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Sleep, Hormones and Your Health

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Our sleep patterns and our hormonal production are like two people, end to end on a tug of war rope. They respond to each other in a way that can either leave you feeling energetic and well, or lethargic and inflamed.

If your hormones are not regulating and pulling their weight, then sleep will be a priority. Your body will be lethargic and craving more rest. If sleep is not taking priority, then the hormones are going to be out of control and increasing inflammation through every body system. Sleep and hormones need to be as strong as each other in a perfect balance to keep the rope steady, and you feeling healthy and thriving.

There are over 50 different hormones in our body and they are responsible for a range of bodily functions, including metabolism, appetite, growth, body temperature sexual function (including drive and reproduction), heart rate, blood pressure, and of course our sleep-wake cycles.

Many hormones act by binding to receptors that are produced within cells. These receptors carry out the hormone’s instructions, either by altering the cell’s existing proteins or by turning on genes that will build a new protein. This hormone-receptor complex switches on or switches off the specific biological processes in cells, tissues, and organs.

Melatonin is the hormone responsible for our sleep-wake cycle. It is produced by the pineal gland and triggered by light to tell us to fall asleep, stay asleep and then wake up. In response to this circadian rhythm nearly every other hormone in our body is released and signaled to react and function. Who knew our hormones were such intricate little clogs in a clockwork system.

The most valuable of hormones that our sleep regulates is cortisol, our stress hormone. Melatonin and cortisol are hormones that have a seesaw effect on each other.

When melatonin is at its peak cortisol should be at its lowest, which is what makes relaxation a powerful tool for a quality deep sleep. In turn, once we wake in the morning cortisol should peak within 30 minutes, setting off its own signal for other hormones to react and get us moving for the day ahead. When sleep is disrupted or when we ignore our tired signs, our cortisol levels can be elevated leaving us in a state of feeling wired but tired.

Some of the noteworthy hormones affected by both melatonin and cortisol are our hunger hormones – insulin, leptin, and ghrelin. These control our blood sugar regulation, satiety, and appetite. Sleep naturally brings on a time to rest and digest. When normal sleeping patterns are interrupted, say by a rotating roster, suddenly the hormones we rely on to control our food cravings and appetite are no longer working in our favor. This is why people who work night shifts have an increased risk of metabolic disorders and weight gain. Reducing added sugar and limiting the time frame in which you are eating your meals can help to prevent these unwanted side effects of sleep dysregulation.

There are many other endocrine disruptors besides sleep so if you’re having issues with hormonal regulation don’t leave it until it’s spiraling out of control. Seek support for your symptoms and manage it according to your health professional. Correcting nutritional deficiencies, balancing dietary intake and making easy sleep hygiene lifestyle changes can make a world of difference to your energy, fatigue, inflammation and recovery.

Sarah Manktelow

Nutritionist, Dog Watch Nutrition

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