As spring allergy season is upon us, you may not be sleeping as well as you’d like. That’s because allergies can often disrupt sleep and poor sleep can make you more vulnerable to an allergic response—creating a bit of a catch-22. What’s the connection between sleep and allergies? And why is getting enough good quality sleep so important? We sat down with national board-certified health & wellness coach Yoko Kawashima, a who partners with AAPRI’s Center for Functional Medicine, to discuss these questions and more.
Q: Let’s begin by talking about what’s actually happening in our bodies during sleep?
Yoko Kawashima: When you’re asleep, your body goes through this insanely efficient detoxification process. Sleeping helps to keep your body clean ultimately, it prevents toxins from building up. Different functions are happening during different stages of sleep. For example, your immune system is restored during the non-REM (rapid eye movement) stage as it interacts with the lymphatic system. Meanwhile your brain undergoes a wash-out of toxins through the glymphatic system. While you’re in a deep state of sleep, your body goes through a growth and restoration process, rebuilding tissues and muscles. During the REM state, memories are formed.
It’s so important to get quality sleep and a decent duration of sleep, approximately 7 to 9 hours for adults. Good sleep helps to increase longevity so you can live a long life. On the flip side, when you don’t get enough sleep, that’s when your body and your brain start to atrophy. You’re not able to think properly, you become less efficient, you become vulnerable to infections, and of course, toxins start to build up and that can cause inflammation and all sorts of issues.
Q: What are some of the most common sleep problems you see working with Dr. Z?
YK: Most often patients are dealing with multiple symptoms ranging from stuffy nose, migraine, difficulty breathing, or skin issues that are keeping them up because it’s so itchy. I also see a lot of IBS-related symptoms, gut problems, acid reflux, and bowels not working properly. All of these issues can make it hard to get to sleep or they can wake people up in the middle of the night and then they can’t get back to sleep. And of course, there’s stress! Because when you’re not feeling well, it perpetuates the chronic stress that keeps you awake. What Dr. Z and I do is get to the root cause of their symptoms so we know where to focus on combatting these issues with their sleep.
Q: Is there a connection between allergies and sleep?
YK: When we talk about allergies, we’re talking about allergens such as tree or grass pollen, or dust circulating in the air that could be triggers for a lot of people. The sinus pressure from a stuffy nose can make it difficult to sleep. Or maybe they’ve developed an itchy rash or hives that can interrupt their sleep. Allergies can cause coughing or snoring that can disrupt sleep, too. We need to find the cause of the allergies, which is linked to the state of your immune system, inflammation, and an imbalance in the gut microbiome. Functional medicine can help to figure that out.
Q: How can functional medicine help someone suffering from allergies and poor sleep?
YK: Functional medicine focuses a lot on gut health. The gut is central to everything else in our bodies—in fact, 70% of our immune system is in the gut and so the gut microbiome serves a huge purpose. One of the first things I work on with patients is to clean up their diet by increasing the number of fruits and vegetables, which are high in antioxidants. Fiber is super important to improve the function of all parts of the body, including bowel movements and metabolic function. We aim for a diet high in vitamins and minerals, healthy fats, clean organic protein, and probiotics because we want more good bacteria to proliferate in the gut.
More importantly, we want to remove the bad stuff—things like refined sugar, carbs, packaged foods with lots of fillers and preservatives can disrupt the microbiome. We also want to avoid toxins that can be found in these foods and other things like cosmetics, plastics, BPA (in canned goods), and even the nonstick coating on Teflon pans.
One thing we emphasize is cruciferous vegetables [asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, arugula, kale, radish, etc.] because they help detoxify the liver, they trigger the production of antioxidants that can help combat inflammation. A good part of functional medicine is doing a deep dive through testing, depending on what the patient wants to explore and what the doctor recommends. There’s an important investigative aspect to it.
Q: How can patients work with you?
YK: AAPRI’s Center for Functional Medicine offers an initial 3-month program that includes six 45-minute sessions with me. Patients can choose to add more sessions as they wish. I’m finding more and more people becoming interested in the functional medicine approach, which looks at the body as a whole—your immune system, hormones, gut health, and how all of these systems work together. I work with Dr. Z to help patients implement his recommendations into their day-to-day life. Ultimately my goal is to empower patients to reclaim their health and enhance their quality of life.
Find out how functional medicine can help you
IImproving your health is a journey, but it begins with taking that first step. To learn more about our holistic functional medicine approach to treating allergies, sleep issues, chronic stress, and so much more, contact us to schedule a consultation today.