What is Vitamin D Insomnia?
Nearly 4 out of every 5 adults take at least one multivitamin or supplement. That’s almost 90% of the adult population. Poor diet, hectic lifestyles, and medical conditions can lead to vitamin deficiencies. Most multivitamins provide a daily dose of vitamins A, B, C, D along with iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium — just to name a few.
In this article, we’ll be focusing on vitamin D. This nutrient is found in red meat, oily fish, and egg yolks. Outside of the foods you eat, the sun is your main source of this important vitamin. While vitamin deficiencies cause a long list of side effects including headache, brittle nails, and hair loss, they can also cause sleep problems including insomnia.
Here we’ll take a closer look at what role vitamin D plays in your sleep patterns and what you can do to overcome this form of insomnia including options for insomnia treatment at home.
The Importance of Vitamin D
All vitamins and nutrients are important for development, cognitive function, and overall health. Each one plays a unique role in how your body and brain function. Vitamin D helps regulate how much phosphate and calcium are in your body. These nutrients are essential for healthy bones, teeth, and muscles. Lack of vitamin D can result in bone deformities in children and chronic bone pain in adults — a condition known as osteomalacia.
In addition to strong bones and teeth, vitamin D plays a crucial role in the overall health and function of both your body and brain by supporting healthy immune and nervous systems. It also regulates insulin levels which is important for managing a diabetes diagnosis. Other benefits of vitamin D include healthy lung function and cardiovascular health. Some studies suggest that vitamin D may reduce the expression of certain genes responsible for cancer development.
When your body and brain aren’t functioning at optimum levels, your sleep patterns are one of the first things to be compromised. Chronic bone pain like that associated with osteoporosis can make it nearly impossible to fall and stay asleep. Research shows there’s also a connection between vitamin D deficiency and RLS (restless leg syndrome), which is another common cause of insomnia. Poor lung and heart health can lead to other sleep disorders including sleep apnea. Incorporating plenty of vitamin D into your life is about more than just having beautiful hair and teeth. It’s about supporting your overall well-being and preventing long-term or chronic insomnia. This condition alone can cause a myriad of symptoms and side effects including problems with focus and memory, mood swings, weight gain, increased anxiety, and even depression.
The Role of Vitamin D in Sleep
The story doesn’t end with the fact that vitamin D is important for overall health and wellness. This nutrient may play a significant role in achieving healthy sleep patterns. Without it, you may struggle to fall and stay asleep and ultimately develop vitamin D insomnia.
Here are some details on the specific impact of vitamin D on sleep.
Regulates Pain and Inflammation
Chronic pain is a leading cause of insomnia. It can be difficult for pain sufferers to find a comfortable sleeping position and when they do, they wake frequently to reposition themselves. The pain itself can be extremely distracting and distressing, causing increased anxiety — another trigger for insomnia.
While vitamin D doesn’t act as a pain reliever, it does help reduce inflammation and pain in some people. By regulating the production of immune cells and inflammatory cytokines, vitamin D can reduce inflammation in your muscles and joints. Inflammation causes swelling, which then creates a buildup of tissues that press against nerve endings, triggering pain. By reducing inflammation, vitamin D may help reduce the pain and swelling that’s creating your inability to sleep soundly. Studies also suggest that vitamin D reduces swelling in your nasal passages, which may cause snoring and put you at higher risk of developing sleep apnea — a serious, life-threatening sleep disorder.
Helps Balance Your Mood
Anxiety, stress, and depression are common causes of insomnia. An overactive brain and being in a constant state of hyperarousal make it difficult to relax enough to fall asleep. Stress and anxiety can also trigger nightmares or frequent awakenings throughout the night. Those who struggle with anxiety often get anxious about their insomnia, only exacerbating the situation and creating a vicious cycle of sleep disturbances and negative thoughts.
Research suggests that vitamin D plays an important role in regulating your mood. Certain studies show that depressed individuals taking a vitamin D supplement saw substantial improvements in their symptoms and overall mood. Vitamin D may even help ward off future feelings of depression and depressive episodes. Mood swings and irritability are two common side effects of vitamin D deficiency. Specifically, patients taking vitamin D3 noticed significantly higher degrees of happiness.
May Prevent RLS
An estimated 10% of the population suffers from RLS (restless leg syndrome). While both men and women are affected, women are more prone to developing this uncomfortable condition. RLS is described as an uncontrollable need to move one’s legs, especially at night, to relieve discomfort described as a tingling sensation. By getting up and moving around, some people find temporary relief.
Research has uncovered a correlation between RLS and vitamin D levels. In those with a vitamin D deficiency, RLS symptoms are more prominent. On the other hand, individuals diagnosed with RLS who are also taking a vitamin D supplement reported less severe symptoms. Incorporating a vitamin D supplement into your daily regime might reduce your risk of developing restless leg syndrome in the future.
Promotes a Healthy Immune System
Your immune system controls and regulates countless bodily functions, including sleep. In addition, a lack of quality sleep can put your immune system and overall health at risk. During sleep, your immune system produces proteins known as cytokines. Some of these proteins promote and induce sleep. When you’re faced with an infection, inflammation, or extreme stress, certain cytokine levels increase to help heal the problem area. When faced with sleep deprivation, your body produces less of these healing and protective proteins, compromising your immune system and putting you at greater risk of developing an infection.
As with most vitamins and nutrients, your immune system needs adequate vitamin D levels to function properly. Vitamin D affects countless cells within your body, including those that make up your immune system. This vitamin is referred to as a fat-soluble nutrient and enhances the fighting effect of white blood cells in your body. It also promotes a healthy immune response. Lack of vitamin D can render your immune system compromised and dysfunctional putting you at greater risk of developing serious conditions including diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disorders. It may even compromise your mental health.
Impacts Sleep Patterns
In addition to the above-mentioned health conditions and their impact on sleep, vitamin D also affects your sleep patterns in more direct and obvious ways. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with fewer sleeping hours, poor quality sleep, less restorative sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness. It may also lead to disturbed sleep patterns and the development of sleep apnea in some patients.
Sleep apnea affects approximately 22 million adults and is characterized by snoring and irregular breathing. Due to a miscommunication between the muscles in your throat and nose and your brain, a person’s breathing becomes erratic and interrupted throughout the night. This can cause mini-wakes that may go unnoticed to the individual but result in daytime fatigue, headaches, and waking to feel confused and sluggish. During sleep, oxygen levels in sleep apnea patients drop dangerously low, putting additional stress on your heart and lungs.
As previously mentioned, vitamin D impacts immune regulation and inflammation. In addition, it may decrease the release of inflammatory substances that regulate sleep itself including prostaglandin D2, TNF-a, and other important cytokines. Low levels of vitamin D were present in patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSAS) as well.
While research is still ongoing and scientists work to find the specific connection between vitamin D and sleep quality, the evidence continues to mount. One such piece of evidence is that a high volume of vitamin D receptors is located in areas of the brain that regulate your sleep-wake cycle. This cycle, also known as your circadian rhythm, is what signals your brain and body at night that it’s time to sleep and prompts you to wake up in the morning. Centuries ago, this internal clock was set based on the rising and setting of the sun. When your circadian rhythm is off-balance, you may find it difficult to fall asleep and wake to feel sluggish and fatigued.
Sleep and Vitamin D Absorption
The relationship between vitamin D and insomnia is a two-way street. Lack of vitamin D can trigger insomnia, whereas achieving quality sleep can help your body better absorb this vital nutrient. Both lack of sleep and inconsistent sleep patterns increase mood swings and irritability and may prevent your body from maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D also interacts with melatonin, your body’s natural sleep hormone. As the sun goes down, your brain prepares for sleep by naturally converting serotonin (the chemical responsible for mood regulation) into melatonin. Melatonin and vitamin D work together to induce sleep.
Signs and Causes of a Vitamin D Deficiency
Do you suspect you have a vitamin D deficiency but aren’t sure? If you’re not currently taking a multivitamin or supplement and your diet is mediocre, chances are your vitamin D levels aren’t where they should be.
Here are a few signs that you may be vitamin D deficient.
- Joint and bone pain
- Mood swings and irritability
- Muscle pains, cramps, and fatigue
- Trouble sleeping
These are just a few signs that you may not be receiving an adequate dose of vitamin D in your daily diet or regime. But poor diet and lack of sunlight aren’t the causes of a vitamin D deficiency. While increasing time spent outdoors and eating more oily fish and red meat might help, there may be other underlying causes as well including undiagnosed medical conditions. These include Chron’s disease and celiac disease. Vitamin D deficiency may also present itself differently based on your age. Younger individuals who are vitamin D deficient may find themselves getting minor colds more often or feeling less productive. Older patients may notice increased confusion, cognitive decline, and other increasingly serious side effects.
Scientists suggest that certain lifestyle choices may also prevent you from getting enough vitamin D. One such cause would be the increase of indoor activities, including work. A spike in remote workers and work-from-home job opportunities means less time spent outside, soaking up much-needed vitamin D. An increase in the use of technology and social media may also be causing less outdoor engagement and more indoor isolation — leading to not just a dip in vitamin D levels but increased depression in some people.
People have also become increasingly aware of cancer-preventative methods like applying sunscreen. While this is important for protecting yourself from the sun’s harsh UV rays, it may also be preventing our skin from absorbing much-needed vitamin D.
Other factors that impact vitamin D levels include your age, geographical location, and season. As you get older, your body becomes more sensitive to the effects of low vitamin D levels. That means side effects can get increasingly worse. For example, elderly individuals are more likely to suffer from poor sleep quality as vitamin D levels decrease. Many notice significant improvements once they determine the problem and start slowly increasing vitamin D intake.
In addition to age and lifestyle choices, many people experience lower levels of vitamin D during the winter months and colder seasons. This makes sense considering the sun is a primary source of this valuable nutrient. Less time spent outdoors and fewer sunny days in northern parts of the world result in shorter sleep durations and lower quality sleep. The closer you live to the equator the more natural vitamin D you produce year-round. Those living farther from the equator or lacking adequate sun exposure may be at an increased risk of suffering from a stroke or heart attack and may notice a spike in blood pressure.
Tips for Increasing Vitamin D Levels and Improving Sleep
Now that you know a little bit more about how vitamin D impacts your sleep and may trigger insomnia symptoms, let’s talk about practical ways to increase these levels, boost your immune system, and finally achieve deep restorative sleep.
Increase Sun Exposure
Since the sun is our greatest source of vitamin D, increasing sun exposure is one of the easiest ways to get the added boost you need. Of course, this must be done safely and is easier for those who live in southern climates where the weather is warm and sunny for most of the year. Your skin contains a type of cholesterol that when exposed to UV-B rays from the sun, converts to vitamin D. Some studies suggest this form of vitamin D circulates in your body twice as long as vitamin D that is absorbed through food and supplements.
Try taking a walk, sitting outside to read, or performing another outdoor activity that offers plenty of sun exposure. Those with darker skin tones need more sun exposure to absorb vitamin D than people with lighter skin. That’s because darker skin contains more melanin, a compound that can block vitamin D production. While it’s important to protect yourself against overexposure to the sun to prevent cancer and premature lines and wrinkles, avoid wearing clothing or using sunscreen that blocks out all traces of vitamin D. Certain studies suggest that as few as 10 or 15 minutes of sun exposure is enough to trigger vitamin D production depending on your skin tone.
Can’t get out in the sun? UV-B lamps are another convenient way to boost vitamin D levels. These lamps mimic the UV rays emitted from the sun, triggering your body to produce vitamin D.
UV rays and sunlight don’t just boost vitamin D production — they may also ward off insomnia symptoms and improve sleep quality. Sun exposure increases your brain’s release of serotonin, a hormone associated with feelings of happiness, calm, and focus. Just as serotonin makes you feel alert and awake during the day, at nightfall, your brain releases melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep. Light therapy is sometimes used to treat insomnia because it mimics the rising and setting of the sun, promoting a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Support a healthy circadian rhythm by setting a sleep schedule, avoiding daytime naps, and reducing caffeine intake after 3:00 p.m.
Eat More Fatty Fish and Seafood
Aside from sunlight, the food you eat is the next best source for receiving adequate vitamin D. Fatty fish and seafood are two foods that boost vitamin D levels significantly. Salmon is especially beneficial, offering nearly 50% of your daily recommended dose of vitamin D in just one 4 ounce filet. Certain studies show that farm-raised salmon only offers a fraction of the vitamin D levels you’ll get from eating the wild-caught variety.
Other kinds of seafood rich in vitamin D include tuna, shrimp, oysters, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies.
Don’t Ditch the Egg Yolks
Egg yolks have gotten a bad wrap in recent years with many people choosing to eat just egg whites. While this is beneficial for a low-calorie diet or those battling high cholesterol, the yolk of an egg has substantial nutritional value. Similar to fish, certain types of eggs boast higher levels of vitamin D than others.
For example, chickens that don’t have access to the outside and sunlight generally produce eggs that contain just 2 to 5% of your recommended daily dose of vitamin D. On the other hand, free-range chickens boast an impressive 20% of the vitamin D you need a day. The more sun exposure chickens have, the higher vitamin D content their eggs will provide. Start your day with some sunshine and an omelet.
Cooking a healthy breakfast every morning not only keeps cravings at bay but is a great addition to a healthy sleep routine. The routine behaviors you perform throughout the day all support a better night’s sleep. Habits like having breakfast, going to the gym, eating dinner, and taking a soothing bath all become second nature over time. Before you know it, you may find yourself waking up without the need for an alarm and, more importantly, getting tired around the same time each night.
Add Mushrooms to Your Favorite Recipes
Not everyone is a fan of mushrooms, but if you are, you’re in luck! Mushrooms are the only vegetable that contains vitamin D. Similar to the way humans produce vitamin D when exposed to UV rays, mushrooms work the same way. Humans produce vitamin D3 while mushrooms produce a type of vitamin known as D2. Certain mushrooms, like wild maitake, produce more vitamin D than commercially grown varieties that aren’t exposed to natural sunlight. Add a few mushrooms to your next dinner recipe or that morning omelet.
Take a Vitamin D Supplement
When all else fails, you can take a vitamin D supplement to boost your levels and combat the unpleasant side effects of a vitamin D deficiency. Supplements are convenient and effective for those living a hectic lifestyle or looking for fast results.
Vitamin D comes in two forms — D2 and D3. Vitamin D2 generally comes from plants, while vitamin D3 is present in animals. Research suggests D3 is more effective at raising and maintaining overall vitamin D levels, so be sure to check the supplement’s label for D3. Your dosage will depend on the state of your current vitamin D levels. Most people take between 1,000 and 4,000 IU. Check with your doctor or a healthcare professional before incorporating any new supplements or vitamins into your daily regime.
Another pleasant side effect of taking a vitamin D3 supplement is improved sleep quality. Certain studies suggest that individuals with higher levels of D3 enjoy a longer sleep duration as well.
Overcoming Vitamin D Insomnia
Insomnia comes in all shapes and sizes and impacts everyone differently. While some people may struggle to fall asleep, others wake frequently or experience extreme anxiety when it comes to their sleep problems. If you think your insomnia is triggered by a vitamin D deficiency, the solution is relatively simple. Taking a supplement, incorporating more foods rich in vitamin D into your diet, and getting adequate exposure to the sun can all boost levels and help you sleep better at night.
In addition, adopting healthy sleep habits like setting a sleep schedule, performing healthy nightly routines, and limiting the use of digital devices before bed can all promote quality sleep. At Somnus Therapy, we’re dedicated to finding the right solution for your unique insomnia needs. With a mix of community support, online resources, and a variety of therapy methods, you can overcome your sleep troubles and finally achieve the blissful night’s sleep you deserve.