N=Primalgirl: Sleep Issues & Vitamin D

N=Primalgirl: Sleep Issues & Vitamin D

First off, I’m moving this blog to www.primalgirl.com lickedy split. I can transfer all my email subscribers over but I can’t transfer everyone, so if you don’t receive a newsletter from me announcing my next post by next week, feel free to hop on over to www.primalgirl.com and re-subscribe. In fact, do it now. :) The site’ll be a little disorganized for a few weeks, but I should have it under control soon.

Second, I discovered something cool I want to share with you. Obviously what works for me isn’t going to work for everyone but I think I made an important connection between Vitamin D and sleep quality that I’ve never heard mentioned before. Correct me if I’m wrong, I haven’t read everything out there.

Jimmy Moore has a great post about N=1 experiments and why they're so important

The major thing I took away from the Ancestral Health Symposium is that self-experimentation and the dissemination of said results is the absolute key to helping others find their Paleo solution. We have to experiment on ourselves to tweak what is optimal for us, and sometimes we just can’t think of what to tweak. For those of you that haven’t heard of it, these experiments are being referred to as N=1.

You may remember from a post long ago that I was having problems sleeping. I tried pretty much everything that was recommended – even resorted to eating sweet potatoes before bed – to no avail. I knew how important light exposure after dark was so I made sure I limited it. At this time I was taking about 6000U of Vitamin D3 a day. My sleep improved somewhat when my stress level declined, but I was still waking up a couple times a night and a lot of mornings felt pretty damned tired. During this time, I went pretty strict Paleo, bumped my Vitamin D intake up to 10,000U a day, upped the fish oil as per Robb Wolf’s fish oil calculator, dropped a couple workouts per week and headed off to the Symposium. I was feeling freakin’ fantastic during the day once I got going, but was still sleeping like shit.

Enter Dr. Seth Roberts. He is a strange little man, if I’ve ever met one. He stands on one leg to improve his sleep. He swears it works. (I tried it, couldn’t get through two days.) In fact, he did a scientific experiment on it. (Click here for some of his other experiments. They are unconventional to say the least. The one that proves butter makes you smarter is gold.) I asked Dr. Roberts about my sleep quality. He recommended all sorts of things, one of them being getting at least one full hour of sunshine first thing in the morning. Not 2 hours after you get up or in the afternoon – first thing in the morning. He was very clear about that. I hadn’t thought about the time of day I was getting sun, but it made a lot of sense that that would be the optimal time to get it, if you were to get any at all. Unfortunately, there was no way for me to actually do this – my current life is such that the first hour of my morning is spent dressing children for preschool, changing diapers, making coffee, breakfast, checking email.

One day as I was taking my supplements, I was thinking about how many units of Vitamin D your skin produces in 30 minutes of sun (20,000 I believe). I looked aghast at the 10,000 units of Vitamin D I was taking. It was 7 o’clock at night! I was essentially giving my body 15 minutes worth of bright sunlight energy. No wonder I was waking up in the middle of the night! I was telling my body that it wasn’t really time for bed, it was still the middle of the day. I wondered what would happen if I only took my Vitamin D first thing in the morning. It wouldn’t be an hour naked in the sun, but 15 minutes is better than nothing. That night I slept like shit. Worse than normal.

I usually took my supplements mid-afternoon. I vowed to take them first thing every morning. If I forgot, I would not take the Vitamin D at all that day. I tried it the next day and that night I slept like a rock. And the next night. And the next. Days I forgot and skipped the D3, I still slept great. That was the only change I made to my lifestyle and my sleep issues completely resolved.

Now, this may seem really fucking obvious to you. It wasn’t to me and I bet some of you are smacking your palms against your foreheads right now. The thought had never once crossed my mind. Everyone suggests taking supplements, but I’ve never heard anyone mention the optimal time to take them, or if they can affect other aspects of your life if taken at the wrong time.

If you are having sleep issues, please try this and let us know if it worked for you! Of course, you should always sleep in a completely darkened room, avoid caffeine in the afternoon/evening, eat a Paleo/Primal diet and go to bed early for optimal sleep. But if you’ve tried everything and you’re still having issues, try this. Or you can try standing on one leg.

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29 Comments

  1. Interesting observation!
    I’ve noticed too that certain supplements keep me awake if I have them at night. A big dose of fish oil, my multi-vitamin both keep me awake.
    I too only take supplements in the morning. Except magnesium – I find that works best if I take it at dinner.

    Reply
    • It’s amazing how different we all are! Fish oil doesn’t seem to affect my sleep one way or the other. I take it throughout the day and eat fish for dinner quite often. I would like to take my magnesium before bed, but keep forgetting so I just take it in the morning.

      Reply
  2. Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s an interesting thought to start a day with 15 minutes of sunshine in vitamin D equivalent. I’m struggling with sleep problems for the last 10 years or so. Taking melatonin from time to time seems to help, but I’m always looking for some better alternative. Just ordered some vitamin D and hope to get the same results as you.

    Reply
    • According to Robb Wolf, taking melatonin is perfectly safe and doesn’t even necessarily need to be a short term thing. I’ve found that cutting out caffeine after noon, limiting light exposure in the evening and making sure I don’t use electronic devices before bed make me fall asleep easier. Make sure your Vitamin D is D3 and that it is combined with fat (mine is suspended in olive oil). Vitamin D2 is not natural and I’ve heard it’s toxic and D is a fat soluble hormone, so it needs to be combined with fat in order for your body to absorb it. There’s no substitution for the sun, but if you follow these guidelines, you’ll get the most out of your supplement.

      Reply
  3. Hi, I am still a bit confused. Do you take just the vit D first thing or all your supplements then?
    Interesting post as my sleep is awful

    Reply
    • I take all my supplements at the same time, first thing in the morning with a healthy dose of water to hydrate myself. I think we’re designed to drink water first thing in the day, our caveman ancestors certainly did. :)

      Reply
  4. Primalgirl
    I too have had success with vitamin d use and sleep. When I started using it at amounts about 6000-10000 iu daily, I started sleeping deeper, dreaming more, and falling asleep faster. I no longer dreaded going to bed. I actually looked forward to sleep as I never knew what movie I would be watching when I was in dream land.

    However my n=1 experiment worked best when I woke up about the same time every morning, usually between 630 and 700am. Also I use the vitamin d supplement in an oil droplet form, 2000 iu per drop, which has a speedy absorption. I also use it at night, usually an hour or so before I want to go to sleep. It has worked wonders. But after a bit, I can miss quite a few days, even up to a week of d at night, and still sleep well.

    I think d works well for sleep when people have lower levels to begin with. I wonder if it has to do with saturated certain sites in the brain, or maybe if it works synergistically with melatonin.

    I discovered d and sleep about two years ago, have reproduced it in many patients in my practice, but still have not found any researchers to explain why this happens. If anyone knows the possible mechanisms, please let me know.

    Steven Horvitz, D.O.
    Founder of the Institute for Medical Wellness
    Moorestown, NJ

    Reply
    • Interesting… If I take my D at night, I don’t have any problems falling asleep – but I wake up about 20-30 times during the night and feel completely unrested. See, this is why we need to have open forums and discussions, because what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another! Thanks so much for the comment. I would love to see a study done on Vitamin D and melatonin, it would be pretty easy to implement.

      Reply
  5. I posted this over on the wordpress blog, but I wanted to make sure you noticed it :)

    “I’d be interested in seeing what other supplements you take and at what time you take them. Given the tendency for some supplements to be more fat or water soluble plus the physiologic effect of taking them at different times, we could probably narrow down exactly what helped.

    I’m not discounting that the D3 could be triggering some sort of “look body, its still light outside” type effect but I’d love to single out what you’re taking to see if is or not.

    Since UV radiation on the skin triggers the conversion of 7-dehydrocholesterol into cholecalciferol, I could see the potential for the body to see the exogenous introduction of D3 as an indication that we’re receiving sunlight and that its not quite bed time yet. But on the same vein, it could be the actual conversion process (the drop in 7-dehydro due to conversion) or the byproducts of said reaction that triggers this effect…so exogenous supplementation might not trigger the the light exposure signals.

    Let’s find out!!!!!!”

    Reply
    • I’m not sure if my theory is right at all either – but all I know is that when I take my Vitamin D any time after 3 p.m. I wake up 20-30 times during the night and feel like crap. I’ve taken all my other supplements before bed/in the evening with the exception of the D and have still had restful sleep. I was also curious to see if any of the other supplements were involved. Here’s what I take:

      Probiotics
      Fish Oil
      Magnesium
      Zinc
      B-Complex (I thought this would really affect my sleep if taken at night, since it gives me energy during the day, but it doesn’t seem to.)
      Vitamin C (3 times a week)

      I don’t take a multi-vitamin as I seem to be getting everything I need from my diet – I generally feel, look and preform great. Alright, Jesse, hack my supplements! :)

      Reply
      • I’m no expert, but I’ve been doing a good deal of research and n=1 experiments myself lately, so I’m more just interested in picking apart your puzzle :)

        That being said I have a few questions…

        1. Supplements

        Can you list the Brand, type/form, amount, and actual ingestion time of your supplements? Ex. Magnesium: how much do you take, what form (citrate/oxide/etc), when do you actually end up taking it (since you’ve said you often missed taking it at night and just did it in the morning), and such.

        It’d be great to get a list of each supplement you take and the aforementioned information on each.

        2. Meal timing/type

        What are you eating for dinner? When do you eat dinner? Do you just take your supplements with a glass of water in the morning or with an actual meal?

        3. Workout habits

        Give us the full layout of your typical workout week…type of activity, how long, what time of day, etc.

        4. Oh! On the B-Complex, can you list specifically the different types of B vitamins, amounts, and form they come in?

        That should give us a great start :)

        Reply
        • I’m away from home for the next few days so I don’t have the bottles with me, but I will do this when I get home. :)

          Reply
      • The thing that stands out most so far is the level of D3 being quite high, especially for Fairfield (I lived in Sacramento for a few years).

        For someone who looks, performs, and feels great generally and, we can assume, has great absorption in the gut…10,000 iu’s seems like a damn lot of D3 to take in at one time. D3 being quite fat soluble means that it can reasonably stay in your system for a bit before being depleted, hence why you still feel fine even a few days after missing a dose.

        If nothing else, you might split up the 10,000 iu’s into 2-3 doses of 3,000 to 5,000 iu’s spread out over the day (at least 4-6 hours apart). Honestly I think reducing your dose to around 5,000 to 6,000 (either in one dose or broken up into smaller doses spread out) might be better.

        I currently live up in Portland, OR (cloudy and rainy most of the year) and I take 10,000 iu a day (2 doses of 5,000…one at breakfast the other at dinner) and my latest blood levels of D3 were in the low 60′s/upper 50′s…and I still have gut issues.

        I’m willing to bet that your location + good gut health + supplementation is essentially jacking your levels up a little too high for what your body might be comfortable handling.

        Reply
        • Hi! First off, I don’t spend a lot of time in the sun. In fact, some days I don’t even go outside. I know, I know. When I am outside, I’m wearing much more than a loin cloth, in fact I’m generally covered up (I spend a lot of time in San Francisco, it’s butt ass freezing here). I had my D levels tested while taking 5000U, and they were only at 55, so I bumped it up to 10,000.
          I’ve tried splitting my doses up, but I can never remember to take the second dose. On days that I do remember, my sleep is shit. If I take my Vitamin D any time after about 1 p.m., I wake up 20-30 times in the night. When I take it all at once first thing in the morning, I feel great, I sleep great so I’m not really seeing what the problem is.
          Currently I have absolutely horrible gut health, thanks to the massive doses of antibiotics the hospital inflicted upon me. It’s been about a month now and I am still recovering.

          Reply
          • Hi, came across your site while searching for why I am still awake at 4 am when I know I am tired. I am trying to figure out what meds or supplements are keeping me up. I too take high doses of D3- I can’t seem to get my level above 45 even with 5,000 IU’s a day. I think it is because of my gerd medicine. It keeps the acid down in my stomach which is needed to absorb the D3. So I am not absorbing all that I am taking. I am going to skip my D3 tonite to see what happens. The only issue I have is that i take my synthroid in the am and I am not supposed to take any supplements until 4 hours later. Which is why I take them all at bedtime. I have a hard time remembering that mid day dose.

  6. Hey, pretty girl!

    An update: I’ve been taking my Vitamin D in the morning (10,000 IU) for two weeks, and I’m sleeping like a champ! I fall asleep easily, wake up once to pee, and fall immediately back to sleep. I’m getting 8 hours a night effortlessly.

    Thanks for the tip. So glad I tried it!

    Reply
    • That is so awesome!!! :) I’m really glad it worked. Since I posted this, I’ve been hearing about people who take Vitamin D before they go to bed to help improve sleep and thought I might be crazy. Goes to show we’re all different and what works for one person might not work for another. So glad you’re sleeping!! :)

      Reply
  7. Hi my primitive retro friend!
    I know this might be a stupid question but,
    I took my first dose of 10,000 IU at 12:30.
    Does that mean I should stay up a few hours later before trying to sleep since I didn’t take it at 7am??
    Also I started kind of high with my dosage. Should I be concerned at all?

    Overzealous. :)

    Reply
    • I would first get your blood levels of Vitamin D tested. You need to know where you’re starting from in order to get the correct dosage. I would be wary of taking 10,000 IU at 12:30, at that time of day I’ve found my body will only accept about 5000 IU and still let me sleep that night. Don’t try to stay up late; go to sleep when the sun goes to sleep and wake when it rises. :)

      Reply
  8. If you have not already seen it, I’d take a look at the Wikipedia article on the human phase response to light. It would appear that there is a very brief period when the body’s various clocks are highly sensitive to light, and that depending on exact timing, the light will advance OR retard your internal clock. You can locate these points precisely by measuring body temperature. Whether you want to advance, retard, or maintain your personal clock will depend on the magnitude of your own response, and the natural period of your clock – these factors seem to be genetic, and together determine whether you are a night owl or morning person. As far as I’ve been able to determine, there is a decent sized body of peer reviewed data to back up the above description… Though I’m an engineer, not a doctor, so I’ll admit a certain bias towards this type of explanation.

    This is not to invalidate or downplay the experiments you’ve already tried. Just one more tool you may be interested to play with.

    Reply
    • This sounds interesting, thanks for sharing! To be honest, I’m not sure I have the time or patience to record my body temp all the time. The experiments I do on myself are less than scientific. I’m just trying to feel my best by process of elimination/supplementation and whenever I come across something I think could affect others, I try to pass it on. Dr. Seth Roberts is also delving into this stuff on his blog – , check it out and let me know what you think.

      Reply
  9. Hi Tara,
    My first visit here – I tripped onto your site from one of the Paleo sites. I like your style!
    I know this is an older post, but… I also have had a lot of insomnia and am working like heck to find a solution. Mine, however, started when I was a kid, basically. And got much worse when I hit menopause. My first issue is getting to sleep at all – I have trouble shutting my brain down to sleep. Then I wake up a lot. I think I’ve finally gotten the falling asleep in a reasonable amount of time part down, thanks to a breathing exercise I Googled into here:
    http://www.normalbreathing.com/how-to/how-to-fall-asleep-fast.php
    And changing my sleeping position to left side. As for the waking up a lot, since I started this, I have slept pretty well through the night some nights, and others I’d wake up a lot. I did not make any correlation to supplements until possibly now. I am not as consistent as I should be with D3 – I try to remember to take it every day, but sometimes I remember AT NIGHT. Last night was one of them. I got to sleep OK – and then woke up a bunch of times! I am going to skip the D3 if I forget until afternoon or later and see what happens… I do know if I take a multivitamin late in the day (or B-complex) it will keep me up. Did not think of D3. I am also trying to get out in the sun more to get D – it’s not just the Vit D sulfate you need, it’s also the cholesterol sulfate. And it’s made in the skin from cholesterol.
    Thanks so much for the tip!!!

    Reply
    • I’ve also found the B Vitamin keeps me up at night, so I make sure I take that in the morning too. It doesn’t cause the kind of sleep disturbances that the D does, though. Love those breathing exercises, that is something I tried and that really helps to make me fall asleep. Good luck and let me know how it goes! And thank YOU for the tip! :)

      Reply
  10. I have had chronic insomnia for years, apnea has been ruled out. Going in to have a sleep study done over night soon. I never feel very good, tired all the time. I am going to try the no use of artificial light and vitamin D2 and see what happens. Any other tips for chronic insomnia would greatly be appreciated.

    Reply
  11. Timing is everything! I struggle with asthma and so I just started on 4,000 IU vitamin d and I’m hoping it doesn’t make me sleep bad. It’s amazing though on how much we need that vitamin.

    Reply
    • Make sure you are taking it in the morning. It’s like swallowing little capsules of sunshine. Taking it at night can adversely affect sleep patterns but in the morning it can make your sleep so much better!!!!! – Sarah, Assistant PrimalGirl

      Reply
  12. Taking Vit D 2,000 and increasing due to Test revealing 28. Would like to get the number up to 60-70. Wonder if it’s better to just double the d to get it up to par. It sounds like it’s not good to space it out because D can be energizing if taken later in the day.

    Reply
    • You can take it all in the morning at once. I take 5000 IU each morning from the spring equinox until the fall and then after the fall equinox I double that to 10000 IU. It helps a ton with my winter blues and with my energy level throughout the day. – Sarah

      Reply
  13. Thanks so much for the tip…as soon as summer hit I stopped sleeping good and think I have it narrowed down to vitamins…I have been suspecting it was the D3 because one night in particular was horrible….I did not sleep all night.
    That day I had taken my vitamins at the mid-day meal, and had laid in the sun for an hour around 4pm… I take 4,000 IU every day of D3 and try to take my supplements at breakfast but wasn’t doing well at that because I was trying intermittent fasting (6pm-10am).
    I have already ruled out the B vitamins…The last 2 days I have not taken any supplements just to see and I have sleep great!
    I am going to try your suggestions :-)

    Reply

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