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11 causes of sleep disorders and how to improve your sleep

11 causes of sleep disorders and how to improve your sleep

11 causes of sleep disorders and how to improve your sleep

In Australia and throughout the world, many of us do not get the sleep we need to function optimally. Often, there are underlying problems that cause regular cycles of sleep to be disturbed and the development of sleep disorders. 

Sleep disorders are often a result of an underlying deficiency or an overstimulation of the brain.  Balancing neurotransmitters, hormones, mineral levels and practicing sound sleep hygiene can all contribute to better quality sleep.

Whether you have insomnia, sleep apnoea, restless leg syndrome or narcolepsy, a Functional Medicine health professional will help you get the root of your sleeping issues and find the best way forward to return you to optimal sleeping patterns.

What can happen if we don’t get enough sleep?

Sleep is a complex, active process of restoration for the body, and people experiencing sleep dysfunction can suffer both from physical and psychological disturbances that greatly affect their quality of life. 

When you don’t sleep enough, or deeply enough, your blood pressure, heart rate, mental state, hormones and immune system can be negatively affected. Adults who are short sleepers (less than seven hours) are more likely to report 10 chronic health conditions, including depression, arthritis, diabetes and asthma.

Recent research has demonstrated how important sleep is and how a lack of sleep can be harmful. One study suggests that sleep loss may trigger anxiety, and conversely, sleep may be a novel therapeutic target for the amelioration of anxiety. Researchers looked at one night’s loss of sleep on anxiety and emotional regulation in 18 healthy young people. After a night of sleep deprivation, participants reported a 30% rise in anxiety levels compared to how they felt the night prior. People who were allowed a full night’s sleep did not experience anxiety.

What causes sleep disorders?

There are many conditions, diseases and disorders that can cause sleep disturbances. Sometimes an underlying health problem can lead to a sleep disorder.

  1. Allergies and respiratory problems

Allergies, colds and upper respiratory and sinus infections can make it challenging to breathe at night. The inability to breathe through your nose can also cause sleeping difficulties. 

  1. Nocturia

Nocturia, also known as frequent urination, may disrupt your sleep by causing you to wake up during the night. Hormonal imbalances, bacterial dysbiosis, urinary tract infections and diseases of the urinary tract may contribute to the development of this condition. 

  1. Chronic Pain

Constant pain can make it difficult to fall asleep. It might even wake you up after you fall asleep. Some of the most common causes of chronic pain include:

  • arthritis
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • fibromyalgia
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • persistent headaches
  • continuous lower back pain
  1. Hypoglycaemia

When there is a drop in the blood glucose level, it causes the release of hormones that regulate glucose levels. These compounds stimulate the brain and are a natural signal that it is time to eat – even if it’s in the middle of the night.

  1. Stress, depression and anxiety

Stress, depression and anxiety often have a negative impact on sleep quality. It can be difficult for you to fall asleep or to stay asleep. Nightmares, sleep talking or sleepwalking may also disrupt your sleep.

  1. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies

Vitamin D

There’s a growing body of research showing Vitamin D affects both how much sleep we get and how well we sleep. A recent study found Vitamin D deficiency was linked to short sleep duration. This study found the links between insufficient sleep and lack of Vitamin D to be especially strong in adults age 50 and older.

Vitamin E 

A powerful antioxidant, Vitamin E helps maintain healthy cell function and protect cells from damage. It also supports immune health. Vitamin E’s antioxidant capabilities may also help sleep and sleep-related health problems. 

Vitamin C

Many of us associate Vitamin C most strongly with immune health. It’s also important for cardiovascular health, and necessary for the body to make collagen, which is critical for healthy bones, teeth and skin. Vitamin C’s health-promoting abilities may also extend to sleep. 

Vitamin B6

Another key nutrient is Vitamin B6 is involved in many functions in the body. It supports immune health, and aids in cognitive development and function. There’s evidence that B6 also aids sleep and affects our dreams. The active form P5P is usually best as a supplement. 

Vitamin B12

It may be that Vitamin B12 is specifically useful for people with sleep-wake disruptions, including in people who also have symptoms of depression. But we need more research to better understand how Vitamin B12 deficiency influences sleep.


Magnesium is an essential mineral for sleep function. It appears to help us sleep because of its role in enzyme production, particularly when it’s related to a neurotransmitter called GABA that controls our sleepiness. Magnesium is also a natural muscle relaxant.


Calcium causes the release of melatonin, which is needed for a sound sleep. If you are calcium deficient, the body may not be able to release the required amount, leaving you restless through the night. 


In one study, as zinc concentrations increased, the likelihood of insufficient sleep and sleep disturbances decreased. Among preschool-age children, low blood zinc levels predicted an increase in the likelihood of poor sleep quality and poor sleep efficiency in adolescence.

  1. Food sensitivities

Sleep disturbance, including difficulty settling to sleep and frequent night waking, is one of the main behavioural effects of artificial colours and other additives. People who are sensitive to additives may also be affected by some natural food chemicals including salicylates, amines and glutamates.

  1. Hyperthyroidism

An overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) can cause sleep disorders. The disorder overstimulates the nervous system, making it hard to fall asleep, and it may cause night sweats, leading to night-time waking.

  1. Nocturnal myoclonus (restless leg syndrome)

Restless legs syndrome is a neurological sleep disorder that makes you have an overwhelming urge to move your legs. Restless legs syndrome makes it difficult to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. The symptoms are usually worse at night. Low iron can be a factor in causing restless legs.

  1. Indigestion and heartburn

Heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, are frequent causes of sleeplessness. These people are more likely to suffer sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnoea, and daytime sleepiness as a result. 

  1. Environmental causes of sleep disturbances

These can include:

  • Poor sleep habits including a lack of sleep routine, afternoon napping, shift work, spending too much time in bed while awake, using computer or TV while in bed and frequent air travel
  • Poor sleeping environment including too much light or noise and an uncontrolled body temperature ie. feeling too hot or too cold
  • Over-use of stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine, tobacco or other drugs
  • Certain medications such as diet pills, cold and flu tablets, antidepressants, beta-blockers, thyroxine and bronchodilators

How to achieve a better night’s sleep

There are ways to help you get a better quality, and longer, sleep. 

At Advanced Functional Medicine, we recommend some of the following tactics: 

Consider taking supplements to aid your sleep. Melatonin, 5-HTP, taurine and magnesium can all be helpful. 

Get on a regular schedule. Going to sleep and waking at the same time each day creates a rhythm for your body. Don’t keep a television in your bedroom. Studies show the artificial, bright light can disrupt brain activity and alter sleep hormones like melatonin. Your bedroom should be a quiet, peaceful haven.

Get natural sunlight.
Aim for at least 20 minutes of sunshine every day, preferably in the morning, which triggers your brain to release chemicals that regulate sleep cycles. Avoid computers, smart phones, tablets and television one or two hours before bed. You might also try low blue light exposure for about three hours before bed. Low blue spectrum light helps your brain reset for sleep and increase melatonin.

Avoid electronics. Turn off your phone and other devices and keep them away from your bed if possible. Create a common area charging station in your home and encourage all your family members to “check in” their devices before bed.

Clear your mind. Everyone knows how something resonating on your mind can hinder sleep. Turning your mind off can become a challenge but will give you the space to relax enough to go to sleep.  Meditation and breathing techniques can assist here.

Perform light stretching or yoga before bed. This relaxes your mind and body. Research shows daily yoga can improve sleep significantly.

Use herbal or nutrient therapies. Passionflower or valerian root extract can be helpful to take before bed. To decrease night-time cortisol or stress consider using ashwagandha (withania), phosphorylated serine, lactium casein decapeptide, L-theanine or other calming herbs.

Other supplements such as gaba and 5-hydroxy tryptophan (5htp) can benefit sleep greatly. 5htp supports the same pathway as melatonin and patients regularly report improved sleep and better mood from this supplement.

Use relaxation practices. Guided imagery, meditation or deep breathing calm your mind and help you drift into sleep. Try calming essential oils such as lavender, Roman chamomile or ylang ylang. 

How we can help

At Advanced Functional Medicine, we talk to our patients about their sleep hygiene, health issues and lifestyle factors and how they have all contributed to and impacted their overall health.  Understanding the body’s biochemistry enables us to identify key pathways that may be influencing your sleep and hormones

Together with our patients, we can work out strategies, prescribe useful supplements and offer tactical advice to support better sleep in the long term. 

Contact us today to find out more.

The above information is intended to be general, educational advice only, on topics which are of interest to us. It is not intended to represent specific or individual health or medical advice and is not specific to your situation. The below information is educative and is not intended to advertise any service.

Before making any decisions in relation to your health, you should always discuss your individual situation with your own health practitioners to ensure that any advice you have read is right for you.

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper - ND is the founder of Advanced Functional Medicine Australia. He is a Naturopathic Doctor with extensive functional medicine training from leading practitioners in the USA and worldwide.

He is leading the way with advancements of functional medicine, clinically implementing worldwide best practices in Functional Medicine throughout Australia.

Jarrod consults in person from Perth, Western Australia and also online via Telehealth throughout Australia and worldwide.

If you are looking for personalised treatment, we highly recommend contacting Jarrod Cooper’s Advanced Functional Medicine clinic in Australia.

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