The body uses a number of hormones to help it through the day. If we eat right and have natural sleep patterns the hormone responses will help our body to run more efficiently and reduces undesired responses to stress and overall health.
Hormone response to poor sleep.
Cortisol is a hormone that is produced through the morning and diminishes through the evening and starts to be released again in the early hours. Cortisol gives us a heightened state of alertness and during periods of stress it will be released at higher levels. Despite this desired response during short periods of stress, like playing sports (fight or flight response), prolonged elevated levels of cortisol force the body to increase its fat levels to aid energy use. The problem is that back in the day, this was useful as our stress often involved actual fighting, or flight responses. Modern stress can be playing a game on a PC, dealing with people at a desk or on the phone or driving, so it does not need the excess energy we store to deal with it. The other issue with heightened cortisol level is that after the immediate stress it will make you feel hungry to replace the energy you may have burnt off, but in reality won’t have.
The added bonus to this hormone is that fat stores around the gut, particularly in males, creates cortisol! So the body can end up in a cycle of producing more subcutaneous (under or in the skin) fat. By having elevated cortisol levels, it will also interfere with your sleep patterns and therefore, can really play havoc with sound, deep sleep.
Leptin and Ghrelin control hunger pangs. Ghrelin tells us when to eat and leptin reduces are wanting to eat. When we sleep for less than 4hrs (optimal sleep is around 8-12hrs when training) leptin levels will fall and ghrelin will increase as the body compensates for lack of sleep with the need to provide energy to build your sate of alertness. You can help keep these at normal level by eating low GI food stuffs nearing your sleep times. It will improve sleep and reduce the need to trough late at night.
Reducing stress and improving sleep patterns
Therefore, reducing your state of alertness before going to bed and eating the right food stuffs will aid your ability to sleep better regularly. So, stay away from tv, pc, phone screens for protracted periods after 10pm and lower lighting, during the summer use a blind to block out the sun. The back light in LCD screens fools the brain into thinking it is day light and therefore, the pituitary gland will maintain a higher level of cortisol for longer and disrupt the ability to sleep. Melatonin is the sleep hormone and will allow you to enter in to a deep and restful sleep, which optimises the body’s state for muscle growth and repair. Melatonin also helps control weight gain as the body rests, it slows the absorption of fat deposits without the reduction of calories. A small glass of milk can aid the production of melatonin, it also has protein, fats and calcium to aid muscle growth and bone density, so it could be worth including this in to a pre-sleep routine.
Growth hormone will help you build muscle and breakdown fat while you sleep. Increase you protein intake and focus on food with high levels of glutamine like fish and chicken. Avoid foods that spike your blood sugar (high GI). The liver produces insulin to reduce your blood sugar, which also reduces your growth hormone response.
If you set a bed time and prepare to be in bed to sleep at that time it will allow you to start an active sleep plan. Stay away from things that will alert you, Social Media, contentious issues at home, college or work. Think about the positive things that you may have achieved that day, but not to the point they ‘alert’ you.
Eat low GI food stuffs and protien like nuts, seeds and occasionally meats around bed time. High GI will wake you and give you the munchies. Low GI and protein take longer to digest, keep your blood sugar relatively low and provides the macro nutrients to repair your body and crate the appropriate hormone response.
Play music that you find relaxing before sleep. Think about your breathing and try a period of slowing your breathing down by focusing on the air entering and leaving your body and your chest rising and falling. It will help your body prepare for sleep and by focusing on what you feel rather than what you think, it will take your mind away from the niggles of the day. Reading can also be effective with helping distract you from the days’ irritations and allow you to switch off.
At first a lot of this will be difficult and and seem a little nuts, but with time you will be able to control how you respond to needing sleep at the appropriate time.