Several hormones play a role in regulating our sleep-wake cycle. Here are the most important ones:
Melatonin is a hormone that’s produced by the pineal gland in the brain. It’s often called the “sleep hormone” because it helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin levels naturally rise in the evening as the sun sets, and they fall in the morning as the sun rises. This helps us feel drowsy at night and awake in the morning. However if our melatonin levels are not balanced it can make it very difficult for us to fall asleep at night.
Estrogen and progesterone
Estrogen and progesterone are female sex hormones that play a role in regulating our sleep. Estrogen can help us fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, while progesterone can promote deeper sleep. However, fluctuations in these hormones during the menstrual cycle, perimenopause, and menopause can disrupt our sleep.
Cortisol is a hormone that’s produced by the adrenal glands. It’s often called the “stress hormone” because it’s released in response to stress. Cortisol levels naturally rise in the morning, which helps us wake up and feel alert. They fall throughout the day and reach their lowest point at night, which helps us feel sleepy.
Cortisol, Sleep, and Weight Loss or Gain
The connection you need to know if you’ve been trying to lose weight and haven’t seen the results you were hoping for, it may be time to take a closer look at your stress levels and sleep habits. Let’s take a moment to dive a little deeper into the world of Cortisol.
As we already discovered it is a hormone that is released in response to stress. It is produced by the adrenal gland in response to stress. Its primary function is to help the body deal with stressful situations by increasing blood sugar levels and suppressing the immune system. Cortisol levels naturally fluctuate throughout the day, with the highest levels in the morning and the lowest levels at night.
Research has shown that there is a strong connection between cortisol and sleep. High levels of cortisol can interfere with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, which can lead to fatigue, irritability, and poor concentration during the day.
Conversely, poor sleep habits can cause cortisol levels to rise, creating a vicious cycle that can be hard to break. The cortisol-weight connection High levels of cortisol can also have a significant impact on your body’s ability to lose or gain weight. When cortisol levels are high, the body tends to hold onto fat, especially around the midsection.
This can lead to weight gain and an increased risk of obesity, which is a known risk factor for many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Mindful practices help to manage cortisol levels and improve sleep habits.
If you’re struggling with stress, poor sleep habits, or weight gain, there are several things you can do to manage your cortisol levels and improve your sleep habits:
Breathwork: First we need to become more aware of our breath. Bringing this awareness to our breath is the first step in allowing us to become conscious and aware to slow down. Intuitive deep breaths induce a sense of calm. How, I hear you ask. Breathing deeply, with a slow and steady inhalation to exhalation ratio, signals our parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body down. This activates our body’s ‘rest and digest’ system and eases the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. This natural process supports balanced hormones, and therefore, our circadian rhythm as well.
Practice stress-reducing activities such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises. Get regular exercise, which can help to reduce cortisol levels and improve sleep quality. Get the thoughts our of your head and on to paper. Surrender the thoughts, write yourself a to do list and afford yourself a few moments to run through it, prepare yourself if you need and then drift off calmly.
Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, especially in the evening. Noise – calming and relaxing music, white noise or perhaps even try the latest trend brown noise as a mindful technique to help induce sleep.
Establish a regular sleep routine and stick to it, even on weekends. Create a sleep-conducive environment, such as a cool, dark, and quiet room. Dim your lighting 2 hours before you sleep, use blue lighting blocking glasses. Consider speaking to a healthcare provider about stress-reducing techniques or a sleep study if you’re having trouble sleeping.
Foods That Can Help Promote Sleep
In addition to making lifestyle changes and seeking medical treatment if necessary, certain foods can also help promote sleep. These foods contain nutrients that support the production of sleep-inducing hormones such as melatonin and promote relaxation. Here are some foods that can help promote sleep:
Tart cherries: Tart cherries contain natural melatonin, which can help regulate sleep-wake cycles. Drinking tart cherry juice or eating fresh or frozen tart cherries may help improve sleep quality and duration.
Kiwi: Kiwi is a good source of vitamin C, which has been linked to better sleep quality. Eating kiwi before bed may help improve sleep onset, duration, and efficiency.
Nuts: Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pistachios contain magnesium, which can help promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. Eating a handful of nuts before bed may help improve sleep.
Turkey: Turkey is a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes the production of serotonin and melatonin. Eating turkey or other tryptophan-rich foods such as chicken, eggs, and cheese may help improve sleep quality.
Warm milk: Warm milk contains the amino acid tryptophan and is also a source of calcium, which can help promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. Drinking warm milk before bed may help improve sleep.
The connection is complex but bringing awareness to this is now the most simple and conscious thing you can do to help you regulate your interconnected cortisol, sleep, and weight. By managing your cortisol levels and improving your sleep habits, you now have the control and power to make simple changes mindset and behaviour change your lifestyle.