Episode 73: Why Can’t I Sleep?

In this episode, Dr. Lisa and Dr. Toni provide some updated info you need to know about sleep, especially if your sleep has been impacted by perimenopause and the pandemic. Want to stop gaining weight and craving carbs and sugar? Want more energy and better moods? Want to lower your risk of cancer, dementia and diabetes? Don’t wait to sleep when you’re dead!

Did you know?

2/3 of people in developed nations fail to sleep at least 8 hours a night!

Why do you need to get a good night’s sleep?

Research shows that the less sleep you get, the shorter your life.

You can’t make up for a poor night’s sleep by sleeping more the next night. 

As you age, your sleep can be more fragile and sensitive than when you’re younger.

Insufficient or poor sleep can:

  • Double your risk of cardiovascular disease
    • 24% increase in heart attacks after lose an hour with daylight savings time change in spring 
  • Make otherwise healthy people appear prediabetic on blood tests (even just after a few nights of poor sleep)
  • Contribute to weight gain
    • crave more simple carbs and sugar
    • insulin increases, can lead to insulin resistance
    • it takes 40% longer to regulate your blood sugar after a high carb meal
    • lowers leptin and increases ghrelin, impacting your appetite
    • 4-5 hours of sleep a night can increase daily calorie intake by 300 and contribute to gaining an extra 10-15 pounds over a year
  • Reduce your cognition or ability to think and problem solve
  • Put your body in fight or flight mode
    • cortisol increases which can make it more difficult to sleep, can become a vicious cycle due to overactivity of stress response pathway in brain
  • Double your risk of getting cancer when you get less than 6 hours sleep a night
  • Make you more likely to catch viruses such as the common cold
  • Cause your amygdala to be more activated, so you are more emotionally reactive
  • Reduce the work of your glymphatic system to clear out amyloid plaques and prevent dementia
    • even after 1 night of 4 hours sleep, more amyloid plaque in your brain is possible
  • Cause more accidents from drowsy driving than drugs and alcohol
    • Less than 5 hours sleep makes you 3 times more likely to crash your car

What can you do if your sleep is interrupted?

There is a time and a place for napping for sleep deprived moms. 

A research study by NASA in 1990s showed that even 26 min naps increased alertness by 50% and increased performance on a task by 34%

What is a good night’s sleep?

  • Adults: 7 to 9 hours a night 
    • Total sleep time, not just your time in bed
  • Fall asleep within 20 minutes
  • Wake up zero to several times a night with the ability to fall back asleep easily
  • Wake before alarm
  • Optimal bedtime depends on which chronotype you are
    • 40% of people are morning types or morning larks
    • 30% are evening types or night owls
    • 30% fall somewhere in between

Signs you are not getting enough sleep:

1. After waking up in the morning, could you fall back asleep at 10 or 11 am?

2. Can you function optimally without caffeine before noon?

3. Do you need your alarm to wake up?

What controls sleep?

  • Circadian clock: your inner time-keeper, which is temperature and enzyme dependent
    • Cortisol – regulates metabolism, blood sugar and inflammation
      1. supports memory, salt/water balance, blood pressure, immune response and more
      2. Helps body respond to stress
    • Melatonin – made in pineal gland
      1. Darkness triggers release
      2. Daylight stops release
      3. Supports sleep and detoxification
      4. Promotes bone health and immunity
      5. Antioxidant and potential cancer-protective effects
      6. Can influence reproduction and hormones
  • Adenosine – inhibitory neurotransmitter that inhibits the bodily processes associated with wakefulness
    • Adenosine exerts sleep pressure by accumulating in your bloodstream when you’re awake which makes you sleepy
    • As we sleep, we breakdown adenosine via an enzyme and your brain’s rate of adenosine metabolism determines the quality of your deep sleep
    • Caffeine – from green or black tea, coffee, chocolate, soft drinks – Stimulates you  by blocking adenosine binding to receptors so you can’t fall asleep or get into deep sleep
    • This reduction in adenosine activity leads to increased activity of the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate
  • Lowered body temperature
    • Your body temperature must fall by 1 degree C to trigger and support sleep

Sleeping pills:  

  • Act as a sedative, not producing true sleep
  • Doesn’t allow your brain to consolidate memories like regular sleep does
  • Associated with increased cancer risk when you use more than 3 times over one year


  • THC acts as a sedative, not producing true sleep
  • Can create rebound insomnia if you stop
  • Can create dependence and paranoia
  • CBD may help your sleep without negative effects of THC

What can cause you to have a poor sleep?

External causes like:

  • Blue light
  • Sounds and movements from your kids, pets, partners, neighbours
  • Blood sugar issues
  • Stimulants like caffeine
  • Alcohol and certain medications

Internal causes like:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • Sleep apnea and snoring
  • Pain
  • Urinary problems
  • Skin rashes or itchy skin
  • Hot flashes

Lab tests and investigations you need to consider:

  • DUTCH for melatonin, cortisol and other hormones
  • Snoring: food sensitivities, allergies
  • Pelvic floor physiotherapy
  • Pain: acupuncture, osteopathy, physiotherapy, etc.
  • Sleep study with medical doctors specially trained in sleep science

How Can You Get a Good Night’s Sleep?

  • Get daylight exposure
  • Exercise earlier in day
  • Balance your blood sugar and limit your sugar intake
  • Limit caffeine intake
    • Half life is about 6 hours and quarter life is about 12 hours, as you get older, you can tolerate less
    • Consider no caffeine after 1pm or for 12 hours before bed
  • Limit alcohol intake
    • Acts as a sedative – not real sleep – dulls down impulse control
    • Fragmented sleep with many short waking intervals more regularly and not deep sleep
    • Not restorative sleep with less time in REM
  • Reduce bladder irritating foods like citrus, spicy foods, carbonated beverages
  • Journal before bed – unload thoughts and “to-dos”
  • Reduce screen exposure
    • One study found even reading on an iPad versus a print book suppressed melatonin levels by 50% and delayed the onset of sleep by many hours.
  • Sleep in a cool, dark room
    • Turn thermostat down to 15-19 C or 60-67 F
  • Try out essential oils like lavender or cedarwood – diffuse or mix in carrier oil and put on bottoms of feet
  • Calming bedtime routine like meditation and a warm bath or shower helps cool you down by creating vasodilation after
  • Cortisol-balancing herbs in tea or supplement form:
    • TEAS: Tulsi, Chamomile, Lavender, lemon balm
    • Magnesium
    • Passionflower
    • GABA
  • Melatonin
    • 0.5 to 3mg is usually enough, while 5-10mg or more can shut down your natural production and produce more side effects like morning grogginess
    • Best used for jet lag from travel or as we age 
  • Progesterone support if needed
  • Consider a sleep divorce – sleep in a separate room from your partner if they snore
  • Don’t lay awake in bed longer than 20min so you don’t associate context of being awake with your bed
  • Seek out a psychologist trained in CBT-I for more personalized support

Sleep tools you can use:

  • Sleep cycle app, Oura ring, Whoop strap
  • Meditation apps like Insight Timer
  • Blue light glasses
  • Ear plugs
  • White noise machine, fan, humidifier, air purifier
  • Red light bulbs and night lights
  • Weighted blanket like Zonli

Today’s Mama Must Have:

Dr. Lisa loves putting a tea bag or two of lemon balm or chamomile tea in Stuart’s bath and using Badger sleep balm on the backs of Stuart’s hands and his feet for extra sleep support.

Dr. Toni is a big fan of Cyto-Matrix’s Mag Matrix magnesium liquid for Frankie and Bach Flower Rescue Remedy night spray for the whole family. 

Dr. Toni’s next HypnoBirthing info session for expecting parents looking to trust their instincts and their body during labour and birth is happening in May. Join her at https://www.hypnobirthingcalgary.com/register

Dr. Lisa’s Wild Collective in Fall 2021: get on the waitlist: wildcollectivetoronto.com

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Stay safe and healthy everyone!