From a functional perspective, insomnia, circadian rhythm disruptions, or any sleep disturbance for that matter, are messages alerting to an underlying dysfunction.
For many of us, there comes a moment in our lives when our sense of vitality and feeling healthy begins to erode. Over time we experience subtle shifts, many of which go by without a moment’s thought, and many go on for years because they have not been debilitating enough to slow us down. That is until issues become chronic, forcing us to make that doctor’s appointment.
Here is a scenario: you can’t sleep, so you go to your doctor complaining that you have trouble sleeping through the night; that you’re tired but still can’t fall asleep. You want to know how to get rid of your insomnia because it’s making you drag through your day with barely enough energy, you snap at the slightest irritation, and have difficulty concentrating. Without further discussion, he/she is likely to write you a prescription for Ambien or Lunesta and send you on your way.
That is a typical approach within conventional medicine. I’m not against allopathic medicine. It has its place. If you’ve got a broken bone, head straight to the nearest emergency room! But there is another model for routine health care, a new paradigm called functional wellness, an integrative system that considers the whole person, not just symptoms or disease.
Let’s redo the scenario again:
You go to a practitioner who is a functional diagnostician and complain that you can’t sleep through the night; that you’re tired but still can’t shut down with all the sleep hygiene tactics in the book. You want to know how to get a good night’s sleep. Unexpectedly, you find yourself in an hour-long conversation about your lifestyle, mental and emotional state, your social connections and diet.
You begin to wonder, what does all that have to do with insomnia?
The difference in approach is because functional wellness is a paradigm shift from the disease-treatment model of conventional medicine, one which assesses a full spectrum of function inside and out, in essence treating the whole person, not just the symptoms.
Over 30 years ago, Dr. John W. Travis, author of the Wellness Workbook, formulated a model of wellness he called the iceberg model where “illness and health are only the tip of the iceberg. To understand their causes, you must look below the surface.”
Dr. Travis is considered one of the pioneers of this new paradigm, shifting focus from pathology (aka disease) to promoting high-level wellness by diving deeper and looking below the surface of symptoms to uncover the root cause.
As functional wellness is coming of age, it becomes necessary to offer a new roadmap, one based on patterns and disruptions in optimal function, which can be systematically assessed and addressed. Functional diagnosticians, like Dr. Mark Hyman, MD., Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine believes:
Symptoms are the body’s homeodynamic response to underlying functional imbalances. Symptoms are the body’s attempt to reestablish balance and restore function and health. Laboratory and other diagnostics are focused on assessing causes and mechanisms of illness rather than confirming pathology. Treatment is directed at removing causes and restoring normal function and not suppressing symptoms.
With this in mind, from a functional perspective, it becomes obvious that insomnia, circadian rhythm disruptions, or any sleep disturbance for that matter, are messages alerting to an underlying dysfunction. Therefore it’s a call to dig deeper – below the tip of the iceberg.
Let’s go back to the sleep issue scenario again, this time using a functional approach. You complain of insomnia and the protocol with your practitioner may look like this:
This is probably very different from what you are accustomed to, isn’t it?
This is the world of functional wellness, where you are more than your symptoms or disorder. You are a composite of mind, body, heart, and soul, where everything is interconnected. Therefore no disease, disorder or imbalance happens in a vacuum. You are whole, you are unique, and you are on a continuum of constant shifts and changes.
The most fundamental question in this paradigm is: what do you need to function at a high level of wellness?
If you are not using this model, you are operating at the tip of the iceberg. And there is a whole world beneath the surface.
Is that good enough for you?