Thursday, June 6, 2013

Circadian Rhythms, Light Therapy, and Vitamin D

This past winter, a blood test determined that I had an extreme vitamin D deficiency. I also had a delayed sleep phase disorder. My doctors prescribed light therapy and vitamin D supplements, which I have been taking since February. I found that they help me tremendously. I no longer have fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle weakness, daytime sleepiness, or insomnia!

Circadian Rhythms

We all have a biological clock that controls our circadian rhythms, which affects things like our body temperature, appetite, alertness, and sleep timing. For some of us, the genetic makeup of our circadian timing system causes our bodies to deviate from the typical pattern. For as long as I can remember, I have had abnormal circadian rhythms that led to me feeling the most energetic right around the time that everybody else is going to sleep. I have also always been ridiculously tired in the mornings (basically, any time before noon). I usually managed to get by on very little sleep during the weekdays and then I would sleep until the afternoon on the weekends to make up for it. 

But over the past two years, my sleep patterns had got even worse. It was at the point where, on a daily basis, I would not sleep the whole night and still be wide awake at 7:00am when I needed to wake up at 8:30 or 9am. Then I would crash in the late morning and not be able to function throughout the rest of the day on a normal schedule. I desperately needed to find something to help, because I couldn’t do the things that I wanted to do at the times that they needed to be done. I followed people’s advice, such as not consuming any caffeine or sugar, but I still found myself awake all hours of the night.

I ended up going sleep specialist, who told me that I had a delayed sleep phase disorder, causing me to operate about 9 hours behind everyone else, both in falling asleep and waking up. She recommended for me to try light therapy (typically used to treat S.A.D.) which involves sitting in front of a bright light that mimics natural outdoor light, minus the harmful UV rays. I honestly thought that it sounded like a gimmick at first, especially since I didn’t see how light therapy could possibly work for both S.A.D. and sleep disorders, but I was willing to give it a try. 

Light Therapy

I was happy to find that, after getting a light and using it for only two weeks, my circadian rhythms automatically adjusted. I was finally sleepy at night and energetic during the day! Since I need to be exposed to the light for 30 minutes every morning, I chose to go with the visor, rather than the light box, so that I can move around and do daily activities (getting dressed, breakfast, or driving to wherever I am going) at the same time. 

I now generally sleep from about 1:30am to 8:30am, which isn’t perfect (the sleep specialist said that I will always be a night owl because that is how my body is naturally) but it is much more reasonable than before.

I look silly wearing it, but Ryan loves the hat and says that he wants
to wear a light hat like mommy. Ha! I hope that he never has to!

Vitamin D

I originally hoped that the light therapy used for circadian rhythms would also help to bring up my vitamin D levels, but since there are no UV rays involved, it does not provide any vitamin D. While I do go outside daily (especially now that the weather is gorgeous!) and eat foods that contain Vitamin D, it just isn’t enough for me. I think that it would be for some people, but all of our bodies are unique and process things differently. So, at the recommendation of my doctor, I now take an additional vitamin D supplement every day.

Since I hate taking lots of pills, I opted for Carlson’s vitamin D drops along with Carlson’s liquid fish oil for the added health benefits. I also started taking Magnesium, since it works together with Vitamin D. I have never really taken vitamins before in my adult life (except prenatal) but since I have started taking these, my body feels less achy and more energetic.

Why Vitamin D is essential… 

Vitamin D can help our bodies in various ways: increasing muscle energy, reducing muscle fatigue, promoting calcium absorption, reducing inflammation, encouraging bone growth, regulating cell growth and cell activity, helping the immune system, protecting against osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, rickets, and hypertension, reducing stress, reducing depression, strengthening hair and teeth, improving brain function, and aiding in weight loss. Furthermore, vitamin D may even play a role in the prevention of certain types of cancers.

According to this article“Strong evidence indicates that intake or synthesis of vitamin D is associated with reduced incidence and death rates of colon, breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers. More than 1000 laboratory and epidemiological studies have been published concerning the association between vitamin D and its metabolites and cancer. Long-term studies have demonstrated the efficacy of moderate intake of vitamin D in reducing cancer risk and, when administered with calcium, in reducing the incidence of fractures.”

This article states that, "Though the relationship between vitamin D and breast cancer remains unclear, a growing body of research currently supports vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for breast cancer" and "vitamin D deficiency has been shown to promote the growth of human breast cancer cells in the bones of nude mice, suggesting that vitamin D might promote cancer growth by altering the bone microenvironment.”

I also found it interesting how this article says that a "variation in VDR (vitamin D receptor gene) may be associated with breast cancer risk." Maybe that explains why some of us are prone to having low levels of vitamin D?

Regardless of how little or how much protection vitamin D can offer me from a cancer recurrence, I still think that it is important for my overall health to make sure that I am getting plenty of it. Foods that contain vitamin D include: eggs, cod liver oil, mackerel, mushrooms, catfish, herring, tuna, salmon, sardines, fatty fish, and fortified dairy products. However, a healthy diet alone often isn't enough to fulfill the daily requirements of vitamin D. 

So we should make sure to spend lots of time outside this summer and try to get an extra dose of vitamin D!



  1. I love that picture of you and Ryan - it is so sweet! I am so glad that the light and vitamin D have helped so much, that really is amazing.

  2. @Karen- I was definitely surprised at the huge difference that it made! P.S. 13 more days!!!!!!!! =)

  3. Thank you for this post - it gives me hope as I too suffer from delayed sleep phase disorder and it has made my life a living hell. People don't understand it and think that I've made it up . . . I always hoped and prayed things would get better over the years but it has only gotten worse.

    Thanks Again

  4. @Anonymous- Have you tried light therapy and vitamin D? I hope that you feel much better soon!

  5. Hi Dana,

    Stumbled across you page. You may be interested in this YouTube video about Vitamin D and sleep. It is a video of a lecture given by neurologist Dr. Stasha Gominak and her journey through her experience with her headache patients and her fascinating discovery about Vitamin D. You will feel encouraged and hopeful about your sleep after you watch it. Best of luck!

  6. When I had a newborn and had to get up a lot in the middle of the night- someone gave me the tip that you should use a low wattage red light. The red light is less disruptive to the circadian rhythm so it helps you get back to sleep more easily after getting up in the middle of the night. Even now that she's older, we still use a red light nightlight in her room.

  7. @Lynda Grasso- Thanks! That is great to know!

  8. @Linda McKnight- Dr. Stasha Gominak's lecture was very interesting! I have been taking vitamin D3, B12, and magnesium on a daily basis and I sleep completely normal hours now. It is wonderful. I completely agree with what she is saying! Thanks for sharing this video on here.

  9. Thank you for sharing your story! As someone who has also struggled with delayed sleep, and as a family member of a breast cancer survivor, I have found inspiration recently to bump up my sleep schedule after reading so much research on breast cancer's link with LAN.


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