Insomnia is a common health condition with significant health consequences, including an increased risk for mental health disorders like depression, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal pain, and reproductive issues.
Approximately 30% of adults worldwide report that they have problems with sleeping that are consistent with insomnia. These problems can include trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, and poor quality sleep that leaves people feeling unrested even when they wake up.
Various treatments are available for insomnia, including pharmaceuticals, supplements, nutrients, lifestyle modifications, and more. If you or a loved one feel like you’ve tried everything regarding insomnia but still haven’t found relief, don’t give up! A functional medicine approach to insomnia treatment can get you to sleep better fast.
Marc was a 50-year-old male who initially presented to our clinic to treat insomnia, mood issues, and fatigue. His original symptom list included the following.
Marc had been suffering from insomnia for over two decades when he came to see us. Insomnia sidelined him from work, social activities, and hobbies. He'd developed a reputation at work for sleeping through his alarms repeatedly throughout the years due to exhaustion, which embarrassed him and made him feel out of control. Marc's ADHD symptoms were also worsened by his sleeplessness, as were - he suspected - his OCD symptoms. He had pursued therapy and psychiatric approaches to managing these symptoms and was experiencing some partial but not complete success.
Typically, he was awake until 3 a.m. despite being incredibly exhausted. His anxiety about sleeping through his alarm would keep him up at night, and the vicious cycle had continued for longer than he could remember. Marc had tried several medications, sleep hygiene, exercise, nutrition interventions, and more without significant relief. He came to us for help healing his insomnia using functional medicine.
Additionally, Marc had high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease. He wanted to practice preventive medicine to lower his cardiovascular risk.
At intake, the nutrient analysis of Marc's typical diet revealed that he tended to consume inadequate total energy, proteins, fats, fiber, and some minerals, including selenium and potassium. Several of these dietary nutrient deficiencies are linked with poor sleep, especially inadequate intake of proteins and selenium.
Laboratory Workup Presented At Initial Visit
Discussion: Clinical Picture at Start of Protocol
I suspected Marc’s symptoms were likely due to inadequate nutrient intake, increased limbic system activity, neuroinflammation, lithium deficiency, food sensitivities, and under-managed ADHD. His protocol was guided towards boosting micronutrient and macronutrient consumption, improving sleep, increasing omega-three fatty acid and fiber consumption, and improving focus naturally without the need for stimulant medications.
Testing Ordered at First Visit
We ran hair testing to screen Marc for low levels of lithium, an essential nutrient involved in mood regulation and sleep. Marc’s lithium was low on testing. This information allowed us to include lithium supplementation as part of his insomnia protocol.
Marc was sensitive to dairy, eggs, and a few other foods. We designed a plan to be free of most of these to reduce his gastrointestinal symptoms and improve his mood and energy levels. Marc’s results came back after his first food-as-medicine plan had already been designed, so we updated it at his next follow-up to remove eggs and several other ingredients.
Interventions Recommended at Visits 1-3
My team and I worked with Marc to create a customized food-as-medicine meal plan that allowed him to
- Increase dietary protein, which has been linked to improved sleep.
- Increased the consumption of all nutrients to meet RDI. We focused on increasing nutrients known to impact insomnia, especially selenium.
Importantly, this plan had enough treats and good foods to be sustainable for Marc so he wouldn’t feel deprived. The hidden science behind this is that the combined foods provide 100% RDI of nutrients each day while still being fun / easy to eat. Every person’s plan looks different in our practice depending on their unique lifestyle and preferences. Here’s what Marc’s plan looked like!
Marc’s Stage 1 Food-as-Medicine Plan to Heal Insomnia
Balanced Blood Sugar, Adequate Protein, Low Allergen
Readers will notice a significant increase in total protein, omega 3's, fiber, selenium, and potassium in his follow up nutrient analysis below.
- Once daily multivitamin that contained vitamins A-K, folate biotin, choline, iodine, zinc, selenium, manganese, chromium, molybdenum, boron, inositol, CoQ10, Alpha lipoic acid, lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene.
- Digestive enzymes to help reduce bloating and gas with meals.
- Fish oil to provide omega 3’s, which can help to improve outcomes in many mental health disorders, including ADHD.
Cholesterol Lowering Protocol
- We prescribed 1200mg red yeast rice + 100mg CoQ10 twice daily. This combination can successfully lower cholesterol with efficacy similar to statin drugs.
- Lithium orotate 15mg at bedtime to address lithium deficiency and help to promote stable mood and quality sleep.
- Thyrofem, which contains zinc, copper, selenium, tyrosine, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin B12, as well as the herbs ashwagandha and Rhodiola. This supplement, along with Dopaboost - which also contains tyrosine and B vitamins - is designed to provide the precursors and cofactors needed to make thyroid hormones and improve energy, but it can also be used to boost dopamine production and naturally treat ADHD symptoms like inattention.
- Gaba Ease 1-7 caps per night. This product contains Gaba - a calming neurotransmitter - and some gentle nervine (relaxing) herbs like passionflower and skullcap.
2 Month Follow Up
Marc’s insomnia was completely resolved within 2 months of this treatment protocol. For what felt like the first time in his life, he was able to fall asleep quickly around 10 pm and sleep through the night until awakening the following day between 7 am and 9 am. He no longer slept through his alarm and was able to wake up on time.
Marc’s lab work revealed a 30-point drop in his total cholesterol after just two months of natural medicine treatment.
3 Month Follow Up
By month 3 of this protocol, Marc reported that he now trusted his body to fall asleep at night and no longer experienced the anxiety he used to feel all day, wondering if he'd be able to fall asleep later. His fatigue had improved, and his mood was stable enough that he was able to discontinue several psychiatric medications without side effects.
Additionally, Marc reported that his migraines had improved significantly; he went from experiencing three half to full-day migraines per week to one headache that lasted less than one hour per week.
It's important to note that during the first month of this protocol, we worked closely with Marc to monitor his response to supplements, change dosing, assess labs, and add interventions as needed. This "fine-tuning" is characteristic of individualized, functional medicine, and Marc - like many clients - did not notice intensive improvement until after his first four weeks with us. Marc stuck with the process because he understood the science and was motivated to improve. As a result, in month two of the protocol, he experienced significant improvement in his insomnia, migraines, and cholesterol. The takeaway - healing doesn't happen overnight, but if you stick with the process, you and your doctor can build and modify a plan that can be a powerful tool to help resolve chronic issues. Marc's story is proof of just that.
Total Cost of Treatment
Marc paid $395 for our initial visit package, which included an initial naturopathic and functional medicine visit, a meeting with our registered dietitian, and a customized meal plan. He paid $168.00 for the supplements recommended at his initial visit. Functional medicine testing ordered as part of his workup cost $477. The total cost of his treatment with us from start to finish to resolve his insomnia was $1040.00; it took less than two months for his insomnia to resolve. In addition to resolving his insomnia, he also reduced his migraines and cholesterol.
The average cost of treating and living with insomnia symptoms is estimated to be $5010.00 per year. This client will save an estimated $3970.00 this year as a result of resolving his poor sleep, even including the cost of our care. He will save an estimated $121,000.00+ over the next 30 years as a result of his care with us.
In my clinical experience, this type of functional medicine approach to insomnia is an investment that truly pays off in both the immediate and long term. Marc resolved his insomnia symptoms and saved money using a functional medicine approach to insomnia treatment.
Additionally, this protocol also lowered Marc's total cholesterol and significantly reduced his cardiovascular risk. Some studies suggest that this could save him between $1000 per year and $45,000 in expenses associated with a cardiovascular event.
Marc used a customized, evidence-based, cost-effective combination of a food-as-medicine plan, good nutrition, and supplementation to eliminate his insomnia symptoms and improve anxiety and digestion. He went from sleepless nights and frustrated and anxious days to sleeping peacefully in just a few weeks. If you or a loved one have insomnia, know that it's possible to use a functional medicine approach to heal, too!
*Note: The client's name has been changed to protect his privacy. All other details are the same!