One of the most common symptoms of hormone imbalance is trouble sleeping, and stress is probably the number one culprit because it sets off a chain reaction starting with increased cortisol to insulin resistance and adrenal fatigue, which then affects our sleep. We’ve talked about the two hormones that are related to sleep and weight gain in a previous issue, so today I’d like to focus on the steps you can take to improve sleep.
Making sure your sleeping conditions promote a good night’s sleep is the first step. This includes having a quiet room because if you’re woken up by sound it will disrupt your sleep cycle and make it difficult to fall back to sleep. If you live in a noisy city, consider earplugs or a sound machine. Set your thermostat to an appropriate temperature, not too hot or too cold. Keep your room as dark as possible since any light will disturb the production of melatonin, your sleep hormone. Lastly, make sure your room is comfortable and inviting.
One of the most important things about getting a good night’s sleep is making sure your blood sugar level stays stable throughout the night. If your blood sugar level drops during the night, your body interprets that as stress and releases cortisol, which wakes you up and then you have trouble falling back to sleep. Avoid eating refined sugars or drinking caffeine, especially close to bedtime. Despite popular belief that alcohol helps you fall asleep, it actually creates a drop in blood sugar during the middle of the night.
Set yourself up right by doing something relaxing before bed like reading a book, meditating or taking a warm bath. If you get up frequently in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, monitor how much you’re drinking in the evening. If it isn’t that much, speak to your physician because it could be a bladder issue or diabetes.
Finally, if you’ve followed all of the steps and you’re still having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, there are a few supplements out there you can take – 5-HTP, GABA, Inositol, Magnesium glycinate or Melatonin. I suggest checking with your physician to see if any of these are a good fit for you.
Check out page 99 of the October issue of Shape magazine. Dr. Stanton is quoted in the article “When Weight Gain is a Warning.” Dr. Stanton provides tips for treating an underactive thyroid and preventing a surge in cortisol levels with stress reduction techniques.
In this country, it is normal for us to work at least 10 hours a day, try to exercise a few hours a week and try to get by on 5-6 hours of sleep a night. We use alarm clocks, coffee, chocolate, soda, energy drinks and many other tricks to help us “push through” the fatigue and get on with our day. Does this sound like you?
What you don’t know is how exceedingly important sleep is and how not getting enough sleep can cause us to gain weight. Just one or two nights of missed or inadequate sleep are enough to make you as insulin resistant as a Type II diabetic! While adequate diet and exercise can help, your physiology will never be normal without enough sleep. At the end of the day, neglected sleep or poor sleep quality is a significant stressor to your body. It compromises your immune system, reduces your memory and makes you gain weight.
Melatonin Does Not Cause Weight Gain, Lack of Sleep Does
In addition to insulin, two other important hormones related to sleep and weight gain are melatonin and prolactin. Known as the “hormone of darkness,” melatonin is secreted in darkness, at night and tells the body it is time to sleep. Prolactin is critical to our immune systems and one of our first lines of cancer defense. Research shows that longer periods of sleep with increased melatonin production enhanced immunity. Long nights also produced higher levels of prolactin. If we get less sleep at night, more prolactin is produced during the day. And if prolactin is secreted during the day, it leads to autoimmunity and carbohydrate craving.
If you put together the imbalance between insulin, cortisol, prolactin and melatonin, you have a recipe for disaster. The biggest problem with short night sleep is that insulin will stay higher in the dark when it should be flat and cortisol falls so late it will come up normally in the morning. This is the reversal of your normal hormone rhythms. You’re supposed to wake up with high cortisol in the morning to deal with the stress of the day and a low insulin so you’re hungry. However, with reversed hormone rhythms it is easy to skip breakfast because your insulin is high and you’re not hungry. The reversal also causes melatonin and prolactin to be too high in the morning and throughout the daylight hours making it difficult to concentrate. By 3:00 in the afternoon you crave carbohydrates, get inpatient and have even more trouble concentrating.
Now do you see why getting enough sleep is so important? It’s more than just resting. It recharges your body, controls appetite, supports the immune system, balances hormones and improves concentration.