5 common health issues that are messing with your sleep

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Sometimes an underlying health issue can mess with your sleep — these are 5 common problems.


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This story is part of New Year, New You, everything you need to develop healthy habits that will last all the way through 2020 and beyond.

There’s nothing more frustrating than losing sleep night after night and not knowing why. Sure, sometimes everyone has an off night or two —  but if it’s a consistent problem that’s affecting your quality of life, it could be something that needs more attention.

Besides making you feel just plain blah, missing sleep is not great for your health, especially if it’s chronic. Lack of sleep is linked to serious health problems like obesity, heart disease and mood disorders.

Whether you have full-on insomnia, or have noticed that your sleep quality is taking a hit lately, there could be a few underlying issues that are impacting your sleep. 

“If sleep has become problematic, and you either can’t fall asleep, are waking up in the middle of the night or are waking up still tired, definitely check into what’s going on inside of your body,” said functional medicine nurse practitioner, Maggie Berghoff, MSN, FNP-C. Berghoff, who works with patients facing sleep issues, recommends seeking out testing with your doctor to try to get a bigger picture of what’s happening in your body to help detect any issues that could be messing with sleep. 

Everyone is unique and you should seek out medical attention if you can’t sleep. Below are common (but sometimes undetected) health issues that are often lurking behind a sleep problem. 

Your diet

Poor nutrition habits can affect your sleep for a variety of reasons. If you’re not eating a proper balance of protein, fat and carbs (link to macro story) your blood sugar could be all over the place. And if you’re blood sugar isn’t regulated throughout the day, it can spike and fall again at night, which may wake you up. 

“Diet plays a large role in sleep regulation. Decreasing inflammatory foods that spike blood sugar levels such as sugar or simple carbs may improve sleep. Ridding the body of processed foods and items one is intolerant to (these can even be “healthy” foods like lettuce or lemons!) will also improve sleep quality and quantity,” Berghoff says. If you think you’re eating pretty healthy, but still experiencing problems, you can ask your doctor for a food intolerance test which can help you pinpoint potentially problematic foods.

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A diet too high in processed foods can sometimes cause problems with sleep.


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Specific vitamins and minerals are needed for good sleep, so if you have any type of deficiency, it could be affecting your sleep. “Vitamin B is typically linked to sleep quality, but if a person’s vitamin B is actually optimal, the culprit for that individual may be magnesium, zinc, or other nutrient deficiencies they may have.  

Another tip is to reconsider that bedtime snack. “I recommend avoiding eating just prior to bedtime. In fact, if you really want to raise your standards, stop eating three hours prior to going to bed,” Berghoff said.

Hormonal imbalance or thyroid issues

Your hormones are like little messengers in your body that tell it what to do, and that includes sleep (among other vital functions). If you suspect you may have hormonal balances or even a thyroid issue, you should ask your doctor about getting tested.

“If hormones are not properly regulated, it could impact sleep and your body temperature throughout the night. The same can be said for those racing thoughts keeping one from falling asleep,” Berghoff said.

Another issue to look out for is overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism. “If your thyroid gland is overactive, it can be especially problematic for a restful night of sleep, as your body is essentially in overdrive and not conducive to sleep,” Berghoff says.

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Using tech at night can disrupt your circadian rhythm. 


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Circadian rhythm disruption

Many people know that tech is messing with our sleep, and one of the biggest culprits is thought to be blue light.

“The circadian rhythm is the biological clock of the body. It helps to regulate your sleep and wake cycles. When it is improperly wired, such as when one has irregular sleep habits, or is exposed to blue light all day long and before bedtime, it will negatively impact sleep,” Berghoff says.  

One way to help “set” your circadian rhythm properly is by going outside and getting sunlight in the morning, afternoon and in the evening before it gets dark.

“Wearing blue light blocking glasses in the evening, turning your phone on nighttime mode, and using f.lux to red tint your computer screens in the evening will help,” Berghoff says.

Sleep apnea 

Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can not only affect your sleep quality, but can also put you at risk for different types of other health issues, like stroke. Sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing throughout the night. Oftentimes when you stop breathing you briefly wake up, which is not good for promoting deep, restorative sleep.

If you have sleep apnea a doctor may have you use a C-PAP machine that helps you breathe at night. Sleep apnea is associated with being overweight, and oftentimes people find relief after losing enough weight to help them breathe better. Sleep apnea requires testing to confirm, so check with your doctor if you suspect you may have it.

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Feeling constantly stressed or overwhelmed can affect your sleep at night. 


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Anxiety and Stress

A stressful day or week can keep anyone up at night, but sometimes it can lead to more chronic sleep problems. Even though everyone experiences stress, if you aren’t dealing with it in a healthy way or are too overwhelmed, it can put your body into a chronic stress state.

“A heightened sympathetic nervous system can impact sleep. This means your body is in “fight or flight” mode often, and you may not be properly balancing that stress-inducing system properly,” Berghoff said. 

It can be helpful to try incorporating relaxing activities before bed, like reading or journaling.

“Before bed, activate your parasympathetic (rest and digest) system with breathing techniques. I recommend to breathe in through your nose for five seconds, hold for five, exhale for five, and hold for five.  Repeat this two to three times to relax your body and calm your mind in preparation for healing sleep,” Berghoff suggests. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.



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