by Dr. David Minkoff November 03, 2022 4 min read
Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our life.
When our sleep is below normal, when it’s broken up or thrown off, it affects us both physically and mentally much more than we know.
We already know sleep is when most fat burning, muscle building and cellular repair occurs.
But this is because deep sleep is also when our body is able to calm down.
Cortisol levels lower, our nervous system is able to relax and recuperate, our neurotransmitters such as serotonin and GABA rise, and our hormones start to rebalance.
Also, when we have good sleep, our cravings for extra food during the day, especially sugars, decrease.
But when we get poor or broken sleep, cortisol levels rise, lowering testosterone, growth hormone, and progesterone — our fat burning, muscle building, bone-strengthening and calming hormones.
It raises our appetite, increases our stress levels, and lowers serotonin and GABA.
Cellular repair slows, healing and recovery slow, and we’re more likely to become ill.
And our stress levels can rise considerably.
So here are some tips to get better sleep:
Cortisol is a key hormone which raises our stress levels.
It’s released in the morning to help us wake up. If we’re tired, our body releases even more to help us through the day.
Cortisol, especially when high, breaks down the calming neurotransmitters GABA and Serotonin, making it harder to relax, which we must do in order to prepare for sleep.
Ideally, cortisol is supposed to be lowest before bedtime. When it’s not — we can’t sleep. It’s this lack of sleep that leads to even more cortisol being released the next day.
So what raises cortisol the most?
A high sugar diet. Especially processed sugars.
These spike the hormone Insulin, which builds fat, prevents the burning of fat, and raises Cortisol along with it.
The high sugars also cause an inflammatory response, which in turn raises Cortisol to fight this.
While eating a lot of processed sugar before bed can knock us out, it’s doing so the wrong way. It’s not relaxing the body, but poisoning it with sugar overload.
This is a sugar coma, not refreshing sleep. And you won’t wake up feeling energized from it.
This raised cortisol then throws off your other hormones and neurotransmitters. As cortisol levels are raised, even when you fall asleep, you may wake up throughout the night due to this.
So the very first thing: cut out the processed sugars. They don’t help you in any way.
Instead, make sure you have a high protein, high fat meal at dinner. It stays in the digestive system much longer, releasing nutrition over many hours while you sleep, and provides the bacteria that produce calming neurotransmitters with the foods they need.
After a week off of processed sugars, and on a higher protein diet, you will notice a difference.
When we exercise, and especially when we work our muscles, many things optimize in the body.
Cellular repair is jumpstarted, excess energy is worked out, excess cortisol is worked out of the muscles, and growth hormone and testosterone levels rise, which help sleep.
Neurotransmitters become balanced and our body is able to calm down.
It also shortens the time we take to fall asleep, so we’re not lying in bed thinking.
One key thing here, though. While some people do just fine working out right before bed, most don’t.
I wouldn’t recommend working out later than 3-4 hours before you plan to fall asleep, and if it’s strenuous exercise, more like 5-6 hours before bed.
Otherwise your system may still be energized, the opposite effect of what is wanted when trying to sleep.
The best times to workout then are generally in the morning or midday.
Adding this in, along with a high protein diet, can work wonders.
There are two main types of light that affect us in different ways. Yellow light calms us down, lowering cortisol levels, while blue light wakes us up, and raises cortisol levels.
If you sat around a campfire or fell asleep on a sunny day, you know how relaxing yellow light can be. It’s natural light from the sun, fires, and incandescent light bulbs (the kind we used to use).
Blue light comes from fluorescent lights & LED bulbs (much more common now). It also comes from computer & phones screens.
This type of light raises cortisol levels that wake us up instead of calming us down.
If we’re looking at our phones before bed, this can stimulate us, making it harder to fall asleep.
Instead, stop looking at your phone at least an hour before bed. Get incandescent bulbs for your bedroom and read a book, a real book, for half an hour or an hour before bed.
Give your body time to wind down from the day.
And if you really have trouble falling asleep, read fairy tales. Yes. Really. The old kind your parents used to read to you when you were young.
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by Dr. David Minkoff
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