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Simple & efficient lab testing for health professionals.

How and why to use functional testing to assess sleep deprivation

Lesson aim

In this lesson, you'll learn why sleep deprivation is a growing issue in the western world, and how to accurately test and treat it using functional testing.

Why is sleep deprivation a growing problem in the UK?

Sleep is a big problem. Over the last forty years our sleep has decreased to less than an average of seven hours per night per person. We live in a busy, fast paced world and in response to our ever demanding 24/7 culture our sleep is paying the price.

What are the main causes of sleep deprivation?

The most common reasons for inhibited sleep are:

  • stress
  • mood disorders
  • hormone imbalances
  • urinary issues
  • infections
  • allergies
  • food sensitivities
  • inflammation
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • dysregulated blood sugar
  • chronic pain
  • circadian disruption
  • environmental influences
  • excess exposure to blue light
  • uncomfortable sleeping arrangements
  • undesirable temperatures
  • young children 
  • snoring partners

What are the consequences of sleep deprivation?

  • Even a single bad night’s sleep can adversely affect mood, concentration, and alertness and trigger insulin resistance.
  • Sleep deprivation has been associated with a number of negative physiological and emotional changes. These include: imbalanced cortisol, increased ghrelin, reduced leptin, impaired glucose metabolism, and increased inflammatory and pro-inflammatory markers
  • Without quality, restorative sleep immunity can decrease while hormone imbalances and inflammatory reactions escalate. It can also exponentially increase the risks for depression, obesity, hypertension, diabetes and dyslipidaemia.
  • This all undeniably spells trouble for our cardiometabolic, endocrine and immune status, especially as epidemiological observations have even concluded that sleeping less that the ‘normal’ seven hours is associated with higher all-cause mortality.

What are the health benefits of quality sleep?

Sleep is essential for:

  • repairing cells
  • processing memories
  • brain development
  • cognitive conditioning
  • regulation of just about every single organ and system in the body

Sleep science is still in its infancy

Sleep is unquestionably complex, puzzling and multifaceted but it is also a fascinating and essential biological process. Surprisingly we still have a relatively limited understanding of sleep despite ongoing research and extensive literature. 

Therefore, despite many health professionals’ gallant efforts to offer coaching and sleep hygiene advice, it is hardly surprising that sleep aids such as non-benzodiazepine hypnotics continue to be routinely prescribed to those with chronic insomnia, especially in the over 65 age group.

The power of functional testing combined with patient analysis

As a functional medicine practitioner, one of the crucial areas of questioning in any consultation is undoubtedly sleep: how long does your patient sleep; do they fall asleep easily; do they wake frequently; and do they feel refreshed in the morning?

Due to the complexity of sleep, especially when it goes wrong, it is important to gather as much information as possible. At Regenerus we believe that functional testing can significantly improve our understanding of why our patients are not sleeping.

Combining this insightful data with medical and lifestyle analysis, you decipher how to effectively support your patient's needs.

Recommended advanced functional tests to understand and manage sleep disorders

So where do you start when it comes to testing? Below is an overview of some of the most useful tests to aid investigations into why a patient is not sleeping.

Comprehensive Stool Analysis

In functional medicine, we all know that if you are in doubt, start with the gut. And this is certainly true regarding sleep because clinically, any unsupported gut issues, regardless of their extent, can make everything more difficult to manage and resolve.

Furthermore, the intestinal microbiome produces and releases many sleep-inducing neurotransmitters such as melatonin, serotonin, dopamine and GABA that are also produced in the brain. Essentially, the relationship between sleep and the microbiome is a two-way street. Although our understanding is in its infancy there is growing evidence that gut health can have a huge impact on cognitive health, sleep and circadian rhythms.

Our flagship stool test is the GI360 by Doctors Data, which is an innovative, comprehensive and clinically applicable test that blends bacteriology, PCR, culturomics and microscopy with stool chemistries. The combination of Multiplex PCR Molecular Technology with growth-based culture and identification by MALDI-TOF Mass Spectrometry is a significant step forward in understanding the complexities of the gastrointestinal tract and microbiome.

The GI360 is a 360-degree functional assessment of the gastrointestinal system. It includes genetic and biochemical assays and microscopy to detect and assess the status of pathogens, viruses, bacteria, yeasts and parasites and also highlights the abundance and diversity of the gut microbiota. 

The test provides stool chemistries to understand digestion, absorption, immunology, short-chain fatty acids and intestinal health markers such as beta-glucuronidase.

The DUTCH Plus by Precision Analytical

The DUTCH Plus is a great option for assessing sleep - or the lack of sleep!

This combined panel, which includes the DUTCH Complete and the DUTCH Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR), can help identify the root causes of hormone imbalances in men and women.

The test analyses 35 different hormones; oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA-S and cortisol along with their metabolites. It also measures daily free cortisol, the oxidative stress marker 8OHdG, melatonin, six organic acids and the Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR), which is an excellent snapshot of HPA axis function.

For those with sleep issues this may not be enough, so Precision Analytical include am ‘Insomnia Measurement’ which also provides a cortisol measurement during the night when a patient may be struggling to sleep.

So why is this test so good for assessing sleep issues? Elevated evening cortisol, low melatonin and low progesterone may all contribute to insomnia whereas vanilmandelate (VMA), a metabolite of epinephrine and norepinephrine, may be a symptom of sympathetic nervous system overdrive. Additionally, an elevated insomnia measurement can help pinpoint the role of cortisol in any sleep issues.

NeuroBasic Profile or Comprehensive Neurotransmitter Profile (both by Doctor's Data)

Analysis of Neuro Biogenic Amines (NBA) and their metabolites provides a simple and non-invasive assessment of neurotransmitter metabolism.

When functioning correctly there are natural checks and balances due to excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters and clinical studies have shown that inadequate or imbalanced neurotransmitter function can have a profound influence on health, wellbeing and sleep.

NBA are important regulators of the circadian rhythm and understanding their metabolism can highlight imbalances and therefore the need for any precursor amino acids or nutritional co-factors.

Urinary NBA can be analysed via the Doctors Data NeuroBasic Profile  or the Comprehensive Neurotransmitter Profile. These tests provide an assessment of the ability to synthesise and metabolise neurotransmitters both in the periphery and for some enzymes, behind the blood brain barrier.

Thinking Outside the Box

Like eating and drinking, sleep is a vital human need. It is linked to multiple hormonal pathways and we are slowly learning more and more about its role in pathophysiology.

The key to understanding sleep in clinical practice is to understand the ‘why’ of insomnia and of course there are multiple variables to consider. While the above tests are common options for sleep analysis it can prove useful to consider other factors pertinent to your patient’s case such as heavy metals, essential elements, stress or food sensitivities.

As discussed, sleep is an incredibly complex subject and while functional testing can help shed new light on a patient's symptoms their story is always central.

Reflect on the triggers and drivers of their clinical picture so you can confidently choose your diagnostic entry point.