Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a vital component to our overall health. It is a well-known antioxidant that helps repair cellular damage from regular stress and exposure to toxins. It also aids in the regulation of gene expression. However, vitamin C is not something that the body can produce on its own and must be supplemented by external sources (i.e., diet, supplements, etc.). The daily recommended dose of vitamin C is 2,000 mg – however, many people do not meet this dosage.
Many systems in our body rely on vitamin C to function correctly, and one of the most important is our sleep cycles.
Sleep is a process that heals the body and is vital for many regions of the body. Many sleep disorders are associated with a lack of vitamin C. For example, a study published in the Journal Appetite, found that patients reporting sleep deprivation (<6 hours of sleep each night) had low levels of circulating vitamin c (1). Additionally, associations have been discovered between vitamin C and certain sleep disorders. Taking prescribed vitamin C has been shown to lower symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS) (2) – a condition where a person feels sensations like pins and needles when they try to sleep, causing them to jerk and have trouble sleeping. This vitamin also increases what is called flow-mediated dilation (FMD) (the extent of how much blood vessels open to allow blood to flow through them) (3). The increase in FMD as a result of vitamin C intake has helped patients with sleep apnea recover and get more sleep each night.
The lack of sleep that can result from vitamin C deficiency is a serious concern for the health of many individuals. Sleep deprivation can be very detrimental to our bodies. There are many health issues associated with a lack of sleep, so we wanted to point out a few major ones.
First, sleep deprivation, specifically due to vitamin C deficiency, has a strong correlation to impairments with memory (4). A study found that sleep-deprived rats had a higher buildup of a protein called beta-amyloid – a compound that has a known association with dementia and memory loss (5). It has also been found that when a person lacks proper sleep, their memories remain in one region of the brain called the hippocampus when in healthy individuals, they would be in a different part of the brain called the frontal cortex (6). This process is how memories are stored during sleep; therefore, a malfunction in this process prevents the proper development of memories in the first place.
Many studies have linked chronic sleep deprivation with weight gain and obesity. This occurs due to a hormonal imbalance – sleep-deprived individuals have found higher levels of a hormone called ghrelin and lower levels of leptin. Ghrelin is known as the “hunger hormone,” and it signals to the brain that you need to eat. Therefore, ghrelin increases feelings of hunger, whereas leptin decreases them. This hormone is produced (mostly) by the stomach, and in healthy individuals, ghrelin is only produced when the stomach is empty. However, when individuals experience long-term sleep deprivation, their ghrelin levels spike in a manner that is unrelated to real hunger (7), often resulting in overeating. This process is why people that report sleep deprivation typically have higher BMIs and body fat percentages than those with healthy sleep patterns.
The linkage between sleep deprivation and type II diabetes is similar to obesity in that it is a result of a hormonal imbalance. Sleep deprivation can also cause an imbalance in the hormone insulin. Insulin is typically released when blood sugar levels rise in the body. It signals to cells to “open” and take in the sugar to use for energy. When the body is deprived of sleep, the body begins to lose sensitivity to insulin. Insulin resistance results in blood sugar levels remaining high after eating a meal with no means to return to normal (since the cells cannot recognize the insulin to allow the sugar inside to be used for energy) (8).
Type II diabetes is a disease where the body either cannot produce enough insulin or (in the case of sleep deprivation) the body does not recognize insulin when it circulates in the blood. This can cause symptoms such as fatigue, blurred vision, frequent urination, and excessive thirst (9). This form of insulin resistance is also linked to sleep apnea because sleep apnea can also form when the body has higher than average glucose (sugar) circulating.
Due to the various health complications that result from sleep deprivation - it is vital to make sure that you are getting enough vitamin C to limit the risk of hurting your health due to sleep-related issues. There are two main ways that vitamin C can be incorporated into one’s routine – and it is essential to do this since the body cannot produce this vitamin on its own.
Some foods contain high levels of natural vitamin C. Fruits and vegetables are well-known sources of vitamins and minerals; however, each one has a unique concentration of certain types of vitamins. Here are a few of the most renowned sources of vitamin C.
This small fruit is native to South America. It is highly potent in vitamin C – having up to 60 times as much of the vitamin as an orange (10). This fruit is so tart (due to the vitamin C content) that it is rarely eaten in its natural form; however, it is becoming a popular ingredient in powder.
This tropical fruit is a vitamin C powerhouse – with a single serving of kiwi containing about 79% of the daily recommended vitamin C (11). Keep in mind that most of the antioxidants of the kiwi fruit are found in the fuzzy skin, but many people find the texture unpleasant [if this is you try blending the peel into a smoothie instead].
Many vitamin C-dense foods are on the sweeter side; however, these peppers are a great savory option instead. They are easy to cook and add to various vegetable-based meals. These peppers also provide about 140% of the daily vitamin C (12).
Oranges are one of the most well-known natural sources of vitamin C. A single orange provides up to 2000 mg of the vitamin – which meets the daily recommended amount. Many people love the taste of orange juice however, it lacks the potent vitamin concentration which lies in the fruit fibers.
If you struggle to fit vitamin C-dense foods into your diet, you can always rely on synthetic supplements to do the job. The synthetic form of ascorbic acid was created in 1930. It is identical in chemical structure and function to the natural form found in foods. Many do worry that synthetic vitamin C is less bioavailable (absorbable by the body) than its natural counterpart; however, research shows that the two have equal bioavailability (13). Many specialists still recommend that you aim to get your vitamin C from natural sources because these foods are rich in other essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber that also benefit your health.
People who regularly smoke have lower levels of circulating vitamin C compared to non-smokers (14). This is because inhaling smoke causes a higher output of free-radicals in the body. These are harmful particles that can cause cellular damage, and antioxidants are what reverses this damage. If you smoke, you may need to supplement your diet with additional vitamin C compared to the typical daily recommended amount.
Dialysis can deplete the body of vitamin C as well. This phenomenon is known as dialytic vitamin C clearance (15). If you fall under this category, seek professional guidance on how to proceed – some dialysis patients can have the reverse problem of having too high levels of vitamin C due to improper kidney functioning.
People who drink large amounts of alcohol can have vitamin C depletion, similar to smokers (16). Alcohol is a toxic substance that also results in free-radical production in the body. In addition to this, alcohol causes dehydration, which can negatively affect the kidneys – leading to vitamin C clearance (see above).
Vitamin C is an essential vitamin that cannot be made by the body on its own. Vitamin C deficiency can result in sleep deprivation – potentially resulting in health complications such as memory loss, type II diabetes, and obesity. Therefore, it is essential to have a diet high in vitamin C or take synthetic vitamin C supplements to prevent them from arising. Smokes, people on dialysis, and heavy drinkers may need additional vitamin C to compensate for vitamin C depletion from their lifestyles.