Skip to main content

Functional Medicine Approaches to Sleep by Ashwin Mehta, MD

Sleep is a state of letting go or surrender. The harder we try or strive to sleep often times lends itself to diminishing sleep quality.

The importance of sleep is the fact that it aids in reversing damage that we incur during wakeful hours, reversing oxidative stress, repleting energy stores and more importantly is the brain and body cooling which also happens in REM sleep. As well significant amount of brain development that happens during REM sleep from birth and age 25.

Emerging evidence of having a biphasic sleep routine in human beings is actually normal. In some cultures, and traditions have recognized the importance of siestas in the middle of the day.

In this society of poor sleepers, one of the most common sleep concerns include insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea. Yoga plays an important role to treat insomnia as studies have shown that it has reduced wake times and sleep disturbances in the night.


Sleep has always been a subject that’s very near and dear to my heart because I was always fascinated by how much we can achieve in terms of good health, without any real conscious input from our heart. Conversely, sleep is a letting go. Sleep is a surrender. And interestingly enough, the harder we try, the harder we strive to sleep, oftentimes that effort, that anxiety that worry, that concern actually lends itself to diminishing sleep quality.

Why is sleep important? Culturally, we actually denounce the importance of sleep. You hear it all the time “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”.

Sleep is somehow considered or the requirement for sleep or sound sleep is somehow seen as a weakness.

Now what happens during sleep? One of the most important things that happens during sleep is reversing damage that we incurred during wakeful hours, reversing oxidative stress, repeating energy stores, very importantly, there’s a brain and body cooling. And this happens also during REM sleep. Also, there’s a tremendous amount of brain development that happens between you know from birth to age 25 that a large majority of that brain development happens during REM sleep.

Now, nobody really explained to me why the AASM the American Academy of Sleep Medicine adopted the Chinese Yin & Yang as their as the as their symbol. But the way that I explain this, especially to those individuals who are experiencing insomnia, is that there is emerging evidence for a biphasic, a biphasic sleep model, a sleep routine in human beings biphasic, meaning during every period of nighttime sleep, it’s okay to have a brief period of wakefulness. Conversely, during every period of daytime wakefulness, it’s okay to have a little bit of rest, a little bit of sleep. And, you know, we can only we only need to look at the wisdom of ancient cultures and traditions the world over perhaps besides ours, that have recognized the importance of a siesta in the middle of the day.

Common sleep concerns, include insomnia. We are a society of poor sleepers, especially with our race to introduce as many screens, electronic devices with bright screens in front of our eyes. Obstructive sleep apnea is also incredibly common 26% in the general population and 70% if obese, Clock watchers oftentimes fall into this category of insomnia/sleep state misperception which is, you’re actually sleeping better than you think you are it’s just that when you do wake up, you have such profound anxiety that that mitigates a lot of the restfulness that you would subjectively otherwise experience from good quality sleep. We also use things like Magnesium, Valerian, Lavender, meditation, melatonin, yoga and acupuncture.

Yoga is also really important to treat insomnia. This study looked at the effects of mindful yoga on sleep in pregnant women, It’s a pilot study of a small sample size of 15 healthy women. And they used hatha yoga classes for seven weeks and they measured sleep using actigraphy, which is basically a band that you wear on your wrist and it’s a scientifically validated measure of demonstrating how well someone is sleeping using motion detectors. What they found was that women who began the intervention in the second trimester had significantly fewer awakenings, and less wake time during the night and less perceived sleep disturbance than in baseline. So therapeutic yoga, prenatal yoga, can be useful in addressing sleep concerns that are often common in pregnant women.