To Sleep Perchance to Dream

Causes of Sleeping Disorders
and What You Can Do About Them

One of the most common complaints I see these days is difficulty sleeping.

This may not be the main reason someone comes to my office, but very often it accompanies the presenting problem.

The most common sleep disturbance pattern is someone who is able to go to sleep relatively easily, but who wakes up in the middle of the night. Any number of things can cause or contribute to this issue. Below are the most common ones I see:

  1. Elevated Stress Hormone – Cortisol is the adrenal hormone related to immediate survival. Normally it should settle down at night. When it’s elevated then, the body is in a ‘fight or flight’ mode, which can interfere with normal sleep. One of the most common causes of this is some sort of infection in the body. This could be a fungal (candida for example), bacterial, viral or parasitic infection.
  2. Low Blood Sugar – When blood sugar is low, it kicks off a Sympathetic fight / fright / flight reaction activating the adrenals to raise blood sugar. Blood sugar imbalances are a major stressor on the body and need to be managed effectively.
  3. Nutrient Deficiencies – Nutritional deficiencies may be associated with or even cause sleep problems. In particular, low magnesium levels are common. Magnesium is used up rapidly in times of great physical exertion and in stressful times.
  4. Mental and Emotional Stress – Interrupted sleep pattern from daily stress stimulates the same “fight or flight” reaction as other stressors. The key to recognizing this is what I refer to as “Busy Brain Syndrome.” That is the tendency when waking at night to worry over the day’s events or what may happen in the future.
  5. Other Hormone Imbalances – Excess estrogen with insufficient progesterone, decreased levels of melatonin and other hormone imbalances will also contribute to the problem. These are once again related to adrenal function.
  6. Neurotransmitter Imbalances – When brain chemistry is out of whack, it can most definitely affect sleep. Either too high a level of excitatory neurotransmitters or too low a level of inhibitory neurotransmitters can cause this.

It’s not uncommon to see all of the above in the same person. In fact, any stressor on the body has the potential to create this type of sleep problem.

How to Sort This Out

There are specific ways to help determine which stressor or stressors may be affecting sleep.

For example, a blood glucose monitor can determine blood sugar levels when awakening at night. Elevated readings (above the 90-100 range) indicate a problem. If that’s the case then it makes sense to also pick a day to check levels on arising and before each main meal.

Since magnesium is commonly deficient in the modern diet, gradually adding magnesium supplements can help determine if this is a cause of the problem.

Because stress on one kind or another is always involved, it also makes sense to do an adrenal stress profile. This is a saliva test that measures stress hormone levels (Cortisol) over the course of a day. It will also determine the amounts and ratios of other crucial hormones such as DHEA, Progesterone, Testosterone, Estrogen and Melatonin.

If need be, we can also check levels of primary neurotransmitters. Often bringing these back into normal ranges makes a huge difference in quality of sleep.

Regardless of the cause, it’s crucial to get sufficient sleep in order to function well during the day. Don’t let sleep issues go on indefinitely without addressing them.


William Wolcott, private communication on the Metabolic Typing Advisors private forum.

Hyperhealth Pro Database, In-Tele-Health, Hansville, WA, 2008.

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