All of us know we should get 7-9hours of sleep every night, yet, majority of us don’t reach that goal. And if we do, we might not be fully refreshed. This could be due to hormone imbalances or stress, such as pulling an all-nighter to cram for a test/paper. These lead to continuous release of cortisol and affect our health. When our cortisol levels are at an imbalance, we feel anxious, fatigued, unmotivated. I’m sure everyone feels that way from time to time.
What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep
Lack of sleep prevents the brain from making new memories, has negative effects on immune system and cardiovascular system, and imbalances our cortisol and blood sugar levels which can lead to weight gain, as seen in those who work the graveyard/night shift. It also accumulates toxic proteins, such as beta amyloid found in Alzheimer’s Disease, in the brain.
In the morning, cortisol levels should be high and provide us energy to get through day. They then gradually decrease throughout the day, reaching their lowest in late evening/bedtime. The levels keep decreasing after about 4hrs of deep sleep. At its lowest point, which will be 6-7hrs of sleep, cortisol then slowly rises and wakes us up naturally after 7-8 hours of sleep, repeating the cycle again.
If cortisol levels do not decrease in the evening, due to stressors or pituitary imbalances, it can lead to serious health issues.
Not only is cortisol important for our energy, but, it also has profound effect on our entire physiology. From affecting our endocrine system, which produces all our hormones including thyroid, insulin, and sex hormones, to affecting our digestive and immune systems. It also affects our neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals that determine energy, mood, mental clarity, and sleep.
You see, once cortisol is elevated, sleep deprivation is the least of your concerns because the more nights that go by with cortisol high instead of low, the more likely you are to develop digestive issues, hormone imbalances, mood changes, and/or issues related to your immune.
What Can You Do
- Get your levels tested – Ask your Naturopathic or Functional Medicine Doctor to do a salivary cortisol test.
- Steps for Better Sleep
- Create a routine – a routine will help you keep on tract and train your body to recognize when it is time to sleep. Such routines can include
- Going to bed at the same time every night and awake at the same time every morning
- Take a warm bath or foot bath before you go to bed
- Giving yourself a foot or leg massage
- Practice meditation
- No caffeine 10 hours before bed – this is the amount of time for your body to clear caffeine from your bloodstream
- No food or alcohol 3 hours before bed – preventing heartburn; alcohol impairs sleep cycle and decreases valuable deep sleep
- No work 2 hours before bed – this includes talking on the phone, checking/replying to emails – all to help decrease stress
- Avoid electronic screens an hour before bed
- Invest in blue-light blocking apps– needed if you urgently need to do work.
- Sleep in a cool room – 55-65F/13-18C helps to increase body energy expenditure without shivering and without compromising our precious comfort.
- Make your room dark – invest in blackout curtains, to naturally increase melatonin production
- If you can’t sleep, get out of bed – your mind will associate being in bed with being awake and not sleeping
- Supplements to consider – Lavender or chamomile tea, Melatonin or even L-theanine