When was the last time you woke up without an alarm clock feeling energized and not needing caffeine? Have you slept well this past week?
If you answered no to either of these questions you are in good company. Two-thirds of Americans report getting less than the ideal 8 hours of sleep per night.
Why Sleep Matters
In this modern age of “rise and grind”, it can be almost shameful to announce to your friends and family that your bedtime is 10 pm. We live in a culture that is in a constant state of stimulation and hustle. No wonder we are seeing an exponential increase in diseases like Alzheimer’s, obesity, and autoimmune disorders.
The obesity epidemic continues to grow and is costing our healthcare system millions of dollars a year. A study done at University of Chicago put participants on a calorie restricted diet for 8 weeks. One group slept 5.5 hours a night and the comparison group slept 8.5 hours a night. The group that slept for at least 8 hours lost 55% body fat with all other factors remaining constant.
While sleep is not the only factor in sustaining weight loss, it is a key component that is often overlooked. If you have serious trouble getting enough sleep, seek out the help of a functional medicine practitioner to help you get your sleep under control.
Sleep and Our Hormones
Excellent sleep is a delicate balance between key hormones produced in our bodies and each one plays a vital role in quality sleep.
This hormone is often associated with stress and given a bad reputation. If we didn’t produce cortisol after exercise or during stressful situations, we would not survive. The key to optimizing cortisol is producing it at the right time and at the correct amounts. Normally your cortisol levels should peak around 6 am and drop to their lowest levels around 10 pm. Chronic sleep deprivation has a correlation with elevated nighttime cortisol. Cortisol function is one of the many speciality tests we perform at Parsley Health.
Human growth hormone (HGH)
The highest production of HGH is during the first half of our sleep in delta sleep stage. This is when we achieve our deepest sleep and potential for restoration. That’s why it’s also known as the fountain of youth hormone! It aids in building more lean muscle tissue, protects your muscle from breaking down and gives you energy. This means you are able to lose weight more efficiently and maintain lean body mass when you sleep well.
Available over the counter at local stores, this supplement is actually a powerful hormone produced by the pineal gland. It increases our bodies brown adipose tissue and burns white adipose tissue. As we age our bodies naturally lose brown adipose tissue. Research has shown that higher levels support bone health, improve insulin sensitivity, and increase lifespan. Recommended dosing varies and is best discussed with your doctor.
The satiety hormone. One night of poor sleep reduces leptin levels and makes us want to eat the whole pint of ice cream.
The hunger hormone. These levels increase by 15% increase after one poor night of sleep. This is why we want to eat more sugar and carbs when we are tired.
Your Brain On No Sleep
Compared to all the fancy technology that exists today, our bodies are still pretty primitive and basic. There is no gadget or app that can replace good, old-fashioned quality sleep. Not getting enough sleep impacts our long-term brain health, memory, and detoxification.
Have you ever craved broccoli at 1 am while binge-watching on Netflix? Of course not! We crave foods like chips and cookies when we are sleep deprived. Sleep decreases glucose to the brain which is its primary fuel source. Our bodies naturally seek out quick forms of glucose even when it’s not healthy for us. UC Berkeley did a study that showed increased activity in the amygdala (the reptilian part of our brain) and decreased activity in the insular cortex and frontal lobe (responsible for willpower). This means even when we know we shouldn’t eat that cookie, our willpower to resist temptation is drastically reduced when we are sleep deprived.
Not only does lack of sleep cause cravings and weight gain, it also affects our brain health and memory. When we sleep our glymphatic system is 10x more active. This system is composed of glial cells that are responsible for sweeping away all the toxins that have accumulated throughout the day. In fact, our brain cells shrink about 50% during sleep to allow the glial cells to work efficiently.
Some researchers have reported that the increased incidence of Alzheimer’s is connected to the rise of insomnia in Americans. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by an increase in amyloid plaques in the brain. One of the waste products cleared during sleep is beta amyloid so Alzheimer’s may just be a buildup of waste that hasn’t been cleared over time.
A Note On Alcohol
Alcohol is ingrained in our society as a way to both relax after a long day and socialize with friends and family. When it comes to sleep though, it can be very detrimental to our health. Alcohol blocks REM sleep which is our dream state as well as when our memories get solidified from short to long-term. Even just one glass of wine can produce a REM rebound effect where we wake up feeling hungover. This is because the quality of our sleep was poor even if we technically slept 8 hours.
Hack your way to better quality sleep with these simple tips.
1. Cycle your coffee.
There is on average about 200 mg in 1 cup of coffee. It takes 72 hours to completely detoxify caffeine from your system to reach that same level of “buzz”. When you regulate your coffee intake, the receptors don’t down-regulate and makes the caffeine more effective when you do drink it.
2. Set a screen curfew.
I know it’s hard for all of us. Why? Each time we scroll through Instagram or watch one more episode on Netflix, we are activating the dopamine reward centers in our brain. These centers are constantly seeking and always want more even against our better judgement. It takes practice and commitment but power down all your devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime for quality sleep. The blue light emitted from our devices lowers melatonin by up to 50%.
3. Heal your gut. Heal your sleep.
We have 400x more melatonin in our gut than in our brains. In addition, the bacteria in your gut also interferes with this key sleep hormone. Eating a diet rich in prebiotic foods and foods that are high in sleep nutrients are essential. Potassium, for example, helps us stay asleep and can be found in avocados. Magnesium helps us to fall asleep and 80% of us are chronically deficient! This is one of the few nutrients I recommend taking a supplement for as foods aren’t going to provide adequate amounts.
4. Time your workout accordingly.
When we workout, cortisol is naturally produced. To mimic our natural cortisol curve it’s best to workout in the morning to sleep better. Even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes, doing a rebounder or a few rounds of weights can have a profound impact. Or try to get sunlight in between the hours of 6-8 am as this helps to make cortisol drop lower at night.
Looking for more ways to get a better night’s rest?
Watch the video below where Dr. Robin Berzin shares more tips and tricks to get deeper sleep.
Final Thoughts on Biohacking Your Sleep
- Getting enough sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health.
- Not getting enough sleep impacts our long-term brain health, memory, and detoxification.
- Limiting screen time before bed, cycling your caffeine intake and healing your gut with probiotic right food can help to significantly improve the quality of your sleep.