The Important Links Between Vitamin D And Insomnia
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that is involved in a number of important bodily processes.
This week we’ll take a look at how this key micronutrient can affect your overall health, as well as the crucial links between Vitamin D and sleep disorders such as insomnia.
Where Does Vitamin D Come From?
The majority of Vitamin D used by the body is generated when UV rays from the sun interact with skin cells.
Smaller amounts can also be obtained from some dietary sources, including eggs, meat, oily fish, fortified cereals, some mushrooms and Vitamin D supplements.
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How Much Do We Need?
Recommendations for Vitamin D intake vary considerably depending on the source. The guys at the reputable Mayo Clinic state that:
“The new 2010 recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 600 IU for those 1-70 years of age and pregnant or breastfeeding women, and 800 IU for those over 71 years of age. An adequate blood level of Vitamin D is 20 nanograms per milliliter, which can be achieved through daily skin exposure to sunlight”.
The amount of sun exposure you would need to achieve this RDA can vary depending on a number of factors, including your skin colour, your geographical location, and your age.
In the UK, the NHS recommends that:
“Evidence suggests that about 10 to 15 minutes is enough for most lighter-skinned people – and is less than the time it takes you to start going red or burn. The larger the area of skin that is exposed to sunlight, the more chance there is of making enough vitamin D before you start to burn. People with darker skin will need to spend longer in the sun to produce the same amount of Vitamin D.”
Over the winter months when sunlight exposure is low, your body usually uses Vitamin D stores that have built up over the summer. Depending on the amount of Vitamin D that you were able to store, you may also benefit from supplementation during the winter.
The Important Role of Vitamin D
As mentioned previously, Vitamin D is involved in a number of important bodily processes:
- Along with Vitamin K2, Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium absorption, helping to build a strong, healthy skeletal system and reduce the risk of fracture.
- Studies have shown that Vitamin D may reduce the risk of developing heart disease, possibly by limiting the amount of calcium build up in the arteries, which leads to atherosclerosis.
- Vitamin D may boost the immune system and reduce the risk of catching infections such as influenza.
- Adequate Vitamin D levels have been linked to a reduced risk of developing multiple sclerosis.
- Vitamin D can potentially improve fertility in women and reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction in men.
- Studies have linked a Vitamin D deficiency with an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
- Vitamin D helps to regulate blood sugar levels and can improve the symptoms of diabetes.
- Vitamin D may also aid recovery from training and competing in sports, allowing athletes to train more frequently.
Vitamin D and Sleep
As well as all of the benefits mentioned above, Vitamin D also plays an important role in sleep.
As Dr. Gominak highlights on his popular health blog:
“D hormone deficiency causes sleep disorders; insomnia, sleep apnea, REM related apnea, unexplained awakenings to light sleep, inappropriate body movements during sleep. All of these disorders keep us from healing our bodies during sleep. When the sleep improves the headaches, seizures, tremor, back pain, balance difficulties, depression, memory loss, etc. all get better”.
And it’s not all just blue sky thinking - there’s plenty of science to back these claims up too:
- A 2012 study looked at the effect of Vitamin D supplementation on brain function and sleep quality, and concluded that that sleep disorders have become epidemic because of widespread vitamin D deficiency.
- Another study in 2013 reported that instances of severe sleep apnea were associated with low levels of Vitamin D.
- A 2014 study examined the role of Vitamin D in sleep, and found that a higher intake was associated with a 16% reduced risk for experiencing difficulty maintaining a full night’s sleep.
If you are looking to up your Vitamin D levels with a supplement however, it seems that timing is important. As explained over on the Shape blog:
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“Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” for a reason—sun exposure spurs the body to produce it. This also means that it’s an indicator of light and daytime. So when you take vitamin D, it decreases levels of melatonin, the hormone that helps control your sleep and wake cycles by naturally rising in the mid- to late-evening. In some experimental trials, taking vitamin D at night decreased REM sleep and the number of hours in nighttime slumber.”
So if you do choose to supplement with Vitamin D, your best bet is to take it first thing in the morning or during the afternoon, and avoid taking it at night.
Signs of a Vitamin D Deficiency
It’s estimated that around 85% of people in the US are deficient in Vitamin D. There are a number of factors that could contribute towards a deficiency, including:
- Pregnancy and lactation
- Spending prolonged time periods indoors
- Over exposure to pollution
- Overuse of sunscreen
- Living in cities where buildings block sunlight
A Vitamin D deficiency can creep up on you without warning, however some of the most common symptoms include:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Disturbed sleep and insomnia
- Low mood and depression
- Excessive tiredness and fatigue
If you feel that you are at risk, or if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it would be wise to consult a medical professional and enquire about getting a blood test to check your Vitamin D levels, and then act accordingly.