The importance of sleep with our autoimmune diseases is a huge part of our health and happiness that we may not be prioritizing at the moment! Learn my key tips, relevant studies and extra guidance below so that your sleep can get back on track.
As Dr. Amy Myers points out in her book The Autoimmune Solution, twin studies have shown that only 25% of autoimmune disease is inheritable, leaving 75% related to environment and lifestyle choices.
This is really empowering when you think about it. It means that when you take steps to improve your environment and lifestyle, you can positively impact your autoimmune condition!
After being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis in 2016, I was able to achieve remission in just 6 months by making changes to my environment and lifestyle…and I’ve stayed there ever since.
Among all the changes you could make, there is ONE in particular that will optimize all your other efforts. The best part about focusing on this one area is that it doesn’t cost you a thing. In fact, it might be the single most effective action you can take to have more energy, feel better, boost your health, and get a handle on your autoimmune condition.
Ready for it???
We must learn to value sleep more than diet and exercise, or anything else really.
A study in 2012 showed how inadequate sleep negatively impacts the ability of fat cells to respond to insulin, one of the hormones that regulates metabolism, and weight and plays a major role in the development of diabetes which can all correlate as risk factors for various autoimmune diseases.
Another study in 2017 also found a link between short sleep duration and an increase in the progression of diabetes. This makes the importance of sleep quality a key component in preventing or reversing insulin resistance, which also relates to risks associated with diabetes, overall weight loss, hormone balance, and other diseases.
When sleep is inconsistent, disrupted, or short in duration, your body is not able to fully recover as it’s intended to. The circadian and cortisol rhythm get dysregulated, triggering a domino effect on other hormones and systems of the body. The detoxification system can’t adequately eliminate toxins that can trigger or contribute to autoimmune issues. These are just a few examples of how poor-quality sleep can play a role in your autoimmune scenario; it’s obvious to see the importance of sleep on your overall wellbeing!
Your body can ONLY heal in a relaxed state.
Alternatively, when you get adequate and restful sleep, the body can fully repair itself overnight. Hormone balance can be restored, digestion drastically improves, and nutrients are better absorbed and converted into useful tools to heal the body and keep it healthy.
Wouldn’t you agree that sleep is important for autoimmune disease for all these reasons?
Good quality sleep is a fundamental element of health, and it doesn’t cost you a thing, yet it is often overlooked as an important healing tool for autoimmune disease or quite frankly any other health condition.
Our modern-day world has made it all too easy to neglect the sleep our body truly needs.
Before Thomas Edison’s lightbulb, our great-grandparents would get as much as 10 hours of rest during an average weeknight. Today, we’re lucky to get eight hours on the weekend. The amount of actual weeknight sleep time has shrunk to an alarming 6.7 hours on average.
We are a world of the walking tired!
Not only are we getting less sleep than before, but the invention of the lightbulb has also allowed us to keep light going later into the day which disrupts the natural rhythm of the body.
Do you think our ancestors stayed up late burning the midnight oil by doing work to meet deadlines or to “catch up” or by telling campfire stories? Nope. They were lights out when the sun went down and up with the sun in the morning. The truth is, we’re not meant to be night owls. We are meant to be morning people—it’s in our very DNA. People are diurnal (aka day-dwelling creatures), unlike our beloved pet cats and many other nocturnal (night-dwelling) creatures. When you honor your biological design, you’ll have more abundant energy throughout the day, be able to fall asleep with ease at night, and have a greater chance of reversing or preventing autoimmune disease.
Here’s what you really need to know about the importance of sleep as it relates to autoimmune disease…
The Importance of Sleep Isn’t All About Quantity, But Quality.
Recently, researchers have been studying human primal sleep patterns more frequently, and guess what they are finding? We are meant to fall asleep within about two hours after sunset and naturally wake up about 20 minutes prior to sunrise.
The most critical time to sleep is from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., and the optimal time is 10 p.m. to sunrise (or just before). And to be clear, we’re talking about getting in bed by 10 p.m.; it’s got to be lights out.
Your body has an internal timer set by the cycles of the sun and moon, which is known as “the circadian rhythm.” This timer tells your body when to conduct specific repairs and replenishment during your sleep. Shortly after sunset and as 10 p.m. approaches, your body is scheduled to release human growth hormone (HGH) to repair cells all throughout the body.
The body also releases larger amounts of Melatonin around this time, not just for sleep, but also to support cellular repair and detoxification. Melatonin is a very powerful antioxidant as well.
As the night passes, the body facilitates deeper detoxification functions with the gall bladder, liver, and lungs from approximately midnight to 4 a.m.
These bodily functions can only optimally take place in a parasympathetic aka relaxed state, which is why they are best done while you are asleep.
In parasympathetic mode, your body sends all its blood flow and resources inwards to organs that support digestion, detoxification, circulation, and restoration.
If you miss this critical sleeping time, there’s NO getting it back—it CANNOT be replaced by sleeping more or sleeping in due to the body’s internal clock of scheduled events.
If you’re not hitting the critical sleep window of 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. to support healing autoimmunity, here are some insights about what your body’s sleep patterns might be trying to tell you and the importance of sleep hygiene:
“Night Owl” or Can’t Fall Asleep
This can correlate with abnormally elevated nighttime cortisol, low melatonin, and perhaps some kind of gut infestation like parasites, bacteria, and/or yeast overgrowth such as Helicobacter Pylori. These instances are usually all related. Parasites, bacteria, and yeast are nocturnal in nature, so as you’re trying to fall asleep, they’re becoming active and spiking your cortisol hormone, which keeps you up and disrupts melatonin production.
Fix Tip: Start to unwind after sunset by disconnecting from devices, dimming lights, and doing relaxing types of activities only. Try supplementing with melatonin and/or a magnesium mineral complex. If this doesn’t resolve it, get tested for parasites, bacteria, and yeast in your gut.
Snoozing or Slow to Get Up
This is commonly linked to low cortisol production in the morning and a slow thyroid. Low morning cortisol means your body has been under a LOT of stress (internal and external), and it’s having a hard time recovering, which impacts thyroid function downstream.
Fix Tip: Try meditating to reduce mental/emotional stress, and reduce physical stress on the body by minimizing environmental toxins, eating organic non-processed foods, and being asleep by 10 p.m. After committing to these changes if you still struggle to get up in the morning, get your cortisol tested (should be four markers throughout the day). It could be very depleted and need additional support.
Insomnia or Waking Up 2 a.m. – 4 a.m.
The most common culprits here are low blood sugar (or your body is having trouble regulating it) or poor detox ability. When you can’t regulate blood sugar, you experience highs and lows in your energy, which can cause irregular sleep or waking in the middle of the night. A big sign that this is what’s happening is waking up between 2 – 4 a.m. This is also the window for your body to do major detox work, so an inability to detox properly can cause sleep disruptions during this timeframe.
Fix Tip: Try eliminating gluten, sugar, soy, dairy, and alcohol, and eat a snack high in protein and/or fat one hour before bed to slow the release of sugar in the bloodstream and keep it neutral. If this doesn’t work, then applying the additional tips above should also help to balance cortisol, which helps to regulate blood sugar. You can also support your body’s detox process by eating naturally detoxifying foods and taking a liver supplement.
If you’re not sure about the quality of your sleep, there are a lot of great devices and apps to help you track it. And of course, you can always ask your health professional or an expert (like me) how you can improve your sleep.
When our sleep is out of sync, it’s our body’s natural feedback loop letting us know something is out of balance, and this smoke signal shouldn’t be ignored.
Sleep is a core function of life, and therefore an essential element for health. The importance of sleep with autoimmune disease can’t be ignored anymore.
So again, we must learn to value sleep more than diet and exercise, or anything else really.
And your first goal is to BE ASLEEP by 10 p.m. to honor your body’s natural rhythm and healing needs.
Drop a comment below if you’re going to commit to better sleep!