Our sleep greatly impacts the production and regulation of our hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers responsible for controlling and coordinating different functions in the body. Examples of these functions include things like reproduction, growth and development, response to illness or injury, and many more.
The top hormones impacted by sleep (or lack thereof!) include ghrelin, leptin, cortisol, and insulin. When our body is humming and sleeping well, the design of this system is intact and functioning beautifully. But even after just one poor night’s sleep, science shows us that the higher cortisol levels increase ghrelin, decrease insulin sensitivity, and decrease leptin.
When sleep is disrupted, our adrenal glands overproduce cortisol, our primary stress hormone, which begins the cascade of hormone disruption. The reason why cortisol is released is because the body starts to feel as though it is in an unsafe state. Cortisol causes an increase in ghrelin, our hunger hormone. Ghrelin’s role is to regulate food intake, so when it gets elevated, our bodies crave more food and want to eat more. Cortisol also causes a decrease in leptin which compounds our hunger cues. Leptin is released from fat cells and sends messages to the brain to suppress hunger. It essentially says to the body: please do not feed me anymore. I am full and satisfied. Because we are suppressing leptin, our bodies have no idea if we are full or not, so our hunger and fullness cues remain entirely unregulated. This chronic lack of sleep can ultimately lead to hormone resistance, such as leptin resistance and insulin resistance which happens when the body stops responding to these hormones.
What is the Deal with Leptin Resistance?
If our bodies stop responding to leptin, our satiety hormone, we lose the ability to truly sense when we are full and satisfied. Leptin helps prevent overeating and helps us to maintain a healthy weight. When we become leptin-resistant we may consume more energy than is actually required of our body, causing us to store more fat. When leptin levels are robust, it signals to the brain that there is adequate fat stored, but when leptin levels are depleted, the brain thinks it needs to eat more to store more. Your brain also decreases energy levels, causing you to burn fewer calories.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin resistance happens when our cells no longer respond appropriately to insulin. What ends up happening is that insulin becomes ineffective and more and more is needed for cells to store glucose and reduce blood sugar levels. The pancreas starts producing increased levels of insulin to compensate for this in order to keep glucose levels under control. This results in increased insulin in circulation, as well as increased blood sugar levels.
Has This Happened to You?
Imagine this scenario: You have a major work project due in two days, your nanny calls out sick, and your spouse is traveling. What do you do? Well, you have to work into the night for two days straight and wind up sacrificing sleep in order to do that. In these couple days, you begin to realize that you’re hungrier than usual and start having cravings for sweet and salty processed foods - like chips, cookies, pretzels. Does this sound like something that has ever happened to you? Well, if it has, you are certainly not alone.
When we get adequate, restful, restorative sleep (7-9 hours a night), our hormones stay regulated and in homeostasis. Our bodies love homeostasis and predictability, and things will run so much more smoothly when our routines remain consistent. Obviously, getting adequate sleep is easier said than done, but all we can do is our best. One thing that is in our control is perfecting our sleep hygiene routine.
Tips to Support Sleep Hygiene:
Have a consistent bedtime and wake time: Again, the body LOVES predictability. When we go to sleep at the same time each night, our bodies know to pump out melatonin. When we wake up at the same time each day, our bodies know it’s time to create a robust cortisol awakening response (CAR) so that we feel energized for the day. The CAR is the biggest boost that we have in cortisol production and should happen within a couple hours after waking. A healthy CAR helps us to maintain healthy energy levels throughout the entire day and is important to our overall well-being.
Minimize electronic use two hours before bed: Try to put your cell phone away and minimize screen time, but if it is absolutely necessary, make sure to use blue light protective glasses. Not only does the bluelight from perusing social media, working late at night on the computer, and watching tv suppress melatonin, but it can also make us feel agitated and restless.
Try reducing your caffeine intake throughout the day, but especially after 10AM. If you do have caffeine in the morning, try a green tea which naturally has l-theanine and can reduce stress and anxiety. If you find that you don’t need the caffeine, but just want a satisfying beverage in the morning, a well-balanced smoothie might be perfect.
Eat a nutrient-dense (link to first article) dinner by 7PM every night. Do you find that making dinner stresses you out so you wind up eating late (which throws off your hormones) or you order in too often? Let us help keep your hormones balanced by cooking you healthy, nutrient dense meals with all the building blocks your body requires to balance hormones and get quality sleep!
Avoid intense exercise in the evening: High intensity exercise in the evening increases cortisol levels and can impact sleep quality and our ability to fall asleep.
Get light exposure in the morning and try not to linger in bed: Light exposure, like getting a day lamp, opening a blind, or better yet stepping outside into the sunshine will help with the cortisol awakening response discussed previously. When we linger in bed, we confuse our brains and bodies.
Have breakfast within an hour of waking and eat meals at consistent times: This will help with blood sugar balance and mood and will keep cravings at bay.
Try a cup of chamomile tea in the evening which can have nervonic and calming properties, or even a small glass of tart cherry juice which is a natural source of melatonin.
In addition to preventing cravings, good quality sleep is essential for so many other functions in the body, including supporting a healthy immune system, protecting reproductive function, ensuring proper cognitive function, supporting detoxification and digestion. Our digestive tracts actually have a circadian rhythm, and a disruption in our rest impacts gut motility.
The Daily Dose Way to Curb Cravings:
Obviously, you get it by now - sleep is important for so many functions. Some of us feel guilty for sleeping well – like we shouldn’t have that luxury and if we are sleeping well than it means we aren’t working enough. Some of us feel like getting a good night's sleep isnt important and something unnecessary to prioritize as much as working out or eating well and both of these could not be more untrue. Sleep is absolutely a necessity and a huge pillar of true health and disease prevention. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is a form of torture. So please, don’t sacrifice your sleep if it is in your control.
If you feel like good quality sleep isn’t happening for you and you can’t figure out why? I would highly recommend you check out our Rehab28. In addition to eating foods supportive in the key micronutrients and macronutrients to support quality sleep, this challenge includes guidance on movement and meditation, both foundational to sleep quality.
We are so excited to embark on this journey with you!
Tricia Williams is a talented Chef recognized as a leader in the fields of Nutrition and Holistic Health. Some years ago, Tricia founded Food Matters, a boutique, nutritionally-sound meal delivery service. Closely collaborating with her clients’ coaches, integrative physicians, and nutritionists, Tricia was able to successfully tailor meal plans that met both their taste preferences and their health goals.
The Longevity Fast 2.0 is a holistic program that gives you the same benefits of a water fast without the food deprivation. This 5-day vegan and gluten free program, helps ease your body into a fasting state in order to improve cellular health and longevity. more info