How functional lab tests find the root cause of your insomnia
Updated: Mar 23
Does your blood work come back “normal” but you can’t sleep?
There’s something going on in your body that’s causing your sleep issues. But blood work doesn’t usually find it.
Functional lab tests will uncover why you can’t sleep.
Here are 3 ways functional lab tests differ from blood work and how I use them to find what’s causing your sleep issues.
1. Prevent instead of diagnose disease
Doctor's blood work looks for specific markers that are way out of range to diagnose disease. Functional lab tests, on the other hand, get their name because they show us how different systems in your body are functioning. They don’t pinpoint anything specifically; instead they show the big picture of how different systems in your body are working as a whole. They look for imbalances that we can address before they develop into a disease or disorder. These tests also show me what’s hidden that’s causing your insomnia, things like hormones, your gut, mineral imbalance and food sensitivities to name a few.
A great example of a helpful functional lab test is the GI (gastrointestinal) map. This is a stool test that shows what's living in your gut: the good, the bad and the ugly. It looks at bacteria, parasites, yeast and more. I can see the overall balance in your gut so I know what to recommend to get things back in balance.
But what's really cool about this test is that it also has markers for how other systems in your body are working. Things like digestion, your liver, your immune system, inflammation and the health of your gut wall. One test can give so much information about many systems in the body!
Here’s the link to a sample report of GI Map test results look like so you can see how helpful this test is for figuring out why you can’t sleep!
All of my clients have some sort of gut issue that’s contributing to their sleep issues! Pathogens are nocturnal and so it’s at night that they’re eating, excreting and releasing a lot of toxins. All of those toxins create a lot of inflammation. Your body then releases cortisol to deal with that inflammation and that cortisol wakes you up. Your mind will be racing, maybe even your heart is beating fast, even if you don’t feel stressed about anything.
If your gut wall is damaged, what we call leaky gut, then your body has tons of inflammation day and night which can also wreck your sleep. That’s why I work on eliminating pathogens and then rebuilding the gut to lower inflammation.
2. Normal range vs optimal range
Another difference between doctors' blood work and the functional lab tests I do are how I interpret them. When you get any results back from a lab, they indicate whether you are in range or not. This range is based on the average of all the people taking the test. Then about 25% on either side of that average is called within range or “normal”.
The first problem is that these ranges are based on many sick people who are taking this test. Take a thyroid test for example. Far more sick people than healthy people are taking that test. So what labs call “normal” is really what’s normal for sick people with symptoms.
The second problem is that what is “normal” is not the same as what is optimal. As a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition practitioner, I've been trained to look for the optimal range. This is much narrower than the clinical lab range. You don't want your test results to be “normal.” You want them to be optimal! Optimal means the ranges people are in when they’re healthy without any symptoms. And if your results aren’t optimal, then we work toward moving them to optimal.
As an example, a lab calls TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) in normal range if it’s between 0.5-3.0 μU/mL. The optimal range is a lot narrower at 1.4-2.2 μU/mL. I had a client whose TSH was 0.9 so her doctor told her she was fine because she was in range. But she was having symptoms of low TSH, like cold hands and feet and infertility, so she wasn’t fine!
3. Root cause, not band-aids
Another way that my training differs from reading a doctor's blood work is how I deal with your test results. If your cortisol levels are high at night for example, I don’t just suggest a supplement to lower cortisol. That would be putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. I want to know why your cortisol levels are high, and it’s usually because of inflammation. You want cortisol to be dealing with that inflammation so suppressing cortisol can make you even worse.
Looking at the other tests will show me why your cortisol is high. It could be a parasite or blood sugar issues or a congested liver (or all 3!). Dealing with what’s causing your high cortisol is how I help you solve the problem long-term. Your doctor would give you something to lower cortisol and suggest retesting. On the next test when your cortisol levels are normal, he will claim to have gotten everything back in balance. But you don't feel balanced and you may feel even worse.
Here’s an example of what functional lab tests will tell us. One of my clients, BJ, is 44 years old and has had sleeping issues for at least 10 years. He was alternating between Trazadone, Xanax, Advil Pm and tart cherry juice every night to sleep. His only other symptom is seasonal allergies.
He took the 4 labs in my program: the GI Map, DUTCH hormone test, Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis and food sensitivities. Once I got his test results from the lab, I went into detective mode to find out what’s keeping him from sleeping
His GI Map showed 2 parasites!, low good bacteria and a damaged gut wall.
His hormone test indicated low testosterone and DHEA and elevated nighttime cortisol (which is explained by the parasites).
His food sensitivity test showed that cow’s milk and eggs are causing inflammation and that he has candida.
The mineral test pointed to slow metabolism, low thyroid, low adrenals, and blood sugar imbalance and that he’s in an exhausted, burnt out state from physical and mental stress.
He has a lot going on in his body and this is what I see with many of my clients.The cool thing is that now I know what to work on!
We’re going to lower his cortisol by taking a break from the foods he’s sensitive to and by dealing with the parasites. Once his cortisol is lowered, his body can focus on making testosterone and DHEA so those will correct on their own.
I recommended magnesium, vitamin K2, sodium and potassium to rebalance his minerals which will help everything else get back in balance. And we worked on rebuilding his gut with probiotics and l-glutamine as well as herbs to get rid of the parasites. I also recommended changes like making sure to eat dinner every night and focusing on eating for his metabolic type to stabilize his blood sugar.
As you know, mental stress affects your sleep, too. BJ has had chronic stress the last few years with his wife being sick. He’s also worried that his sleep issues are genetic since his father takes sleeping pills. I helped him handle stress better and worked on his thoughts about sleep to address the mental part of his insomnia.
Doing all of these things at once to get everything back in balance is key! Addressing both the body and the mind is key, too. This is why trying one thing at a time doesn’t work. Plus, if you only look at hormones but ignore the gut, the gut will prevent the hormones from getting back in balance. Everything in the body is connected to everything else. If you don’t handle stressful times well, your body won’t be able to heal.
Now he says: “I can fall asleep on a consistent basis without drugs. I can usually fall back asleep when I wake up in the middle of the night. Now I feel much more confident about sleep. It's a huge accomplishment to not need sleeping pills anymore. YAY!!”
As you saw with BJ, I use the science of lab testing to recommend alternative ways to get your body back in balance. I suggest supplements and changes to your diet and look at exercise, stress and more to help you sleep. It’s the perfect marriage of science and complementary medicine.
My goal is to be the last person my clients see about their sleep problems. Your body needs and wants to sleep and if you aren’t, there’s something in your body that’s stopping you. We can find out what it is and fix it, naturally and permanently.
If using the science of lab testing to fix your sleep sounds perfect for your logical mind, let’s chat. We’ll talk about what’s going on with your sleep and how we can work together to improve your sleep so you can live a rested, healthy and long life!