Nourishing yourself involves something very simple that seems to be difficult for many of us to fit into our busy schedules: sleep. Health problems like diabetes, hypertension, cancer, depression – and obesity – are related to the amount and quality of your sleep. Sleep deprivation studies reveal escalated stress, higher blood pressure, impaired glucose control, reduced insulin sensitivity and increased inflammation in the body. If you miss your sleep, you also notice heightened irritability, impatience or moodiness, suggesting a sleep-mood connection. Not surprisingly, long-term sleep deprivation is linked to mood disorders. Those are some pretty serious health consequences that deserve your attention!
Scientists haven’t come to any conclusions yet on exactly why we sleep, but some theories suggest that sleep helps to recharge the brain and exercise neuronal connections that might otherwise shut down due to lack of activity. (To sleep, perchance to dream.) Sleep may also be a necessary step in processing information, organizing data and storing memory.
Studies also show that women who sleep less than six hours per night on average have significantly greater odds of obesity than women who sleep between 7-8 hours nightly, and that one night of sleep deprivation in men triggers reduced morning energy expenditures and increased morning ghrelin concentrations. (Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates hunger.) The bottom line is that you know you feel better, more energetic, happier and more alert after a good night’s sleep. And who doesn’t want that?
When sleep doesn’t come
Sleep problems are often a result of melatonin (going to sleep hormone) and serotonin (waking up hormone) imbalances. Unfortunately, we produce less melatonin as we age, which explains why you might have trouble getting to sleep at night. People who live in northern latitudes get less daylight in winter months, leading to reduced serotonin levels. Dietary deficiency of the essential amino acid tryptophan as well as vitamin B6 and carbohydrates can hamper serotonin production, leading to mood and sleep troubles.
The hormone connection
Of course, our hormones also play a role in how well we sleep. Night-time awakenings are often associated with a sudden a drop in blood sugar, which triggers an adrenaline release to stabilize blood glucose in the brain. The shot of adrenaline is enough to wake you up – and often keep you that way for hours, if not all night. Peri-menopause also plays a role for women who have difficulty falling asleep, or falling asleep but waking up a few hours later. In this case, insomnia is associated with an imbalance of progesterone to estrogen, either because estrogen is too high, or progesterone is too low. Balanced hormones crucial to our health, so take time to understand ways to find and keep hormonal equilibrium.
To get a restful sleep, eat a nourishing breakfast.
Missing your morning meal sets your body up for that white-knuckle blood sugar ride described above. To avoid this sugar drama and enjoy better sleep, start your day with a balanced breakfast containing protein within an hour of waking.
Take out the trash
If you find yourself staring at the clock at 3 or 3:30 in the morning, it might be time to support your liver. According to Chinese medicine, 3am is the hour of the liver. If you’re awake, your liver might be having a hard time getting its job done. (Since the liver is responsible for metabolizing hormones, don’t be surprised when insomnia is a regular visitor as part of your monthly cycle, or through peri-menopause. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables contain a compound that help with hormone metabolism, so enjoy these foods several times a week and investigate strategies to support your liver.
Sleep well, my pretty.