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     2355 Canyon Blvd.   |   Suite 102   |   Boulder, CO 80302

Sleep: Causes of Poor Sleep & Natural Remedies For a Better Night Sleep

Do you fall asleep easily only to lie in bed wide awake at 3 a.m.? Or maybe it’s easy to fall asleep but you wake up exhausted? Do you dread bedtime because you have such a hard time sleeping?

Nobody wants to stay awake in the middle of the night, mind racing through scenarios that may never come to pass. But good sleep is more than a desire – You need to sleep. Not only because sleep supports healthy digestion and detoxification, but because the world feels brighter after a good night’s sleep.

All of the studies on sleep deprivation agree – poor sleep can have far-reaching effects on your health. Some are cited below and they are quite discouraging, especially if you are someone who struggles with sleep. (Skip the next paragraph if you have stress-related sleep disorders!)

Poor sleep can cause cognitive decline, neurologic degeneration, depression, increased incidence of cardiovascular events, and many other health outcomes. In one 1894 study by a Russian scientist, a complete absence of sleep was fatal in puppies after only a few days. Aaaak!

Before you panic, you should know that Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine in Boulder, Colorado, has successfully helped many patients sleep better by finding and addressing the root cause of their sleep dysfunction. This article gives you our techniques for a better night sleep and a brief overview of the most common root causes of sleep dysfunction.

Dr. Fox’s Story

Sleep is a topic near and dear to my heart. In my third year of medical school, I lost the ability to fall and stay asleep. I don’t think I slept more than a few hours a night for over ten years or slept deeply for over 20 years.

Even though I sleep wonderfully most of the time now, I still consider sleep my weak spot. If anything is out of balance in my life, if my heart is heavy or my stress level is high, my sleep is affected. 

But my sleep patterns also give me valuable insight into what is out of balance with my health and heart. Sleep is my integrity meter, stress odometer, and most vulnerable truth. It shows me the parts of myself that need more attention and love, and where I need to let go. 

A restless mind may feel overwhelming when the lights are off when you lay awake and think about how exhausted you will be the next day. But remember – sleep dysfunction is treatable! And Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine wants to help you find deep, easy sleep again.

How Do I Stop My Mind From Racing at Night?

First, I want you to know that you are not alone. That’s why I shared my sleep story. I’ve been there and I know how frustrating it can be. 

So, before you panic, here are three tips to stop your mind racing at night. 

Focus on what makes you happy. List people, places, and things that make you feel grateful and make your heart overflow with love, joy, and gratitude. That list could include kittens snuggling, your sweet children, football, winning at ping pong – whatever puts you into your heart and out of your head.

Try listening to an audible book, podcast, or gentle music. Let the soothing sounds distract you from your thoughts as you listen to them with your eyes closed and the lights off. Ideally, choose something light-hearted and interesting enough to take you away from the madness, but boring enough for you to drift back off to sleep.

Do any kind of meditation. That might include a short mindfulness meditation, body scan, breathwork, or visualization exercise that appeals to you. Many meditation apps (Insight Timer, Headspace, Calm) offer free meditations specifically to help you sleep. Studies show that mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques are especially effective in improving sleep quality.

Along with these strategies, neutraceuticals can help to balance your sleep. Certain micronutrients support deeper, more restful sleep. They feed your brain, adrenals, parasympathetic nervous system, and limbic system to help you sleep through the night!

What is a good alternative to melatonin?

Melatonin is a commonly used natural sleep aid, and it’s especially effective for sleep induction. 

But if you’re looking for a good alternative to melatonin, here are some of my favorite supplements for sleep duration that won’t leave you tired in the morning. 

All of these tips helped get my sleep schedule back to normal, but none of them addressed the root cause of my sleep dysfunction. So, next, we will look at a few common causes of sleep dysfunction so you can learn where to look to get a good night’s sleep.

What to Check for a Good Night’s Sleep

As a functional medicine doctor, I look for the underlying dysfunction that causes sleep disturbances. Difficulty sleeping can have many organic causes from hormonal imbalances to an overabundance of stress. Here are a few of the most common root causes that may be disturbing your sleep.

Thyroid Imbalances

Thyroid imbalances can certainly cause sleep dysfunction. A low-functioning thyroid – also known as hypothyroid – may result in you waking up in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, an overactive thyroid – hyperthyroid – may make it hard for you to fall asleep. 

Thyroid imbalances are more common than people realize, and it’s the first thing I check when my sleep is out of balance. I typically recommend a full thyroid panel (TSH, FT3, FT4, RT3) for anyone struggling with chronic sleep dysfunction.

Adrenal Dysfunction

Cortisol – the stress hormone – is another common cause of a 3 a.m. wake-up or an inability to fall asleep. Your adrenal glands secrete cortisol as part of your “flight or fight” response. Optimally, your cortisol levels are highest in the morning and lowest in the evening.   

However, your adrenals can get “stuck” in a pattern where they may spike at bedtime or in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, your cells can’t distinguish between perceived stress and a true survival emergency. 

New parents, shift workers, and medical students are especially prone to this particular form of sleep dysfunction.  As is anyone who has been burning the candle at both ends, which turns out to be many of us!

If you’re suffering from dysfunctional sleep, I recommend a salivary adrenal test.  

Low Progesterone

Another contributing factor to sleep dysfunction is progesterone deficiency. Your low progesterone may be causing your sleep dysfunction, especially when combined with other symptoms like anxiety, irritability, impatience, anger, menstrual headaches, migraines, and heavy, painful, or irregular periods.

I think of progesterone as our “zen, calm” hormone. When it decreases, we lose our patience, are more irritable, and have a hard time sleeping.

I recommend getting your progesterone levels tested on days 17-21 of your cycle. And if your levels are low, bioidentical compounded progesterone may be something to consider with your functional medicine doctor.

Low Gaba

Low GABA levels in your brain can make you more prone to anxiety and insomnia. Gaba is one of your main inhibitory neurotransmitters that calms and balances your stimulatory neurotransmitters. Ask for a GABA supplement recommendation from your functional medicine provider or PCP because many GABA supplements don’t cross the blood-brain barrier and get urinated out.


MTHFR is a gene that affects how your body processes the amino acids from proteins. People with a SNP (or mutation) in this gene can have trouble with methylation, a critical process in the body that helps with detoxification, hormone clearance, and neurotransmitter clearance.

Certain MTHFR SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphism) can result in a higher risk for insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, and depression. I highly recommend you work with a physician who has experience with MTHFR because taking supplements without detailed information about your genetic makeup can cause elevated anxiety or insomnia. Schedule a treatment at Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine as both Dr. Reidhead and myself have experience treating MTHFR.

CIRS or Mold Toxicity

One of the most common symptoms of mold toxicity is insomnia. Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine specializes in diagnosing and treating mold toxicity. Check out this article here for more information.

Lyme Disease and its Co-Infections

A common co-infection in Lyme disease is Bartonella, a bacteria that can cause retractable insomnia in some people. Borrelia, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease can also cause insomnia. For more information about functional medicine treatments for Lyme disease, check out this article here.

If this list feels overwhelming, try not to worry. Finding the root cause is simply the first step to healing your relationship with sleep. So, while it may feel like a lot of information, the more you know, the easier it will be for you to identify the causes unique to you.

Schedule with Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine

A good night’s sleep is essential for vibrant health, vitality, brain function, and happiness. As someone who has healed my relationship with sleep, I encourage everyone to find the root cause of their sleep dysfunction, whether it’s mild or severe. 

If you’d like to discover the root cause of your sleep dysfunction with Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine, contact us to schedule an appointment today!

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Boulder, CO 80302

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Dr. Terri Rebibo Fox

Dr. Terri Fox is a holistic, integrative, functional medicine doctor in Boulder, Colorado. She works on your behalf as a medical detective searching for the underlying dysfunction, instead of just treating your symptoms. She has expertise in fatigue, bio-identical hormones, sleep disorders, gastro-intestinal dysfunction, and Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome from mold toxicity and Lyme disease.