This topic seems to come up pretty frequently so I figured I’d write a short blog post about it. No matter if your struggling to loose that extra baby weight or you just want to lean out a bit & can’t seem to no matter what you try. One important piece to this puzzle that is often overlooked is “sleep”.
Sleep is so important to many of our body’s physiological functions. Sleep is required to keep all of our systems balanced & healthy, everything from our immune system, endocrine system, neurological & musculoskeletal. I’m sure every single one of us has experienced what it’s like when we just can’t get to sleep. Not fun!
In today’s world we have become a culture that craves all the latest gadgets & devices. Wether you are the type that likes to stay on top of your favorite social media timeline or your more of a casual web browser, maybe you use a tablet for reading. We find ourselves inundated with endless stimulation, something our ancestors could have never dreamed of. Don’t get me wrong, I love all our cool gadgets & electronics but it’s all about finding a balance.
Unfortunately, the bright light emitted by these devices has a big impact on our body’s natural production of melatonin. Melatonin is one of our hormones that plays a key role in our immune system. It’s a powerful antioxidant & free radical scavenger that helps to combat inflammation. Melatonin helps to regulate other hormones & maintains the body’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is our internal 24 hour clock that plays a critical role in when we fall asleep & when we wake up. Being exposed to bright lights in the evening or too little light during the day can disrupt the body’s normal melatonin cycles. Melatonin also plays in big role in the timing & release of female reproductive hormones. New studies suggest that melatonin levels may be related to aging.
Sleep deprivation brings about a whole host of consequences & has paralleled the rise in obesity, diabetes, heart disease & cancer. Studies have shown that getting inadequate sleep causes decreased glucose tolerance & can alter endocrine (hormone) function. The bulk of studies done show three reasons why lack of sleep contributes to obesity & diabetes.
- Alteration in glucose metabolism
- Increased appetite
- Decreased energy expenditure
Studies suggest even a single night of sleep deprivation can set up insulin resistance. A single night! A lot of us are running around on a just a few hours sleep every day. So if one night of poor sleep can cause insulin resistance imagine what chronic lack of sleep can lead to.
Our body works together as one, every single system we have is affected by the next. Take leptin for example, leptin is the hormone that signals your body that you’ve had enough to eat and is a key player in optimizing weight loss. If you’ve ever had trouble sticking to a diet & generally suffer from cravings especially at night, you could have some leptin resistance going on.
Insulin, leptin & adrenaline are all in constant communication with each other. If we develop resistance in one, we develop resistance in all three. Leptin controls our body’s fat set point, while adrenaline controls fat being released from our fat cells. So by suffering from lack of sleep we can set up a situation where we over eat & get really good at storing fat, but not burning it.
Studies have also shown that sleep deprivation in healthy young men were associated with decreased leptin levels & increased ghrelin levels. This leads to increased hunger & appetite. Ghrelin is the hormone responsible for making us hungry. Lowering ghrelin also reduces hunger and cravings, allowing you to naturally eat less.
As I said before the human body works as one, during sleep deprivation thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is also affected. TSH becomes significantly elevated & stays elevated throughout the day. Under normal circumstances our body increases TSH when active thyroid hormones are low, if active thyroid hormones are low it can be difficult to loose weight & energy levels suffer. This is the mechanism by which our bodies conserve energy, elevated TSH levels are found in people suffering from obesity.
Simply experiencing disturbed sleep for a few days can bring about autoimmunity. So things that are environmentally irritating that would be subclinical or subacute, add to that insulin resistance caused by lack of sleep & this can make you more responsive. They find that allergies are much worse in people that suffer from systemic inflammation, insulin resistance & sleep issues. This is how you can have a environmental insult that is caused by a lack of sleep that exacerbate insulin resistance & autoimmunity. So you see how just a few nights of poor sleep can instigate & exacerbate underlying issues that can result in pushing us over the edge?
We as humans are very resilient, but where this starts to go wrong is when we have too many stressors & our bodies can’t keep up. Not only does sleep deprivation cause all of the above but it also contributes to increased oxidative stress. Oxidative stress, simply put, is the damage inflicted to a cell through the oxidative process. Oxidation is a very normal process, it happens all the time to us & everything around us. The trouble starts when there are disturbances in the natural oxidation process, such as the attraction of a free radical to another molecule in our body, the results are often toxic affects. The more free radicals your body contains the more damage that is likely to occur. The best way to see the damage that occurs is through the normal aging process.
Antioxidants play a key role in our bodies ability to protect us against oxidative stress. They neutralize free radicals & allow your body to do its business of excreting them safely & without harm. Our bodies make several types of antioxidants all on its own but as I’ve said before we are changing our environment too fast for us to keep up with. As our exposure to harmful free radicals in the environment & our lifestyles increase, our need for outside supplies of antioxidants is vital in the war against aging & degenerative disease.
A few things that can easily be done to help decrease your exposure to free radicals are to avoid charred meats, fried foods & highly processed foods. Also by including fruits that have high antioxidant content like goji berries, blueberries & cherries into your diet regularly will help.
Decades of research has shown that sleeping between 7-9 hours each night can relieve stress, reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, improve cognitive function & may even help with weight loss.
The take home here is to get as much sleep as possible without affecting your job or personal life. On work out days try & plan for an extra few hours of pillow time, our sleep requirements go up after strenuous exercise.
There are quite a few studies floating around that have been done on the affects of blue light. This means tv, laptops, tablets, phones & bright light bulbs. So what can you do? Melatonin supplementation should be a last resort. While it can help you fall asleep faster, it is a hormone & taking it regularly will result in your body producing less. It is far more beneficial & certainly less expensive to have your body produce it’s own melatonin. The following suggestions can improve your sleep hygiene & help you optimize your melatonin production
- Avoid watching tv or using computers, tablets, or phones at least an hour before bed. This is probably one of the hardest habits to break so here’s a few tips for that.
- There are a few apps available like f.lux that are designed to adapt to the time of day. So if you have to work on a computer or tablet at night this will automatically adjust your screens display depending on time of day.
- Probably the best way to avoid artificial light is to get yourself a pair of Amber lensed glasses. They are highly effective in reducing the effects of blue light exposure. This method has been shown to improve sleep quality as well as mood. This is by far the most effective way to ensure adequate melatonin production. Even light from a normally lit room can be enough to disrupt our melatonin drive circadian rhythm.
- This last one is my favorite, New Mood from Onnit Labs. It contains 2 of the raw building blocks of Serotonin, L-tryptophan & 5- HTP. My wife & I take New Mood anytime we have trouble winding down, it really helps to relax & balance our mood. SERIOUSLY I can’t recommend this stuff enough.
Check out everything Onnit Labs has to offer below, you won’t be disappointed. This company is run with ethics, something missing from most business’s today. They are all about being fair, honest & transparent. They even offer a 100% money back guarantee if your not satisfied. I use Alpha-Brain for days I want a little extra mental focus, it also makes for awesome dreaming. As for New Mood, I love the stuff! It doesn’t leave you feeling groggy in the morning & it’s all natural, using only the precursors & letting your body’s metabolic machinery do the work of converting the raw ingredients into serotonin. Definitely worth a try for anyone who struggles with sleep.