Could our sleep problems have anything to do with a deficiency of vitamin D? A story about insomnia and vitamin D deficiency recently caught my eye, and a quick search of Pubmed turned up these article titles: sunshine-vitamin

None of these studies shows a definitive link between insomnia and low levels of vitamin D. Yet they do suggest that those of us with sleep problems might do well to examine our lifestyles and our diets to make sure we’re getting enough of the sunshine vitamin.

Vitamin D: How We Get It

Our bodies produce vitamin D with exposure to sunlight. We can also get it by taking vitamin D supplements (it is often combined with calcium) and by eating these foods:

  • Fish and fish liver oils
  • Fortified cereals
  • Fortified soy products
  • Salami, ham, sausages, and beef liver
  • Fortified dairy products
  • Egg yolks

Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency

You’re at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency if:

1)  You get inadequate exposure to sunlight. This may occur because you’re homebound, have an indoor job, live in a northern latitude, or cover up or wear sunscreen all the time.

2)  You’re vegan. Most natural sources of vitamin D are animal based.

3)  You have dark skin. The pigment melanin cuts down on the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.

4)  You are obese. People with a body mass index of 30 or higher often have low blood levels of vitamin D.

Recommended Daily Allowances

A simple blood test can determine definitively whether you’ve got a vitamin D deficiency, and if you suspect you do, pursue it with your doctor. But we can all make sure our daily intake of vitamin D falls within the Institute of Medicine’s current RDAs:

  • 600 international units (IUs) for people aged 1 to 70
  • 800 IUs for people older than 70

Back to the vitamin D supplement studies cited above: the subjects whose sleep improved took much higher dosages of vitamin D than the current RDAs. The safe upper limit for vitamin D is currently 4,000 IUs a day.

Posted by Lois Maharg, The Savvy Insomniac

Lois Maharg has worked with language for many years. She taught ESL, coauthored two textbooks, and then became a reporter, writing about health, education, government, Latino affairs, and food. Her lifelong struggle with insomnia and interest in investigative reporting motivated her to write a book, The Savvy Insomniac: A Personal Journey through Science to Better Sleep. She now freelances as an editor and copy writer at On the Mark Editing.

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