Sleep, Stress and the Gut

Sleep, Stress and the Gut

 

 Are you losing Sleep? We live a very stressful time in the world these days. Lots of people are coming in for sleep and gut issues related to stress.  At the time of this writing, there is a lot of scary upheaval shaking many of us to our core . There is a lot of fear, anger, and anxiety floating around and it is hard to avoid.   It has been a challenge for me personally to figure out how to balance my usual nature of tranquility and optimism with the disturbing stories I am exposed to lately. It is also a challenge to stay engaged while also taking healing space for myself. As a Healer, I know that before I can be of service to anyone else, I need to root into my spiritual and self care tools to keep myself clear and balanced.   Meditation, yoga, getting out in nature and physical exercise has been a key part of my sanity. And allowing myself to have social time with my friends has also been crucial to my sense of wellbeing.

 

It is more difficult to heal when one is in survival or trauma mode. A lot of what is going on in the world right now seems to be pulling people outside of their healing process and into engaging in the world in some way. This is, of course, an important step to take, but it also seems for real self reflection to occur one needs to have a quiet internal space so that healing can really deeply occur. This includes sleep. It is hard to go deep into one’s own process when stress levels are elevated and sleep is elusive.

When there is a constant state of crisis going on in the world and outward activity of all sorts is required, we usually tend to neglect our bodies. We lose sleep, our cortisol levels skyrocket, our gut health is disrupted, decisions are made from the survival and fear center rather than from the heart center. Decisions made from that place are often fear-based and may not pan out well in the long term.

Many in my community are coming in a crisis and trauma state for acute issues, and putting the slower chronic issues on the backburner for now. A crisis state triggers the Sympathetic nervous system which is known as the “fight or flight” state, while the “rest and relaxation” state uses the Parasympathetic nervous system.

One of the first places I see the flares happening is with sleep. People are having more difficulty sleeping right now. I think this is because a lot of people have their Sympathetic nervous system in a state of high arousal at the moment. Sleep and stress are related since as cortisol levels become elevated under duress, sleep often goes out the window. Elevated cortisol triggers the fight or flight response. The fight or flight response keeps you on high alert in case you have to respond to a crisis. Sleep is challenged.  Often the first sign that all is not well in Dodge City is issues with sleeping. Whether that includes falling asleep, staying asleep throughout the night or early morning waking, when stress is increased, sleep suffers.

 

What to do if cortisol is elevated due to stress? What if I cannot do anything right now to change the reality of the situation? This is where mindfulness and stress management techniques can be critical for health. Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, nature breaks are all important.

 

There are also many targeted non- drug supplements that can decrease cortisol levels so that help you sleep through the night without promoting sedation. Functional medicine testing can help me determine how far on the spectrum your stress or lack of sleep has affected you and how to remediate that. Not all supplements are equal and different stages of your condition require differing approaches.

Sleep issues can also be a result of poor gut health.

The gut is also known as the “Second Brain” Much great information has been written about this such as the GAPS Diet, Grain Brain, etc. When the Gut is out of balance due to disruptions in the microbiome (the bacteria that live inside our gut), or from Leaky Gut Syndrome (more about that here), Inflammation occur in the body. Inflammation triggers Cytokine production from the white blood cells. Cytokines are also produced when one has a fever, and you know how wonky your brain feels when you are feverish.   So imagine how a low level of inflammation produced by an imbalanced gut affects your neurotransmitters. This affects the brain as well as cognition. When cognition is affected, sleep and your REM cycles will also be affected.

Scientists have found that gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA, all of which play a key role in mood (many antidepressants increase levels of these same compounds)

Getting proper sleep is extremely important to ones health as lack of sleep exacerbates psychiatric imbalances (anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, mood disorders), depresses the immune system and increases the risk of mistakes and accidents while driving. Overall, lack of sleep impairs performance much in the same way that having a few alcoholic drinks impairs cognitive and motor performance. Of course sometimes poor sleep cannot be avoided as when caring for a newborn , but then the mothers who are breastfeeding get the added protection of oxytocin which helps offset the lack of sleep one gets when caring for a baby.

  1. Manage your stress.If life is throwing a lot of challenges your way be sure to find healthy ways to de-stress. Yoga, meditation, exercise, massage therapy are often helpful tools to keep your neurotransmitters firing optimally. Which brings me to …
  2. GABA , gamma amino butyric acid is a neurotransmitter that is naturally secreted by the brain.GABA has a sedating effect on the body and is available in supplement form. This can be taken at bedtime but be sure to check with your practitioner for proper dosages.
  3. Warm milk and turkey contain the amino acid tryptophan which increases seratonin production.Seratonin is a mood elevator as well as a relaxer. Unfortunately tryptophan is no longer available in the United States as a supplement but its precursor 5-HTP is widely available.
  4. Avoid reading the news or watching TV or movies before bed.This can also stimulate the brain in ways that are not conducive to sleep.
  5. Peri-menopausal women who are experiencing sleep difficulty should also look at their relative estrogen/progesterone balance.Women with too much relative estrogen and not enough relative progesterone often experience sleep problems, especially right before their periods. Natural progesterone is more effective and has less side effects so consider a visit to check in about your hormone levels.
  6. Try and keep your bedroom exclusively for sleeping and sex.Reading, TV watching, working, computing in the bedroom can make it difficult to feel like you are retreating when you do everything else in the same room. An uncluttered soothing atmosphere can also improve sleep.
  7. A healthy diet lower in carbs and higher in proteins may also help to balance blood sugar and neurotransmitters as well as a lifestyle that includes regular exercise is also conducive to better sleep.
  8. If you must work the night shift, please keep it to a minimum and try to find a better job as the nighttime is the most active time for the liver which aids in cellular repair and detoxification.Patients of mine who work the night shift almost always find that their health worsens even if they get their sleep during the day.
  9. Sleep well my friends. Nighty -night!!!!

  Having trouble sleeping? I would like to invite you to work one on one either in person if you are local, or long distance through video or phone, I am currently accepting new patients. You can also opt to have a FREE 15 minute phone consult with me to see if you and I are a good fit for each other! To schedule any appointment, you can do this online at https://intakeq.com/booking/NaURW8 or by calling my office (303) 443-2206 M-F 8:30-5 Mountain time to speak with my receptionist at the Corca Sleep Center. I hope to hear from you soon! Be well!

 

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