Do you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow but wake up in the middle of the night or too early and can’t fall back to sleep?
Do you suffer from any of the following symptoms?
- Always feel wired, panicky and tense
- Can’t get up in the morning – no problem falling asleep but can’t stay asleep
- Exhaustion – tired all of the time, no energy and have uncontrollable sugar cravings and unexplained weight gain
- Muscle aches
- Constant colds and flu’s
- Low sex drive
- Eat well and exercise a lot but can’t lose weight
- Slow recovery from resistance training
If these describe some or all of your symptoms, you are probably suffering from the effects of stress and subsequent high cortisol levels.
Stress and adrenal function affect sleep. Cortisol normally rises and falls throughout the 24-hour daily cycle, and is typically highest at around 8 AM and steadily declines during the day to reach its lowest levels between midnight and 4 AM.
When under stress, the body responds by increasing cortisol that’s released from the adrenal glands. An acute rise in cortisol is not a bad thing because it’s the natural adrenal response to stress, like when you have to slam on your breaks in your car or when you spill your coffee on your laptop. The problem arises when the stress becomes chronic (long lasting), cortisol levels then stay continuously high and the body enters what is known as the adrenal resistance phase.
This can cause inflammation in your body, it can affect your thyroid and metabolism, it can affect your serotonin levels causing depression, it can make you irritable, anxious and can affect your blood sugar leading to more of those lovely carb cravings.
If this sounds like you, try taking some time to consciously relax before going to bed either by taking a long Epsom salt bath, an infrared sauna or some deep breathing or meditation exercises. One of my favourite apps is called Headspace, it’s 10 minute meditations you can do at bedtime or any other time for that matter.
Don’t do any crazy exercise in the evening and try not to go to bed hungry, this will affect your blood sugar levels and only add to your sleep issues. Cortisol plays an important role in maintaining blood sugar levels around the clock. Low blood sugar sets off an internal alarm that disrupts sleep so you will wake up hungry as your body thinks it needs to refuel.
If you want a snack after dinner that’s fine just make sure it’s a healthy one, none of those Halloween candy and chip leftovers. Make sure you finish eating 2 hours before you go to bed and focus on the healthy fats and proteins. If you are going to eat carbs, make sure they are the unrefined whole food variety like your high fiber fruits such as pears, apples or raspberries and combine them with a fat or protein. One of my favourite nighttime snacks is an apple cut up into slices with some natural almond butter spread on each piece – but remember, don’t overdo the nut butter, just half a tablespoon is a serving.
Here are some of my other favourite after dinner snacks:
- Applesauce with half a tablespoon of ground flaxseed, whole chia or 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds
- Nut butter from a spoon
- Apple, pear or raspberries with a serving of nuts
- Plain Greek yoghurt sweetened with cinnamon, cocoa powder, vanilla