Let’s get back to Basics : sleep deprivation’s role in chronic illness

I can recognize now that the very fundamental’s of basic health were not in place prior to my diagnoses two years ago. In my previous post I mentioned my poor eating habits and stress level but I’d like to explore just one component of this today which was sleep deprivation. Although there were many factors in my development of chronic illness this was definitely a key player- and the effects of this alone extended into EVERY other aspect of my life. Just to quickly summarize, because of the job I held at that time I worked long hours and brought work home, and would often stay up late. I typically worked on weekends as well. My mind was always shifting between work and my children while just trying to get through the day. Up late with only 5 to 6 hours of broken sleep became habitual. When awake I found myself fighting fatigue with multiple cups of coffee and a whatever readily available carb heavy foods I could grab . What I realize now is that I had entered into a vicious cycle … one that landed me in the world of diabetes, tired , foggy headed and anxious.

I am in very good company here friends . Lets look at some of the stats regarding sleep deprivation and its effect on health ….The American Sleep Association reports 50-70 million people have a sleep disorder with insomnia being the most common. Over past 100+yrs sleep hours have decreased dramatically : in 1900’s the norm was 9hours ; now < 6 is the average. So what is the optimum amount recommended? Well adults should be between 7-9 hours, Teenagers around 8- 10, Children (6ys-12ys) 9-12 hours. And why does this matter ? Because according to the National Institute of Health , 5 hours or < of sleep is linked to Obesity , Diabetes , Cardiovascular disease , hypertension, increased Anxiety / Depression, and even increase in alcohol use .

With 85% of all doctors visits in this country now related to chronic illness we need to pay way more attention at the very foundations of health… More and more sleep is devalued and its become something of a badge of honor to say how much work we accomplished,  with as little sleep as possible. It certainly has become the cultural norm ; in part I believe due to the amount of technology and global business of today’s world that makes us accessible 24 hours a day. Its time we get back to the basics.

In my next post I’ll delve into the illnesses I mentioned in greater detail , and explain what exactly happens to your body with sleep deprivation that prompts the onset of these diseases to occur.

The Book of Life : Nature vs. Nurture

cropped-millie-e1483910146821.jpgIn my last post I briefly talked about my family’s long history of autoimmune diseases. Once I myself developed both Type 1 DM and Hashimoto’s ( which was discovered very shortly after the DM) I began to comprehend what part I unwittingly played in the expression of these genes. As I reflected back on my childhood I began to connect the dots and see just how I came to this point .

I was born in the very early  1970’s into a Hispanic family that lived in a socioeconomically diminished neighborhood in NYC. The importance of knowing is this is it relevant to understanding my disease process which stemmed from a certain mindset. In that place and at that time there was a belief that children should be encouraged to eat irregardless of actual hunger. I believe that there are a number of reasons for this. To start there was, and still is, a belief that babies and children should have an increased amount of added plumpness to them . Perhaps that implied an increased ability to withstand illness, but it certainly was perceived as being “healthier”. I know for sure with my own family there was the constant feeling of being Blessed we had plenty to eat. This was very important especially to my father as he had grown up on a Caribbean island at the latter part of the Great Depression and had been born into poverty. As one of seven children he would relay that there was never enough food to go around his house and he felt a certain pride in making sure there was plenty at ours. However , due to our community’s economic situation and lack of readily available health education resources, there was a prevalent consumption of high glycemic food intake between meals. These were often of poor nutritional quality. The meals themselves included foods that back on the island where people were much more active while out in the sun did not have the same effect on their waistlines as they did here.

This was not unique to my community. This difference has been studied before in other cultures. For example the Pima Indians from Mexico were studied in comparison to their families that immigrated to Arizona. Because of differences between lifestyle and diet , a significant portion of the population that resided in Arizona developed leptin resistance and obesity. I came to realize that although I had long since grown up and moved out of the place of my origins, and was now an educated healthcare provider, I still habitually fell back to the ways of my upbringing especially during times of stress. Within all of us is what I refer to as the “Book of life” in which culture , relationships and lifestyle have a strong influence on us. Even as we intellectually grow , it will often take a centennial event before we commit to make permanent and positive changes for the sake of our own health. The reality is that only about 5% of all diseases have a dominant gene abnormality as the root cause.  For the rest of us it is a dynamic combination of our environment which includes stressors, relationships, and lifestyles, coupled with the expression of our epigenomes, and perhaps most surprisingly – our Gut’s microbiome .

I believe that , as with myself, people who have a true desire to do so can absolutely begin to turn the course of their own health through coaching and education. In the future posts I will write more in-depth about discovering the root causes what really makes us ill, and the journey that need to take place to bring us back to a place of Wellness.

The start of the Journey…

On March 31st 2015  I found myself on a stretcher staring up at the ceiling of the ER at NYC’s Weil Cornell Medical Center.  I arrived here after being told at a nearby urgent care center, where I’d gone after work for upper abdominal pain, that I was in DKA ( Diabetic Ketoacidosis).  My blood glucose was around 400mg/dl, my vision was blurry, and besides this persistent abdominal pain – I just felt “ill” in a way I had never felt before.  Although I had never had a diagnosis of diabetes, not even gestational, here I was at the age of 43yrs, in a state of glucose toxicity, and with a diagnosis that seemed to come out of thin air.  But I wondered, had it really come on so suddenly?

Sadly, although I was both numb and surprised to find myself here, I was not terribly shocked . As I reflected back on the last 3 yrs all I could see was grief and suffering with the caring and passing away of my sister Catherine from metastatic breast cancer after a 2yr battle. As a matter of fact , March 31st 2015 was the one year anniversary of my sister’s own admission to the hospital just days before she passed away.  3 months after her death,  my 89yr old father succumbed to … what was it ? a broken heart?.. and passed away as well. I suddenly came to terms with how over the past 3 yrs I had loved, wept for, and loss both the people who had influenced me more then anyone else ever had or would. My sorrow over my sister’s loss especially, coupled with long hours at work and young children home, caused me to stop caring for myself . I went on automatic in my grief, grabbing anything to eat and not even thinking of exercise . Sleep was an every night battle and I was simply existing in a state of mourning. Considering these things I now understood that while I thought I was soldiering on  … in reality I had wreaked havoc with an already stressed mind and body.

As I pondered these things that night in the ER, the MD’s debated over whether or not I had Type 1 or 2 diabetes.  I however did not wonder.  You see my family has a long history of being riddled with autoimmune diseases of every sort and so I knew instinctively that it was Type 1.  My only question was , could my grief and self neglect in the matter of just 1 yr have triggered this?  Or had it been my destiny all along and the perfect storm of events had occurred to turn the inevitable genetic keys?  None of the mainstream conventional MD’s then or after could fully answer either of these.  As I resigned myself to a lifetime of insulin pumps and finger sticks I found myself increasingly  interested in what exactly had happened at the physiological level that had provoked my genetics predispositions.  This interest became a passion when both my young children ages 6 and 8 began to show signs of their bodies own defense mechanisms firing up.  I went from researching online the cause of autoimmune diseases where I began to understand that this did not come upon me like a bump in the night – that there was a process that had been evolving years before that ER visit.  I also began to understand that it was not my “destiny” for these genetic glitches to ignite at 43yrs but rather the lifestyle choices I had been making and how it surprisingly related to my Gut.  Understanding this was empowering because now I knew I could  improve not only my own health,  but also alter the course of my families legacy of debilitating diseases with my own children.  I then enrolled in IFNA (Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy) an online master’s level program in which I have studied the root causes of chronic diseases.  I’ve committed myself to learning a different sort of medical model then the one I was trained in as a Nurse Practitioner.  My hopes is that this blog will capture that and decipher it in a way that you too will find benefit from this knowledge, as we walk together on this journey to wellness.