How to Balance Hormones with Sleep.
Enough quality sleep builds our immune systems, repairs cellular damage, reduces inflammation in the body, and resets hormones (including regulating our blood sugar levels and stress hormones). With chronic sleep deprivation (6 hours or less per night), our cortisol (stress hormone) levels begin to rise, negatively affecting not only our reproductive hormones, but also our thyroid hormones and our risk for a number of diseases, like heart disease, type two diabetes, cancer, and more. You may not think you need more than 6 hours of sleep, but your body does. Lack of sleep is responsible for 100,000 car crashes, 40,000 injuries, and 1550 deaths per year, as well as the Exxon Valdez disaster and Chernobyl nuclear accident!
Our bodies actually react to limited sleep in a similar way that they would react to starvation. Lack of sleep similarly stresses our systems, and actually increases our food intake. We feel hungrier when we’re not sleeping enough. Not only that, but our appetite for carbohydrates, especially sugar and junk foods, significantly increase. One imbalance in the system -lack of sleep- can therefore lead to a chain of negative effects in our bodies and in our lifestyles that can culminate in serious hormone dysregulation.
Insomnia has actually been shown to increase symptoms of menopause, PCOS, infertility (lack of sle, and other reproductive hormone issues.
The Rules of Restorative Sleep
- Get to bed by 11pm. 10pm is ideal. When we stay up later than that, we get that ‘second wind’ effect, which is actually a boost of cortisol from our adrenals, preventing us from sleeping and -in the long term- causing adrenal fatigue. Setting a regular bedtime and wake-time can help us get to sleep and sleep more deeply.
- Keep electronics out of the bedroom and don’t look at screens for 1-2 hours before bed, including your phone! If you use your phone for an alarm, turn it to airplane mode. Remember the saying: use the bedroom for only two activities, sleep and sex!
- Sleep 8-9 hours in the darker fall/winter months and 7-8 hours in spring/summer. This is a natural seasonal rhythm for our bodies.
- Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. No night lights or bright alarm clocks. Use thick curtains to block outside lights. Use a face mask if necessary.
- Use ear plugs if you are bothered by sounds.
- Eat a high protein breakfast within one hour of waking up to set a healthy melatonin-cortisol cycle for the day, ensuring you’ll be sleepy at bedtime.
- Don’t use sleep medications, including Benadryl for sleep. They make you artificially sleepy, but prevent you from deeper more restorative rest. Alcohol can do the same thing so if you’re having trouble sleeping, avoid alcohol as well.
- Make your bedroom cozy. You want to feel comfortable there, like you can’t wait to get to bed.
- Manage stress levels during the day as much as possible. We all know what it feels like to be up at night ruminating over that exam or the work meeting or talk with our spouses that didn’t go well. Journaling, meditation, exercise, and other stress relief activities can help prevent this. Equally important is acknowledging our feelings, setting healthy boundaries, and asking for help when we need something. Vitamin B, D, and EPA, along with many herbs, can also be helpful for regulating stress levels.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants after 1pm. Better yet, avoid them altogether! It gives us false energy that prevents us from rest and can lead to adrenal fatigue if overused.
- If you’re having trouble resetting your sleep cycle, ask your healthcare provider if you should try a melatonin or magnesium supplement before bed.
All information in this blog is for educational uses only. Always consult your doctor before taking any herbs or supplements, or changing or discontinuing your medications.
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