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Vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin. It’s a group of fat-soluble hormones that you produce in your skin when it’s exposed to sunlight. You also can pick up a little vitamin D through your diet.
While vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, it also supports the immune system—helping your body fight off infection and control inflammation.
Lately, researchers have been investigating how vitamin D affects sleep.
Is your body absorbing enough vitamin D to promote restful sleep? Eating cruciferous vegetables at each meal, like cultured vegetables made from the Veggie Culture Starter, can help your body better use vitamin D.
Dr. Stasha Gominak, a neurologist at the East Texas Medical Center, believes that sleep disorders have reached epidemic proportions because so many people are deficient in vitamin D. (1)
She argues, “It seems only logical that the hormone that links us to the sun would also affect sleep, our most circadian of actions."
Indeed, she found that the blood level (not the dose) of vitamin D must be within a very narrow range for optimal sleep. Vitamin D is one of the oldest steroid hormones. It helps you track your relationship to the sun and to food, influencing the most basic elements of survival—like your metabolism, your ability to reproduce, and your sleep.
Areas of the brain that have been linked with sleep have receptors for vitamin D.
Besides the brain, you will also find vitamin D receptors:
- In heart muscle
- Throughout the entire digestive tract (including your teeth)
- In your reproductive organs
- In breast tissue
Is Inflammation Keeping You Up at Night?
Vitamin D wears many hats within the body. (2)
One reason is because vitamin D regulates gene expression—which can affect many tissues and metabolic pathways.
For example, vitamin D curbs the expression of the RelB gene, which plays a pivotal role in the development of inflammation. (3) What's more, some pro-inflammatory chemicals also regulate sleep. (4)(5) The ReIB gene (and inflammation) has been linked to sleep apnea—a common sleep disorder. (6)
How to Make Sure You're Getting Enough Vitamin D
Over a two year trial with 1,500 patients, Dr. Gominak saw improvements in sleep when patients maintained a vitamin D blood level of 60–80 ng/ml.
In order to hit this “sweet spot,” the dose of vitamin D would be different for each person. For example, 20,000 IU a day could promote normal sleep in someone who is severely vitamin D deficient.
Dr. Gominak also saw that supplementing with vitamin D2 stopped most people from having a normal night’s rest.
Vitamin D2 (also called ergocalciferol) comes from plants. Some researchers have found that it is not as effective as vitamin D3 (the vitamin D that your body makes and that you’ll find in some foods). (7) Even though many foods are fortified with vitamin D2, it may actually promote poor sleep. Some supplements also contain vitamin D2, rather than vitamin D3.
The best source of vitamin D3 is your own skin when it’s exposed to sunlight (without sunscreen).
Other good sources of vitamin D3 include:
- Cod liver oil
- Wild-caught salmon and mackerel
Bump Up Your Vitamin D Receptors
Remember those vitamin D receptors that we talked about? They are mostly found in your brain, your heart, your digestive tract, and your reproductive organs.
A vitamin D receptor allows your body to use vitamin D.
Cruciferous vegetables also contain a compound that helps you use vitamin D. (8) This compound is called sulforaphane, and you’ll find it in spicy herbs (like wasabi) and pungent, cruciferous plants. (9)
- Brussels sprouts
Fortunately, many of these vegetables are delicious (and easier to digest) when they are fermented. You can support your body’s ability to use vitamin D by including raw and fermented cruciferous vegetables in every meal.
What To Remember Most About This Article:
Vitamin D may be called a vitamin, but it is actually a group of fat-soluble hormones that the body produces when the skin is exposed to sunlight. You may also receive moderate amounts of vitamin D from the foods you eat.
You may have heard before that vitamin D is important for bone and immune health. It can also ward off infection and calm inflammation. Just as importantly, researchers have begun to study how vitamin D affects sleep. Sleep disorders may have reached epidemic proportions because of a common vitamin D deficiency.
How much is enough? Researchers believe that the vitamin D "sweet spot" is different for every person. Taking a vitamin D2 supplement may only make matters worse. Vitamin D3 produced through the skin from sun exposure without sunscreen is the best source of vitamin D to promote healthy sleep. Vitamin D3 in the diet can be found in cod liver oil, sardines, and wild-caught salmon and mackerel.
You can better equip your body to use vitamin D. Cruciferous vegetables and spicy herbs like wasabi contain a compound that helps your body better utilize vitamin D. Cruciferous vegetables are best enjoyed fermented, making them easier to digest!
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- Gominak, S. C., & Stumpf, W. E. (2012). The world epidemic of sleep disorders is linked to vitamin D deficiency. Medical hypotheses, 79(2), 132-135.
- McCarty, D. E., Chesson Jr, A. L., Jain, S. K., & Marino, A. A. (2013). The link between vitamin D metabolism and sleep medicine. Sleep medicine reviews.
- Dong, X., Craig, T., Xing, N., Bachman, L. A., Paya, C. V., Weih, F., ... & Griffin, M. D. (2003). Direct Transcriptional Regulation of RelB by 1α, 25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3 and Its Analogs PHYSIOLOGIC AND THERAPEUTIC IMPLICATIONS FOR DENDRITIC CELL FUNCTION. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 278(49), 49378-49385.
- Opp, M. R. (2005). Cytokines and sleep. Sleep medicine reviews, 9(5), 355-364.
- Ingiosi, A. M., Opp, M. R., & Krueger, J. M. (2013). Sleep and immune function: glial contributions and consequences of aging. Current opinion in neurobiology, 23(5), 806-811.
- Israel, L. P., Benharoch, D., Gopas, J., & Goldbart, A. D. (2013). A Pro-Inflammatory Role for Nuclear Factor Kappa B in Childhood Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome. Sleep, 36(12), 1947.
- Houghton, L. A., & Vieth, R. (2006). The case against ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) as a vitamin supplement. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 84(4), 694-697.
- Shapiro, T. A., Fahey, J. W., Wade, K. L., Stephenson, K. K., & Talalay, P. (2001). Chemoprotective glucosinolates and isothiocyanates of broccoli sprouts metabolism and excretion in humans. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, 10(5), 501-508.
- Schwab, M., Reynders, V., Loitsch, S., Steinhilber, D., Schröder, O., & Stein, J. (2008). The dietary histone deacetylase inhibitor sulforaphane induces human β‐defensin‐2 in intestinal epithelial cells. Immunology, 125(2), 241-251.
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