What if Your Poor Sleep is Not Really Your Fault?

Sleep, hunger and thirst are all feelings we recognize. But have you ever tried to explain to someone what it feels like to be thirsty? We just assume that every other human has these “feelings” too but we don’t really think about how they occur. None of them are really under your conscious control. They’re run by chemicals from our brain. We learn what to do in response to them in the first few years of life. When we “feel hungry” we learn to eat until we “feel full”, when we “feel thirsty” we learn to drink, until we “don’t feel thirsty”. Attaching these “feelings” to what to do happened so early that we don’t remember the learning process. But it’s important to know that the “feelings“are not consciously generated by you, they are generated by your body, they are “involuntary”. If they’re run by chemicals in the brain then they can get goofed up, just like any other body process. There are people who can’t judge normal thirst and drink too much water. There are people who don’t get the right messages and still feel hungry after eating a large meal. Sleep is involuntary too! People who have normal sleep just lie down and go to sleep. They wake up about 8 hours later feeling great. If this is not what happens to you it’s not because you’re “doing it wrong”, it’s because your brain is malfunctioning.

Most of the experts blame the bad sleeper or the sleep environment. “You sleep too much”, “the room is too light”, “you think too much”, “the room is too warm”, “your husband snores”, “you’re on your phone/computer too much”. My experience with over 5000 neurology patients taught me that sleep is not something you can control. You are not doing something wrong, your sleep switches are malfunctioning. Even though you can’t control the sleep switches, (they really control you) you can give them what they need to repair themselves and start working normally again.

I believe that sleep disorders have become epidemic because of a deficiency of the hormone made on our skin from sunlight, vitamin D. Many parts of our body need this hormone. What might surprise you the most is that the bacteria that live in our intestine need our vitamin D!  And that the bacteria that live inside us are an important “organ” of our body, like the liver or the kidney. They aren’t really “us” exactly, but they do accompany us throughout our life and they affect our appetite, our weight, our immune system, and even…. our sleep.  Go to the blog entitled “Healthy Bacteria Healthy Sleep” to learn more.

One Reply to “What if Your Poor Sleep is Not Really Your Fault?”

  1. Dear Dr. Gominak,

    I just listened to your podcasts on Dr. Park’s website. WOW! I am so excited!

    I had previously found this website last week when I was searching for information on sleep issues, and sent you an inquiry about you advice service. I am a mental health clinician with a lifelong interest in the role of sleep and nutrition in mental and physical health, as well as my own personal history of stubborn health issues which I believe are largely related to the poor quality of my sleep.

    I look forward to hearing back from your office. My hope is to start with myself and then be able to utilize your service in helping my patients who struggle with chronic health conditions (such as headaches, fibromyalgia and chronic pain) that interrelate with depression, anxiety disorders and other behavioral heath issues.

    On a personal note, I deeply appreciate your spirit of excitement in discovering new ways to help your patients. The world needs more doctors like you, who are open to “out-of-the-box” thinking and truly want to figure out how to help their patients. Most of my mental health patients have chronic physical health conditions that cause/exacerbate their mental health conditions, and they almost always report feeling patronized and dismissed by their doctors. When I ask about their sleep quality, they universally report that it is terrible. I often suggest basic nutritional blood work that may impact their symptoms (vitamin D, B12 etc.) and D is almost always low. Now I can refer them to your website, where they can get concrete information and guidance on the path to wellness!

    With deep appreciation,
    Shari Tresky, LMHC

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