticed more energy and greater wellbeing overall.

Supplement Strategically

It took me months to dial in the right supplements. For me that means 3 grams time-released melatonin, liposomal melatonin if I wake up before 2 am, Gaia’s Sleep Maintenance herbal formula, and 500 mg of magnesium glycinate powder. If you have aches and pains, you might experiment with CBD tinctures. Quicksilver Scientific makes high-absorption, Full Spectrum (with 0.3% THC) or Broad Spectrum (0% THC) Hemp Extracts. To access a 10% discount on my Sleep Well supplement protocol on my Fullscript store, click HERE.

One of the best things you can do for your health and wellbeing is to get better sleep. Remember that time in bed does not equal time asleep. Can you get in bed a little earlier tonight? Which sleep strategies work for you? Share your successful sleep strategies in the comments below.

Sweet dreams!

photo by Lauren Kay

P.S: Want my help reversing an autoimmune condition?

If you live in the continental U.S. and are ready, willing, and able to invest in your best health, I offer Functional Medicine Total Health Transformation Programs over Zoom in collaboration with a skilled naturopathic doctor (ND). Get on my calendar for a free 30-minute discovery call.

1 Sleep 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, Reference
2 Sleep: 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, Reference
3 Sleep: 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, Reference
4 Sivertsen B, Madsen IE, Salo P, Tell GS, Øverland S. Use of Sleep Medications and Mortality: The Hordaland Health Study. Drugs Real World Outcomes. 2015;2(2):123-128. doi:10.1007/s40801-015-0023-8
5 Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS, MNeuroSci, etc., a leading expert in non-pharmaceutical applications to chronic illnesses, autoimmune disorders, and complex neurological disorders.
6 Effects of insufficient sleep on circadian rhythmicity and expression amplitude of the human blood transcriptome; Möller-Levet, Carla S., et al.;
7 Loss Of Sleep, Even For A Single Night, Increases Inflammation In The Body; Elsevier; Reference
8 Using the Power of the Sun to Improve Eyesight and Boost Immunity, Richard Stosser, Reference
9 Dr. Jack Kruse, Neurosurgeon & health educator, Reference
10 What’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
11 Endocrine Society. Losing 30 minutes of sleep per day may promote weight gain and adversely affect blood sugar and insulin. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 March 2015. Reference 
12 Angela S. Lillehei and Linda L. Halcon.The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.Jun 2014.441-451. Reference




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Palmer is a certified Functional Medicine Health Coach who has helped thousands of people reverse autoimmune conditions based on her own two-decade battle to successfully beat multiple sclerosis (MS). She’s the author of the Amazon #1 bestselling book, Beat Autoimmune, which has a powerful foreword by Functional Medicine pioneer, Mark Hyman, MD.

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