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Getting a decent amount of sleep every night can be a challenge for a variety of reasons. For some people stress or anxiety keeps them up at night, while others might be experiencing insomnia or an illness. Whatever the reason there could be a simple way to improve the amount and quality of sleep you’re getting, an expert said.
According to Elizabeth Cooper, nutritionist for Bio-Kult, your vitamin D levels could be affecting your sleep pattern.
“Vitamin D is a secosteroid hormone, but is also considered a fat-soluble vitamin. It is synthesised in the skin upon exposure to sunlight and is then metabolised in the liver and kidneys to the metabolically active form 1,25(OH)2D,” she explained.
“It is most well-known for its role in musculoskeletal health as vitamin D is critical for calcium regulation. Vitamin D is also a potent immune system modulator.
“In addition to vitamin D’s role in musculoskeletal and immune health, it can also benefit sleep.
“This is particularly important as inadequate and disordered sleep seems to be a common problem, with a 60 percent increase in spending on sleep aids in the last 15 years.
“Recent surveys suggest a significant percentage of the population have less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night, with some only getting two hours sleep a night.
“With more people working from home and less time spent outdoors, is it possible that vitamin D deficiency could be one of the contributory factors in the rise in sleep issues?”
What does the research say?
Ms Cooper said: “A number of studies have suggested an association between vitamin D deficiency and disordered sleep.
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“A 2020 meta-analysis found that serum vitamin D levels were lower in people with sleep disorders than those without.
“And a 2022 systematic review and meta-analysis, which looked at the impact of vitamin D on sleep found that vitamin D supplementation improved sleep quality.”
How does vitamin D affect sleep?
“Although unclear as to exactly why vitamin D has an impact on sleep, there are a number of theories,” she said.
Ms Cooper listed these theories as:
- There are many vitamin D receptors in the brain, including in the areas that affect sleep
- The expression of enzymes involved in vitamin D activation occurs in parts of the brain concerned with sleep regulation
- The sleep hormone melatonin is regulated by vitamin D
- Vitamin D down-regulates inflammatory markers involved in sleep regulation
- Sunshine, which is the most efficient source of vitamin D, via the retina of the eye sends a signal to an area of the brain called the SCN (suprachiasmatic nuclei), which acts as the central master-clock in the body and as such has a vital role in the sleep cycle.
How to get enough vitamin D
The most effective method is through exposure of the skin to sunlight as well as vitamin D supplementation.
“Ensuring some time outdoors (at least 15 minutes each day) with the face, arms and/or legs exposed (ideally without sun-cream) is therefore important to maintain sufficient levels,” Ms Cooper said.
“However, if going without suncream, avoid the times of day when the sun is at its strongest, usually between 11am and 3pm.
Small amounts of vitamin D are also found in some foods (mainly animal products).
She said: “Oily fish (such as fresh tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines and salmon) is the richest source, and liver, butter, egg yolk and mushrooms also contain modest amounts.
“In some countries, certain foods such as milk and cereals may also be fortified with vitamin D.
“Nevertheless, dietary intake recommendations are generally too low to preserve/reach optimal vitamin D concentrations when UV radiation is not available.
“The most recent estimate of the number of people who are vitamin D deficient in the UK is one in six people, with a serum level of less than 25nmol/L, the level below which the risk of poor musculoskeletal health increases.
“Interestingly, children aged 11 to 18 showed higher rates of deficiency than adults.”
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