by Dr. David Minkoff June 21, 2023 8 min read
Getting good sleep is one of the most important things we can do, not just for muscle building and fat loss, but for our mood, energy levels, and overall health.
As sleep is when our body is able to recover and repair cells, a lack of it even affects the aging process, speeding it up internally, as well as visibly causing wrinkles and sagging skin.
Yet a third of Americans get poor sleep, and athletes are no stranger to this.
In fact, many athletes, due to overtraining at times, can raise cortisol levels so much that they can have a very hard time getting good sleep.
And that’s one of the worst things that can happen. Sleep is our time when our body is able to recover from the work we put it through, for our muscles to repair and grow, for our nerves to repair themselves, for our hormones to re-balance, and much more.
So let’s see what causes this and what we can do about it to not only get better, deeper sleep for full recoveries, but even reverse the effects of poor sleep.
We know from this article that during the first few hours of sleep, our bodies release something called human growth hormone, and it's responsible for a host of things, including cellular repair, muscle growth, and healing.
It's your repair/anti-aging hormone. It spurs muscle growth when you've done a workout, instructs healing for an injury, and ensures your bones, nerves, and ligaments stay strong.
As it's responsible for repairing all of our cells, this includes our skin. And when this hormone isn't being released as much, we can start to have drier, rougher skin with more lines and wrinkles.
Also, when growth hormone is released, another hormone is released with it: Insulin-Like Growth Factor or IGF.
This is a hormone which, among other things, is key for fat loss. You could almost call it the anti-fat hormone.
While both of these hormones, along with testosterone, are released during the day, their prime time is at night, during the first few hours of deep sleep that our body uses to repair and recover, either from workouts, physical activity, or injury, or just from the punishment we give our bodies on a day to day basis.
But sleep is key here.
When we don't get enough sleep, we get less of these hormones being released, making fat loss and muscle building harder, lowering our energy levels and overall health, and causing our physical age to accelerate past our chronological age.
So let's see what causes poor sleep and what we can do about it.
We know about cortisol from this article. It's an important hormone that wakes us in the morning and comes to our aid in times of stress.
But when it's too high, it can not only wake us up but keep us awake at night, so we can't sleep.
Even more, while it's released in times of stress, other factors can also trigger its release, and this can actually make us feel stressed — even when we have no reason to be.
And it inhibits not only growth hormone, testosterone, IGF, and progesterone, so they aren't present for cellular repair, muscle building, and fat loss, it also works to store fat, break down muscle, and prevent protein synthesis to repair or make new cells.
But while cortisol acts on a sort of see-saw, with it on one side and testosterone, GH, IGF, and progesterone on the other, it's actually a pretty greedy hormone.
Because at the same time, it's sitting on another see-saw, with GABA and serotonin on the opposite side. These are our calming neurotransmitters that help us relax, both during the day and at night, so we can fall asleep and stay asleep.
While these neurotransmitters are made by, or in conjunction with, the bacteria in our microbiome, cortisol causes their breakdown.
Obviously. Because cortisol is there to raise stress and increase awareness in dangerous situations.
Have you ever felt sleepy or calm in a stressful or dangerous situation?
Neither have I.
But we're not necessarily in constant stressful situations. So why do so many of us have such high levels of cortisol in our body on a constant basis?
Part of it is these bacteria in our microbiome.
When we take in toxins in our food and water, these beneficial bacteria can be harmed or killed, lowering the production of neurotransmitters.
Other harmful bacteria here can also throw off neurotransmitter production when their levels are too high.
These are mainly fed by processed sugars, allowing them to thrive.
But these high sugars also cause inflammation, which in turn raises cortisol to fight this.
So from processed sugars, we get higher levels of cortisol and lower levels of GABA and serotonin.
Even if a large amount of sugar knocks us out before bed, it's doing so the wrong way. It's not relaxing the body but filling it with sugar overload. This is a sugar coma, not refreshing sleep — and you won't wake up feeling energized from it, and you won't have growth hormone or IGF being released.
On the other hand, high levels of fats, protein, and amino acids both help to lower cortisol on the one hand but also feed the GABA- and serotonin-producing bacteria on the other, helping to raise levels of these.
I can guarantee after a week (or two or three) off processed sugars and on a higher protein/fat diet, you will notice a difference in calmness and ability to sleep.
Another thing that prevents sleep is the type of light in more and more of our homes.
Sold as energy efficient and lower in temperature, LED and Fluorescent lights have been put in our offices, homes, and bedrooms.
These emit what's known as blue light, a light that also stimulates cortisol production and can make us feel stressed out.
This is the opposite of what is known as yellow light, such as we get from the sun or a fire, or incandescent bulbs.
If you've ever sat under the sun or by a campfire, you know how calming it can be. It's easy to fall asleep in a park on a sunny day.
That's because of the yellow light. It stimulates GABA release, calming us.
Studies have even shown that people are susceptible to depression, anger, and confusion under constant blue light.
It's the same with our cell phones. They emit blue light, and if we're looking at our phones before bed, this can stimulate cortisol, making it harder to fall asleep.
This may not seem like much, but look at how surrounded we are by LED lights, fluorescent lights, and screens, from our phones to our TV to our laptops.
It's a lot.
Instead, get outside more, under the sun. It's great for not just GABA production but vitamin D production as well, a vitamin which also helps to lower cortisol levels.
And try not to look at your phone at least an hour before bed. Get incandescent bulbs for your bedroom and even your house, and read a book before bed for half an hour or an hour.
Also, give your body time to wind down from the day. If you're running at full tilt all day and then fall into bed with your mind still full of thoughts, it's harder to sleep.
If you have dreams that wake you up, take vitamin B1. This is a key vitamin that's used up when we drink alcohol, putting all sorts of ideas into our minds.
But even without alcohol, if our B1 levels are low, it can cause a constant running commentary in our head, preventing sleep or causing dreams we wake from.
Then we have exercise. As we know, when we work out, we stimulate the release of growth hormone, testosterone, IGF, and Progesterone.
These are also calming hormones.
But there is a balance. Too much exercise — over-training, leads to high cortisol and poor sleep. So we need to ensure we’re not hitting that over-training mark.
Then, if we keep out the sugars or other stressors that raise cortisol to high levels, this can help us relax more easily and fall asleep.
Lastly, we have caffeine. This, along with other stimulants in energy drinks today, raises cortisol levels.
Now, one or two cups of coffee in the morning shouldn't affect your sleep too much. But it is triggering cortisol release.
That's how coffee wakes us up.
But what if you're drinking 4, 5, 6 cups of coffee? Maybe an espresso at night? Or even worse (much worse), one of these energy drinks daily?
Those don't give you any real energy. They use up your adrenaline stores by triggering high levels of cortisol. These can make someone very stressed out and prevent relaxation or restful sleep.
They can even, in some cases, wind a person up in the hospital.
They don't help you. Feeding your body what it naturally needs will actually give you more and more consistent energy.
And you'll get much better sleep.
Work to keep processed sugars out of your diet and instead raise levels of fats, protein, and amino acids.
And take your probiotics.
If you're able, replace the bulbs in your house with incandescent bulbs for a softer, more calming environment.
Get out in the sun, and take your vitamin D.
Make sure you have time to wind down at night and read a book instead of looking at social on your phone.
Take B1 if you're having bad dreams or can't "turn off" your thoughts at night. 100-200 mg a day should do it.
Get in your exercise regularly.
Drink coffee in moderation.
And stay away from those "energy" drinks.
Doing the above, most people will start to relax more easily, and not just fall asleep, but stay asleep, waking up feeling refreshed and restored, not groggy and wanting to crawl back into bed.
From there, our sleep begins to even out, we start feeling rested again, our mood is calmer, and we're able to keep our health and energy levels high.
And our growth hormone, IGF, testosterone, and progesterone, rise, helping to reverse the damage done by lack of sleep and building muscle, and burning fat.
Also, a few other things can help.
If you're having any trouble sleeping right now, make sure to take BodyHealth's Sleep.
It will help get you the rest you need, so your body can do what it's supposed to do. And you won't wake up groggy but ready for the day.
And Relief can help lower levels of cortisol. Just take 3-4 per day, with food, and you should notice a difference after a week or two.
As high protein helps to lower cortisol levels, PerfectAmino is perfect for this. It not only gives your body the protein it needs, but it also helps to feed the GABA- and Serotonin-producing bacteria in your colon, which thrive on the essential amino acids.
Many people report much better sleep when taking 2-4 servings of PerfectAmino per day.
Probiotics are also great to build up and maintain healthy levels of beneficial bacteria.
And our Complete Multi has all the vitamins your body needs in the amounts needed, and in forms your body can actually absorb and use.
I hope this helps.READ THE NEXT ARTICLE IN THE SERIES
by Dr. David Minkoff
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