Simple steps may help
Dr. Michael S. Boss, a chiropractor, health and wellness practitioner, and the co-founder, president and wellness director of Elevate Life Wellness in San Antonio, says, “A common complaint among women of all ages is poor sleep. Many fall asleep only to wake up throughout the night. Some struggle falling asleep, and others fall in and out of sleep states all night long. Regardless, they complain they are tired and fatigued most of the time and feel like they never get enough sleep.
“Many things can contribute to sleep concerns,” says Dr. Boss, “including chronic or acute injury, lack of regular exercise, circadian rhythm disruption, neurotransmitter depletion, faulty digestion and gut function, weight struggles and the standard American diet. This goes for young and old alike. Add in the factors of raising children, having newborn babies and job and family responsibilities, and you can see the rocky road of metabolic dysfunction that awaits a young mom. When these problems continue for years, it is easy to recognize the cycles of poor health that ravage women of all ages.”
Sleep and health are related and can cause a myriad of issues that prevent women from functioning optimally. “Research on sleep and health has indicated that just one night of interrupted sleep is all it takes to make you feel more depressed, fatigued and confused,” shares Dr. Boss.
“There are multiple metabolic causes of poor sleep. These include physical pain issues, environmental issues and emotional causes,” Boss explains. “Even makeup, other beauty products and chemical shampoos as well as endocrine disruptors (substances that mimic and alter the function of hormones) like soy foods and GMO products can affect sleep. In addition, hormone imbalances usually related to stress physiology (adrenal fatigue) and lack of production of neurotransmitters and sleep hormones (serotonin and melatonin) are all it takes to cut short a good night’s sleep. But it could be what you are or aren’t eating that has you sleepless. The most common cause of poor sleep in women, however, is one that most people never even consider: poor nutrition and blood sugar dysfunction.
Most women don’t correlate their diet intake with poor sleep, but it is most often the critical factor.
“If you don’t eat a nutritious diet full of the micronutrients and macronutrients that your body requires, it cannot function at a high capacity. The ability to produce energy falters, and blood sugar levels will wax and wane, leading to sleep problems. A blood sugar issue called hypoglycemia could also be the reason you wake up at night and can’t get back to sleep,” Dr. Boss points out.
“Most who experience this sort of sleep concern don’t eat a nutritious diet and often snack on unhealthy, sugary items after dinner. Their glucose levels are on a twisted roller coaster ride, and their overall health and function suffers. The result — in the middle of the night, their blood sugar drops too low and they wake up. The adrenal stress hormone cortisol is stimulated in this situation, causing a person’s efforts to go back to deep sleep both futile and impossible,” he says.
San Antonio sleep researcher and medical co-director for adult sleep disorders at the Sleep Disorder Therapy and Research Center, Dr. Nagwa Lamaie sees women, in particular, dealing with insomnia or lack of sleep that could be related to other medical conditions. These include thyroid dysfunction, restless leg syndrome and pre- and postmenopausal changes. Narcolepsy is also a condition affecting women. “In my practice, it’s often females. I see about 50 percent of narcoleptics having fragmented sleep at night and hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness) during the day,” she says.
A patient’s history or witness history is helpful in detecting conditions, especially sleep apnea. “The typical symptoms are snoring or the elbow effect when a partner nudges you because there’s been a stop in breathing, which is worrisome,” Dr. Lamaie says. “Women are often surprised to learn they have sleep apnea. You think of an older obese man with a big stomach, but that isn’t necessarily so. I’ve diagnosed it in young, fit, petite women.”
Dr. Lamaie sees Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome occurring more in women. It is a sleep disorder where there is a struggle to breathe, as well as sleeplessness and extreme fatigue. Additionally, she treats Nocturnal Panic Disorder, which occurs more commonly in women than men. It is a condition where a patient will awake gasping or choking, sweating, with a racing heart and an impending sense of doom and fear of dying. “Often, typically about half the time, they suffer panic attacks during the day as well,” she explains.
“Finding solutions for better sleep can be frustrating and exhausting,” shares Dr. Boss. ”The healthier alternatives do not involve the use of sleeping medications that lead to addictive issues and various side effects. I always recommend having an evaluation with a functional wellness provider who has experience with the intricate causative factors with sleep issues. It is often as easy as eating a nutrient-dense diet, performing the right type of exercise, using specific supplements for your needs and practicing rest and sleep habits that work for you.”
Working with a psychologist, Dr. Lamaie uses cognitive behavioral therapy to treat some sleep disorders like insomnia. An analysis to determine potential causes is essential to determining treatment. “Hearing about the quality-of-life improvements from my patients after they have had sleep studies, thorough analysis and diagnosis, is very rewarding,” says Dr. Lamaie. They see a return of energy, a decrease of irritability, improved relationships and, most importantly, “It’s wonderful to hear about their life changes and to hear them say, ‘I have my life back.’”