Even if you’re eating a healthy diet, there's one major factor that could derail your best efforts to become lean and healthy: not getting sufficient sleep.
Unfortunately, we live in an overcaffeinated, sleep-deprived nation. Currently, statistics show that as many as 70 percent of Americans don’t get enough sleep. Back in the 1940s, just 11 percent of people slept less than six hours a night. Today, more than 40 percent do.
Not only are we sleeping less, but it also seems we're getting poorer-quality sleep.
And the consequences are showing up around our waistlines: One study concluded that a single night of sleep deprivation could increase your hunger hormone ghrelin. Another found that when you don't sleep well, you have decreased amounts of leptin, the hormone that tells you to stop eating.
Plus, sleep loss also ramps up stress, keeping your stress hormone cortisol cranked up past its prime. And one study concluded that sleep deprivation elevated cortisol levels the next evening, when it should be lowest.
A substantial number of studies also connect insulin resistance with insufficient sleep. One found that getting five hours of sleep per night for a week significantly reduces insulin sensitivity. Another concluded that chronic sleep loss is a novel risk factor for weight gain, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
These effects are cumulative but also immediate. In fact, researchers discovered that in healthy subjects, just one single partial night of sleep deprivation could create insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways.
The aftermath of these and other out-of-whack hormones play out all too familiarly. You wake up sleep-deprived, hungry, and cranky, so you drive to your favorite coffee shop for a gigantic dark roast and maybe a sugary breakfast pastry that simply fuels those out-of-whack hormones.
“Wired and tired” is often the feeling patients describe when these and other hormones become out of balance, creating a vicious cycle of hunger, cravings, and more sleep deprivation.
9 Ways To Get Better Sleep & Rebalance Your Hormones
If you struggle with insomnia or other chronic sleep issues, please consider working with a sleep specialist to correct these issues.
But if you sometimes struggle with falling or staying asleep, try these nine strategies to help restore sleep and rebalance your hormones:
1. Keep sleep times consistent.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Yes, that includes weekends. Research shows that shifting sleep times can increase the risk of a number of health issues, including raised insulin levels and body fat.
2. Cut out "sleep hijackers."
Substances like caffeine and alcohol can affect sleep levels. Caffeine in coffee increases catecholamines, your stress hormones. The stress response elicits cortisol and increases insulin.
3. Create a calming bedtime ritual.
Keeping your mind on overdrive when you should be winding down is a surefire way to toss and turn.
About an hour or two before bed, turn off all electronic appliances. Create a nighttime ritual to unwind and prepare your body for sleep.
4. Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
Don’t treat the bed as a workspace, read or watch TV in it, or use it for anything other than sleep and sex. Your mind will begin to associate lying down with sleep.
5. Create a sleep-conducive environment.
Keep your bedroom dark, noise-free, and comfortable. An eye mask and earplugs can also be helpful here.
6. Look into contributing issues.
Underlying issues that might be leading to poor sleep include food sensitivities, thyroid problems, menopause, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, heavy metal toxicity, stress, and depression.
7. Journal before bedtime.
One hour before bed, write down things that cause anxiety and other negative feelings. Consider what you need to do to help reduce those issues. Doing this will free up your mind for deeper, more restful sleep.
8. Stop eating three hours before bed.
This allows your body sufficient time to break down that food so it doesn’t get stored as fat.
9. Consider calming nutrients.
Certain supplements can help your mind relax, reduce anxiety and tension, and help you ease more comfortably into sleep. You might want to consider asking your doctor whether you should be taking these supplements for better sleep:
Beyond these strategies, what one tip helps you fall and stay asleep better? Share yours below or on my Facebook page.
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Dr. Mark Hyman is a practicing family physician and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in the field of Functional Medicine. He is the founder and director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, a 13-time New York Times best-selling author, and Board President for Clinical Affairs for The Institute for Functional Medicine. He is the host of one of the leading health podcasts, The Doctor’s Farmacy. Dr. Hyman is a regular medical contributor on several television shows and networks, including CBS This Morning, Today, Good Morning America, The View, and CNN. He is also an advisor and guest co-host on The Dr. Oz Show.