5 Reasons You Can't Sleep That No One Is Talking About
Updated: Feb 18
“Why can't I sleep” is one of the top search phrases in Google. So many people struggle to sleep well, and I know from personal experience how frustrating it is to not know why.
As a functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner, I believe that most insomnia for most people is caused by something physically going on in the body. There’s always a mental component, too, whether it's stress or anxiety or negative thoughts about sleep, but there is usually a physiological reason as well.
From what I've learned in my training in functional lab testing, there are five main physical reasons why you can't sleep. These five reasons are what I want to share with you today. I want to give you hope that there is a reason you aren't sleeping and that you can find out why and fix it. And no, I’m not going to tell you about blue light, melatonin and your mattress that you read everywhere else.
The first common cause of insomnia is hormone imbalance. This can be sex hormones like low estrogen and progesterone or high testosterone, all of which can cause sleep issues. Finding out your hormone levels is key to overcoming your sleep problems.
But as a functional medicine practitioner, I don't just treat the test results. That means that if you have low estrogen or progesterone, I'm not necessarily going to suggest supplementing with those hormones. My goal is to find out why those hormones are low so that we can get things back in balance and not have to take meds or supplements forever.
There are other hormones that can affect your sleep, especially cortisol. I’ve found that many of my clients have insomnia because their bodies are releasing cortisol at night when it shouldn't be. Cortisol suppresses melatonin and wakes you up, making it hard to quickly fall back asleep. This cortisol surge explains why you wake up in the night with racing thoughts that you can't control even if you don't feel stressed out about something in particular. Figuring out why your body is releasing cortisol is key and that's what I will get into with the next four causes of insomnia.
Bloodwork shows your hormone levels at that second in time. I use a dried urine test, called the DUTCH, because it shows the average of your hormones over a 24 hour period, it gives your cortisol pattern throughout the day, and I can see how your hormones are being used by your body.
2. Food Sensitivities
Another reason you may be waking up at night or having a hard time falling asleep is from eating food you're sensitive to. I don't mean being allergic to foods, like kids going into anaphylactic shock from eating peanuts. I'm talking about foods that your body is reacting to but it can be hard to tell because there's often a delayed response. For example, if you stop eating gluten for a while and then start again, you may notice that it makes you feel tired or it gives you brain fog or muscle aches.
Many people are sensitive to the big five foods: gluten, dairy, eggs, soy and corn. You could also be sensitive to foods that we think of as healthy, like broccoli or salmon. The more food sensitivities people have, the more unhealthy their guts are. The idea isn’t to avoid these sensitive foods forever. The goal is to eliminate those foods temporarily and work on healing the gut so that you're able to tolerate most foods in the future.
Eating foods you are sensitive to affects your sleep because it causes low-grade inflammation day and night. Cortisol is an anti-inflammatory hormone and so it comes to the rescue to deal with that inflammation. When that happens at night, it wakes you up and makes it hard to go back to sleep.
There are two ways to find out what foods you are sensitive to. One option is to do an elimination diet where you eliminate the five common foods for thirty days and then reintroduce them one at a time to see what happens. The problem with this method is that it can be hard to stick to and it only identifies five foods.
The other option is to do a food sensitivity test that tests for about a hundred and fifty different foods. This test obviously gives a lot more information about many different foods and about how healthy your gut is in general. That's why I run a food sensitivity test with my clients so I can quickly find out what they’re reacting to that’s causing inflammation. Then we know what foods to eliminate temporarily while you heal.
3. Mineral imbalance
Another major cause of insomnia is mineral imbalance. This can get pretty complicated so I'm going to try to simplify it for today. The most important thing to know is that minerals need to be in balance with each other. Too much calcium, for example, can deplete magnesium.
Both low calcium and low magnesium can contribute to insomnia. If you’ve struggled with sleep, you’ve probably tried magnesium. While magnesium is critical for sleep, you need the right balance of other vitamins and minerals to absorb magnesium. So if you don't have any boron, for example, then you won't be able to absorb the magnesium supplements that you're taking. This explains why magnesium doesn't help everyone sleep, even though you might need it.
Calcium supplements can be dangerous if your body puts calcium in your soft tissues instead of your bones. You need vitamin K2 to put calcium in the right place. Calcium can also build up and create what's called a calcium shell that causes joint and muscle pain, slow metabolism, osteoporosis, chronic fatigue syndrome and hypothyroid symptoms.
Analyzing minerals is extremely complex but it’s also an important piece of your health and sleep. I use a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis test to assess mineral status and deficiencies. This test also gives insight into how many systems of the body are working: thyroid, adrenals, blood sugar, nervous system, stress, hormones and more. With this valuable information, we can get minerals back in balance to help get your systems back in balance, too.
4. An unhealthy gut
The fourth reason why you’re waking up at night has to do with your gut. When your gut wall is damaged and has gaps between the cells, undigested food particles, toxic waste products and bacteria leak through the gut wall and enter the bloodstream. These toxins cause lots of inflammation, day and night. You develop a leaky gut from stress, toxins like antibiotics and pesticides, eating foods you're sensitive to and gut infections from parasites or candida.
Another way the gut affects sleep is called dysbiosis, or an imbalance of bad and good bacteria. Good bacteria are in charge of making B vitamins and vitamin K as well as neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA. In fact, up to 90% of melatonin is made in the gut. When bad bacteria run the show, the good bacteria can’t do their job of producing these hormones that help you feel good, relax and sleep. That’s why many people who have insomnia also experience anxiety and/or depression and other mental disorders.
Having a parasite or other infection in your gut can also sabotage your sleep. The middle of the night is when these creatures are active and releasing toxins, which causes lots of inflammation. The most common reason I find my clients wake up at 3 or 4am is because they have a gut infection. These infections also lead to gut dysbiosis and leaky gut. It’s impossible to heal the gut and for beneficial bacteria to thrive if you don’t address the infection.
5. Your liver
The last common little-known cause of insomnia is your liver. When your liver is backed up and can’t process all the toxins in your body, those toxins continue circulating and causing lots of inflammation. According to the Chinese meridian clock, between 1 and 3am is when the liver is most active cleansing the blood. If you have a parasite which I talked about above, it’s releasing many toxins at this time. So not only is the parasite causing inflammation and waking you up, it’s also releasing more toxins than your body can handle which wakes you up. It’s a double whammy!
Not only is the liver your body’s filter and protector, it’s also important for your immune system and energy production. It's a source of bile which breaks down fats, it stores glucose as glycogen for future energy and it makes food available by metabolizing carbs, protein and fats. If you aren’t digesting food well and you’re feeling tired often, there’s a good chance your liver needs help.
There are two phases of liver detoxification. Many liver supplements include things like B vitamins, milk thistle and glutathione. While these support phase I detox, your body needs amino acids from protein for phase II detox. For this reason, doing a juice cleanse to help your body detoxify doesn’t always help. The fast will support phase I, but without amino acids for phase II all the toxins will continue circulating throughout the body and causing inflammation. And you know by now why inflammation sabotages your sleep!
These are just some of the reasons why you’re not sleeping well and many of my clients have more than one of these. Functional lab testing will tell us what’s going on in your body that’s causing your insomnia so that we can correct it and improve your sleep and your health.
Booking a free discovery call with me is the first step to solving your sleep problems once and for all. We’ll talk about what’s going on with your sleep, what you've tried so far and how lab testing will help us find what’s causing your insomnia so we know how to fix it. If your doctor, your therapist, and your psychiatrist haven’t been able to help you, this is your answer. I look forward to talking to you!