Believe it or not, adequate sleep is hands down one of the most important aspects of your health, happiness, hunger & overall vitality.
Research has shown that not only is the number of hours you sleep important, but your sleep quality and what hours you actually sleep are too.
I know how it goes…
You’re on a roll with getting things done, and you want to just keep pushing through. The temptation to stay up just a little bit later to get more done is constantly pulling at you. It feels like the evening hours may be the only time when you get a little quiet time to yourself.
While cutting back on sleep may seem like it will boost your productivity, the long term consequences may actually diminish the quality of your life. You see, sleep, for many of us, is the time your body gets to rebuild, replenish and rejuvenate.
It’s no wonder, why disrupted sleep or lack of quality sleep, has been shown to contribute to weight gain, increased belly fat, increased cravings, fatigue, accelerated aging, and depression!
Without deep restful sleep, your HEALTH, BODY, and SANITY suffer.
The image below is can happen when you don’t get enough rest.
A study published in 2013 showed that just one week of sleeping fewer than six hours a night resulted in changes to more than 700 genes.(1)
This is alarming news, considering nearly half of Americans don’t get the recommended seven or more hours of per night. A previous study showed that people who got less than 5 hours of sleep per night had a 15% greater risk of dying from all causes than people who get a good night’s sleep.(2)
Here are a few more of the shocking discoveries about how sleep impacts your health.
Have you ever noticed after one night of poor sleep you are… hungrier, tend to eat more, and reach for your binge foods more often? When we are tired, we are more likely to try to use sugary, calorie-rich foods and caffeine-laden drinks to try to keep our energy levels up.
But, what people don’t realize is that you’re more susceptible to cravings for unhealthy foods because your hunger hormone, Ghrelin, and the less-likely-to-overeat hormone, Leptin, turn against you. Studies have linked short-term sleep deprivation with a propensity to load up on bigger portions, a preference for high-calorie, high-carb foods, and a greater likelihood of choosing unhealthy foods.(5,6)
Lack of Sleep Increases Your Risk for Diabetes & Obesity
Did you know that your ability to metabolize starch and carbohydrates is dramatically diminished if you get less than 7 hours of sound sleep? A 2012 study found that less than 7 hours of sleep per night was tied to decreased insulin sensitivity by up to 75% which is a huge diabetes & obesity risk factor.(6)
Sleep aids are considered “as risky as cigarettes” and increase rates of mortality.
Insomnia has reached epidemic proportions. Sadly, the only solution that is offered is prescription sleep aids. But this solution is worse than the problem itself.
Prescription sleep aids do not allow you to get into deep restful, restorative REM sleep. REM sleep is where your body gets to balance hormones, rebuild bones and muscle, replenish brain function, and keep you feeling and looking youthful. Instead, most sleep aids drive up GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter & your body’s natural tranquilizer, which does sedate you but does not restore you. The results? Your body misses out on performing vital nightly functions it needs to keep you healthy and happy.
It should be no surprise, that sleep aid usage has been shown by three separate large-scale studies to increase mortality risk by 2.5 to 4.6 times, even when using as little as 20 sleeping pills per year.
To make things worse, people are rarely told that prescription sleep aids have never been approved for long-term, regular use. They were approved based on no more than 6 weeks of regular usage.
Lack of sleep increases belly fat.
Lack of sleep boosts your body’s production of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is not only your belly fat-storage hormone but it’s also your awakening hormone. When cortisol levels are raised it causes your body to store fat, particularly around your midsection, and wakes you up. Such a catch 22!
So, what’s the solution? Instead of relying on pills, let’s get to the bottom of why insomnia is occurring in the first place.
Wait what? Address the root cause? What a novel idea! 😉
Here’s the good news: whether you have difficulty falling asleep, wake up between 1-3 am, and have difficulty falling back to sleep, there is HOPE!
Here is one of the most elusive causes of insomnia and what you can do to resolve it quickly.
Cortisol imbalances/adrenal fatigue is one of the most unknown causes of Insomnia.
Cortisol is best known as the great ”belly fat storage” hormone as well as a “fight or flight” stress hormone. However, what is less known and understood is that cortisol is primarily responsible for waking us up and regulating sleep. When looking at cortisol we are interested in both the amount of cortisol you have as well as the rhythm of cortisol. Meaning, cortisol follows a circadian rhythm. Ideally it is highest in the morning, to get you out of bed and lowest at night to allow you to sleep.
When cortisol is too high at night it means your cortisol rhythm is off. This makes it difficult to fall asleep and it can also wake you up in the middle of the night, preventing you from falling back to sleep.
The best strategy to properly identify if high cortisol is the culprit is to find a Functional Medicine Practitioner or Integrative health practitioner who is familiar with salivary & urinary cortisol testing. This is the type of testing that we offer. Traditional medicine does not recognize & rarely tests the cortisol rhythm. They are looking only at one time point and are looking for disease. So unless they suspect Cushing’s syndrome or Addison’s disease they are overlooking this important piece of information.
Salivary cortisol testing not only identifies what your total cortisol production is but also pinpoints when your cortisol is too high or imbalanced. I have run hundreds of these tests and am amazed how a simple test can provide clients with much-needed direction and relief from insomnia and fatigue.
Symptoms of High Cortisol:
- Tired but wired Increased belly fat/weight gain
- Second wind at night
- Difficulty winding down/inability to relax
- Difficulty sleeping
- High Blood Pressure
- Poor memory
- Low Sex hormones
How to balance cortisol naturally and get some Z’s
Avoid all caffeine and minimize sugar after 2pm.
If that doesn’t make a difference. You may have to wean off caffeine altogether. Here’s the issue, caffeine increases cortisol, restricts blood supply to the brain, and is linked to anxiety due to its effects on GABA, the body’s natural tranquilizer.
Avoid exercising in the evening especially more than 40 minutes of cardio.
Exercise increases cortisol output – a natural energizer. This is why it is natural to have cortisol higher in the mornings. It is designed to get you going in the morning, when the sun rises.
Avoid artificial lights and blue lights
Avoid light from electronics such as iPad, TV, and phone 1½-4 hours before bedtime. Learn more about it’s effects on health and solutions here> Instead
Practice breathing/ meditation/restorative Yoga (Yin Yoga)
Meditation and yoga have been shown to lower cortisol by up to 63%. Both turn on your parasympathetic nervous system, your “restorative nervous system.” There are many apps now and free guided meditations on YouTube.
Try A Sauna to relax and detoxify.
Infrared is the best, but a dry sauna works too. Spend a minimum of 10-20 minutes, and make sure to drink water.
Stop skipping meals.
Skipping meals can lead to low blood sugar which causes cortisol to spike. Get your cortisol levels tested by an Integrative health practitioner.
Identify food sensitivities. Look to the GUT- infections and overgrowths- such as bacterial, yeast, and parasites- especially in the digestive tract – can cause of high cortisol at nighttime and in the morning.
Herbs and Supplements to help induce sleep and balance cortisol.
- Magnesium –Magnesium bisglycinate helps to relax muscles especially if you feel tense during the day and/or before bed. 300-500mg is a place to start. If you have gut issues, I suggest using a gel or lotion for better absorption.
- Epson Salt Baths are a great way to get magnesium each night and induce relaxation plus you get the luxury of the bath.
- Calming herbs: valerian root, passionflower, lemon balm, and chamomile reduces the “tired and wired feeling” – induces relaxation. My favorite blend is Catecholacalm for help falling asleep and unwinding or Neurocalm for boosting GABA, mood, satiety, and relaxation.
- L-Theanine or Taurine– helps with relaxation.
- GABA (gamma-Amino butyric acid) (short-term use only) has a sedating effect.
- Cortisol lowering supplements are available but must ONLY be used if you have tested and confirmed HIGH cortisol. These supplements must be monitored closely by a practitioner. I see many people try to self diagnose themselves as having high cortisol when in fact they have too low levels. Treatment is drastically different depending on what your levels are, so test, don’t guess.
Simple Sleep Hygiene Tips
Best Hours to Sleep
The best hours of sleep for your body are the hours of 10pm – 6am. These hours and what your body is programmed to do during these hours are governed by your relationship to the sun and the 24-hour circadian rhythm – all of which are out of your control! During this time the body is designed to replenish, repair, detoxify and restore. If your body is busy digesting a heavy late meal, or you are up late working, playing, or watching TV, your body misses out on vital recovery time!
Make Your Room As Dark As Possible
It is also important that your room be as dark as possible and that all electronic devices be a minimum of three feet away from the head of your bed. Some people find that even the color readings on their digital clocks are enough to keep them from a deep sleep. Consider covering the clock to assist you in attaining a deeper sleep.
Avoid being over-‐stimulated at bedtime
- Avoid caffeine -‐ completely.
- Alcohol – it may help you fall asleep, but all the sugar in the alcohol will cause a rapid rise and then decline in your blood sugar which will cause you to wake up.
- TV, computers & texting – stop use 2 hours prior -‐ blue light inhibits melatonin production.
- Mental activity -‐ stop doing active mental work at least 1 hour prior. Exercise -‐ at least 60 minutes every day.
- Eating -‐ avoid being too full at bedtime, no food for at least three hours before sleep.
Create a New Bed-Time Ritual
Create a new bedtime ritual that includes Epsom salt baths and lavender essential oil, soft music, reading a good old-fashioned hard- or soft-cover book and meditation. Or spend some quiet time with your kids or spouse. Light some candles, dim the lights, put on some good music and give each other massages, Put the sensuality back into your life.
Frequent nighttime bathroom breaks may indicate Dysglycemia.
If you are up during the night to go to the bathroom frequently, it is most often an indicator of skipped meals, going too long between meals, and frequent blood sugar spikes during the day caused by coffee, alcohol, sugar, starch, and processed foods. The more balanced your blood sugar is during the day, the more soundly you will sleep at night.
Your sea salt intake will also be of assistance in your nighttime urination patterns. If our bodies do not have the proper levels of sodium and trace minerals (provided by sea salt), the body flushes water rapidly instead of using it to properly hydrate the body. There are many ideas about what is the best salt, but I have found that Redmond Sea Salt is the best for me and my family.
- Carla S. Möller-Levet et. al., PNAS March 19, 2013 110 (12) E1132-E1141; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1217154110
- Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem.
- Schmid SM, Hallschmid M, Jauch-Chara K, Born J, Schultes B.A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal-weight healthy me n.J Sleep Res. 2008 Sep;17(3):331-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00662.x. Epub 2008 Jun 28. PMID: 18564298.
- Cooper CB, Neufeld EV, Dolezal BA, Martin JL. Sleep deprivation and obesity in adults: a brief narrative review. BMJ open sport & exercise medicine. 2018 Oct 1;4(1).
- Koren D, Dumin M, Gozal D. Role of sleep quality in the metabolic syndrome. Diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity: targets and therapy. 2016;9:281.
- Shlisky JD, Hartman TJ, Kris-Etherton PM, Rogers CJ, Sharkey NA, Nickols-Richardson SM. Partial sleep deprivation and energy balance in adults: an emerging issue for consideration by dietetics practitioners. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 Nov;112(11):1785-97. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.07.032. PMID: 23102177.