The Power of Sleep – It is as Important as Good Food!

If you knew how much your sleep was affecting your health would you sleep more?
What kind of priority does sleep play in your life?
How important is sleep?
What are the real risks of not getting enough sleep?
What are the true benefits of quality sleep?
How do you optimize your sleep?

What I see in my practice is so many people that are tired, have brain fog, have unstable moods, and they want to know what to eat for more energy, what supplements to take for better performance, what foods to eliminate to lose weight, and they make all these changes but don’t see the results. Then, when we talk about sleep, when we talk about stress and when we address meal timing, that’s when everything changes in their lives. That’s when they start to see real progress.

When you don’t get enough sleep, or you don’t get good quality sleep, any of the following can happen, linger and persist:

• Imbalanced hormones
• Blood sugar imbalances
• Decreased ability to detox
• Less fat burning
• Slower healing
• Stunted growth
• Decreased performance
• Insulin resistance

Sleep is really underemphasized. You could be on the perfect diet, eating grain-free, low carb, lots of healthy fats, moderating your protein intake, and still feel fatigued, moody, and out of whack. There are estimates that say 70% of Americans are sleep deprived.

Are you underestimating the power of your sleep? Ask yourself some of the following questions to assess your sleep:

• How much do you sleep each night?
• What kind of sleep are you getting?
• Is it hard for you to fall asleep or stay asleep?
• Are you waking up groggy and irritable?
• Do you make sleep a priority?
• What’s keeping you awake? That’s the big question for many of us.

Stress, working late, watching TV too late, loud noise, blue light from computers and phones, bright lights, eating too late, eating too many carbohydrates, insufficient movement, insufficient sunlight – all these things affect how you sleep.

Sometimes it is as simple as just going to bed earlier! Often people are just staying awake watching TV, working, or doing whatever instead of simply going to bed. If this is your problem, then the easy solution is just to go to bed!

Typically, I see three main categories of sleep problems:

• Not being able to fall asleep
• Waking up during the night and not being able to fall back to sleep
• Not getting enough sleep because you are not going to bed at a decent time

Some people have more than one problem. They are too wired from over stimulating themselves in the evening, staying up late and then they can’t fall asleep. That’s my problem, so I am really careful not to get my body in overdrive in the evening.

It could just be your diet that’s keeping you awake. What you eat and when you eat it. When you eat late your body is kept busy digesting food during the night, instead of doing its repair, growth, and detoxification of metabolic wastes. You also wake up groggier if your body has been busy digesting during the night.

Blood sugar issues are probably the biggest reason why people can’t sleep. High blood sugar disrupts so many of the hormones that are necessary for a good night’s sleep. Insulin output from eating too late or eating too many carbohydrates can shut down melatonin production. I dealt with blood sugar issues for years and as a result, I had tons of trouble with my sleep. My sleep problems were fairly complex, I had difficulty with falling asleep and if I were to wake up during the night it was quite a feat if I fell back to sleep.

It’s not just that you may feel tired after a bad night’s sleep. You feel foggy and cannot think as well, you may have digestive complaints like constipation, gas, or bloating, your muscles feel sluggish, so you do not want to go exercise, and your moods may be a bit off causing you to feel less joyful or excited about the upcoming day. In order to keep yourself going you may have that extra cup of coffee, cave into some mid-morning cravings, which continue into the afternoon or evening, and just basically decide to push through.

The main issue is that a sleep-deprived version of you makes decisions differently, often not rational ones. If you tend towards emotional eating and cravings, then just one bad night of sleep is enough to sidetrack your best intentions. A single night of disrupted sleep can cause temporary insulin resistance, high blood glucose, and can have cognitive effects lasting up to a week. All these can have an effect on our hormonal balance making you more vulnerable to undesirable habits.

These may seem obvious to you, but I think it’s worth it to list the health benefits of good sleep. Sleep is too often overlooked. Your health may be suffering, even if you are doing everything else right, simply because you are not getting a good night’s sleep.

Twelve Health Benefits of Good Quality Sleep

  1. Improves blood sugar balance and reduces cravings. You will not be as hungry when you get adequate sleep and you will be able to manage cravings easier.
  2. Increases fat burning. DHEA, growth hormone, and leptin normally peak during sleep and both of these hormones increase fat burning. Cortisol decreases fat burning, increases cravings, and increases hunger.
  3. Increases detoxification. Most of our detoxification is meant to happen at night. If your body is busy digesting food from a late meal, or you are over stimulated in the evening you will not detox properly.
  4. Decreases cancer risk. Melatonin has been shown to decrease tumor growth. Bright lights, blue light, stress, excess stimulation, even eating late decreases the secretion of melatonin.
  5. Reduces inflammation. While you sleep your body can repair and detox, during this time both cortisol and insulin levels should be low. Having this normal hormone balance will help keep inflammation in check.
  6. Increases tissue repair and lean muscle building. Growth hormone and DHEA are busy making you lean and repairing your tissues during the night.
  7. Enhances focus and attention. Balanced cortisol and insulin levels allow you to sleep more deeply, recharge your brain function, and lower brain inflammation so that your brain can communicate more efficiently.
  8. Improves memory and learning ability. When you sleep better, manage your stress, and lower your blood sugar your brain will thank you by improving function.
  9. Stabilizes moods. Excess cortisol and insulin will lead to sleep deprivation and can make you depressed or anxious. Melatonin also increases serotonin, so a good night’s sleep can really benefit your moods.
  10. Reduces cravings. Leptin will peak 2 hours into proper sleep; encouraging fat burning while you sleep, and this hormone is what tells your body it is full. If it peaks too early in the day or your cells become resistant you will feel hungrier, have cravings, and have an insatiable appetite.
  11. Enhances performance. Growth hormone and DHEA both speed muscle recovery and build lean muscle, while cortisol increases muscle breakdown.
  12. Decreased healing time. If you don’t get enough sleep, it will take longer to recover from an illness or injury. Cortisol and insulin will both suppress your immune system when out of balance.

As you can see, all these benefits are tied to hormone balance and the hormones that need to be balanced around our sleep. Sleep is completely integrated with your hormone balance, so it affects your:

• Mental function and clarity
• Overall energy 
• Ability to burn fat
• Cravings
• Hunger
• Willpower
• Blood sugar metabolism
• And even libido!

Let’s explore how some of these hormones all work in your body. I want you to understand a little bit about a few of the hormones that are affected by lack of sleep, hormones that keep us from getting the quality sleep we need, and how to keep these hormones balanced. It’s valuable information so hang in through it, or you can skip over it if you just want to get right to how to get a good night sleep.

Growth hormone and DHEA are dependent on proper sleep and are meant to be working while we are asleep. Both of these hormones also increase with exercise as we learned last week. They increase tissue repair, lean muscle building, detoxification, and fat burning. They shift our bodies from burning glucose to burning fat for fuel.

DHEA is the anti-aging hormone while growth hormone helps us grow and repair. Both help with detox and encourage the liver to remove metabolic waste. This clean up during the night is essential; it enhances focus, attention, memory, and creativity. Growth hormone is also secreted by ghrelin when you have an empty stomach. Eating protein for breakfast and proper meal timing also encourage growth hormone and DHEA secretion. DHEA and growth hormone are both are stunted by too much cortisol and insulin.

Melatonin is essential for proper sleep and is what promotes deep sleep. Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain when it gets dark; it’s turned off by bright lights, blue light, and is also inhibited by cortisol and insulin. Technology late at night suppresses melatonin secretion and is a big reason why people can’t fall asleep. All these things will mess with your circadian rhythm and disrupt your melatonin levels. When cortisol is too high (from stress) it will suppress melatonin secretion. Melatonin also increases serotonin, which is your feel-good neurotransmitter. While you sleep you regenerate your serotonin and this helps keep you happy and full of joy.

Leptin is your fat burning hormone. It tells you that you are full by signaling the hypothalamus and pancreas. Leptin is produced by your fat cells and it turns off appetite and insulin secretion. You want cortisol to be low so leptin can peak during the night and help you burn fat while you sleep. Also if you consistently overeat you can become leptin resistant and you’ll stop getting the signal to burn fat or that you are full. Overweight people are often dealing with leptin resistance. In order to keep leptin managed, it’s really important to properly space your meals and not snack. If you eat too many carbohydrates early in the day leptin can peak too early and cause hunger and cravings after dinner.

Insulin and Cortisol are the MAJOR sleep disruptors. When out of balance they lead to many of the negative effects of sleep deprivation. When either is too high, then growth hormone, DHEA, leptin, and melatonin secretion are decreased. This imbalance leads to lowered fat burning, less muscle repair and muscle building, less detoxification, less healing, and less rest. Stress and lack of sleep affect insulin resistance and cortisol and insulin interact with each other very closely. Basically, stress and lack of sleep increase your cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol raises your blood sugar, breaks down your muscle, and stops fat burning. By raising blood sugar, the cortisol stimulates excess insulin. The insulin then stores more fat and increases inflammation. So, the cortisol itself suppresses fat burning and the insulin that it triggers promotes fat storing. These are important things for you to understand.

Lack of sleep can decrease your sensitivity to insulin and lead to insulin resistance and high blood sugar. Too much insulin in the blood causes insulin resistance. Lack of sleep will increase your insulin levels too. It’s been shown that even one night of bad sleep can mess with your insulin levels the next day. So if you have a sleepless night be really careful of what you eat the next day, focus on a really low glycemic, low carb day.

We all know that stress increases cortisol but disrupted sleep, too many carbohydrates, and too much insulin will also raise cortisol levels. And it’s not just too many carbohydrates and refined foods that affect your insulin balance, lack of quality sleep and ill-managed stress are big culprits.

High cortisol levels will keep you from falling asleep and wake you up in the middle of the night. When your blood sugar is imbalanced cortisol is secreted to get more sugar into the blood and this can wake you up in the middle of the night.

We should all aim for getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night. When you are sleep deprived you may experience any of the following symptoms:

• Fatigue
• Brain fog
• Difficulty losing weight
• Weight gain
• Less motivation
• Decreased patience
• Depression and anxiety
• Slowed reaction time
• Decrease in performance
• Forgetfulness
• Intense cravings

One other very important thing to note is that in the evening, once your melatonin starts to be produced, (I hope this is happening for you), it sends a signal to the pancreas to lower or shut down insulin production. While this has many favorable health benefits, it also makes eating too close to bedtime really unfavorable, especially if you are eating carbohydrates before bed.

The general rule is to stop eating 2-3 hours before bed, 3 hours being ideal, to allow for proper digestion, assimilation of nutrients, as well as to set yourself up for proper detoxification during the night.

Let’s Turn This Around and Improve Your Sleep

How to Optimize Your Sleep – The Twelve Best Tips

  1. Stop eating 3 hours before bedtime. Sleep is the time for your body to detox and repair and if you are still digesting when you get into bed these processes will be compromised and so will your sleep.
  2. Avoid nighttime exposure to blue light. Stop using your screens, the computer, IPad, and iPhone at least 2 hours before bedtime. Use blue light blocking glasses if you need to work late, reducing your exposure to blue light.
  3. Turn off the television 1 hour, preferably 2 hours, before bedtime. Decrease your evening stimulation; don’t let yourself watch the news before bed! This stress will keep your cortisol high and shut off melatonin.
  4. Dim the lights in the evening at least 2 hours before bedtime. This helps to get your melatonin in sync with nature and balances your circadian rhythm. When your eyes detect light your body shuts off melatonin secretion.
  5. Avoid intense exercise 1-2 hours before bedtime. Exercising too late can be too stimulating to your body. It can keep your body temperature too high to be favorable for a good night’s sleep.
  6. Keep your bedroom cool, not too warm. Open a window and get fresh air. Take a warm shower before bed. Your body likes cooler temperatures when it sleeps.
  7. Keep your bedroom dark. You’ll be amazed how much this can help. Close the curtains or invest in a sleep eye mask.
  8. Turn off your wireless technology or keep it out of your bedroom. Turn your phone to airplane mode if you use it as an alarm. You can set your main wireless system on a timer to turn off during the night.
  9. Eat more fiber and omega 3 fats. Reduce your intake of carbohydrates, especially in the morning. Number one goal is to lower your need for insulin and glucose.
  10. Limit caffeine consumption after 2:00 pm, especially if you have a slower metabolism. Late afternoon caffeine tells your adrenals to keep pumping out cortisol and adrenaline.
  11. Practice meditation, deep breathing, and appreciation or gratitude activities. Even journaling before bed can help to clear the mind. Get out a piece of paper and write down everything to get it out of your head.
  12. Go outside within 20 minutes of waking or when it first gets bright outside. Getting early daytime light exposure is one of the best ways to help reset circadian rhythms, ideally first thing in the morning.

Key Take Aways

  • It’s important to remember that fat burning is impossible when insulin levels are elevated. It takes about 3 hours after a meal for insulin levels to return to baseline, even if you just eat a small snack. Until then, fat burning is impossible.
  • Any evening snacking behavior contributes to poor sleep, decreased fat burning during the night, and inefficient detoxification. Remember to make dinner your last food of the day and have it at least 3 hours before going to bed.
  • A minimum of 12 hours without food (a 12 hour daily fast between dinner and breakfast) is essential for proper detoxification, growth, and repair. Stretching this further can increase your benefits and improve your sleep.
  • It’s been shown that even one night of bad sleep can mess with your insulin levels the next day. So, if you have a sleepless night be really careful of what you eat the next day, focus on a really low glycemic, low carb day.
  • Missing out on the essential nightly detox will ultimately result in impaired brain function and brain fog the following day. This will affect your ability to make decisions and may interrupt your self-discipline- in other words, you have less willpower and more cravings, plus you are not all that fun to be around right?

We all love our sleep and we know how much happier we are when we get it. What are some of the tips you have for getting a good night sleep? A warm shower, some light yoga, journaling, making your to-do list for the next day to get it off your mind, taking a walk after dinner, these can all help too.gar.