Wellness Centre

When people think of improving their health and wellness sleep is often overlooked...


Sleeping for Health and Wellness

When people think of improving their health and wellness sleep is often overlooked. High quality sleep, of a sufficient length, is vital to ensuring both physical and mental recovery. If we don’t fully recover on a regular basis we can’t achieve optimal health and ‘feel well’. Sleep’s essential for preventing stress-related illness, depression, anxiety and a variety of other physical ailments. 

Our bodies rely tremendously on a cascade of hormones that dictate when we sleep, eat, and what we are motivated to do. When we don’t sleep well, a domino effect of protective hormones is altered, increasing the likeliness that we will:

- Consume significantly more calories and crave sweet, fatty, high-calorie foods in place of more nutrient rich (healthy) choices,

- Become inactive and therefore reduce the expenditure of energy and calories, and

- Perform poorer both physically and mentally.

The problem with not getting to sleep on time can be illustrated by a quick guide to hormone release. Studies have shown that if a light of any source stimulates your skin or eyes when you're asleep your brain can believe its morning. This results in the release of the activating hormone – cortisol. Cortisol prepares the body for movement, work or whatever is needed for survival and becomes elevated in stressful situations.

There is a natural cycle of cortisol through every 24 hour day and this is commonly known as our circadian rhythm. The level of cortisol starts to rise at around 3am and is highest at around 6-7am when we wake up naturally - this is what kickstarts our day. When the hormonal cycle is working correctly cortisol will remain elevated through midday, but then begin to drop in the afternoon, around 3pm. As cortisol decreases, the growth and repair hormones elevate. A natural sleep/wake cycle means that we should start to wind down as cortisol levels drop and we should fall asleep at around 10pm. 

Problems arise if internal or external stressors cause cortisol to remain elevated later in the day. An elevated cortisol level compromises the release of the growth and repair hormones. This detrimentally limits the valuable time of the recovery and immune systems. This is also why it is more beneficial to exercise in the morning, when cortisol is at its highest! 

We need solid and unbroken sleep, of the correct duration, to recover fully. Too little sleep, or sleep of a lower quality, may explain why some people suffer aches and pains, or easily pick up colds, even though they seem to live a healthy life. Lack of sleep absolutely contributes to your levels of stress and may be the reason you’re finding it difficult to lose weight too. Elevated cortisol causes the body to release stored glycogen which results in a rise in blood sugar. This is useful when we are active and need energy, however when we’re not exercising the resulting glycogen will quickly become stored as fat in the adipose tissue. The usual storage site is around the navel, or belly button.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity and weight gain, but for many years it was not known why. So how much ‘repair’ time do you give yourself? A recent study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who do not achieve 7-8 hours of sleep a night consume more calories and, more importantly, more saturated fat. This increased appetite to eat “rubbish” is a result of poor sleep effecting glucose tolerance, increasing cortisol levels and decreasing growth hormone. Poor sleep has also been linked with an increased risk of diabetes, breast cancer and heart disease.  

According to many experts, most people need between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. If we don’t get enough we can probably expect to experience feelings of moodiness, irritability, anxiety and maybe even aggression. All of which can contribute to feeling stressed, so a lack of sleep promotes a vicious cycle. Whilst increasing the quality of your sleep sleep certainly won't eliminate all stress, it can help to increase your readiness to cope with the stresses of day-to-day life.

Our tips to help you get a better night’s sleep:

- Stay away from grains and refined sugar, which elevate blood sugar levels. Most people have intolerances to these foods and this causes the body to produce cortisol, which can remain elevated when we don’t want it.

- Sleep in complete darkness; even the smallest amount of light in a room can disturb many of the bodies functions during sleep.

- Don’t watch television or other screens, including phones and tablets, that emit artificial light within an hour before bed.

- Stretch in the evening. Static stretching calms the nervous system. Hold each stretch for around 15 seconds.

- Complete a guided meditation for 10-15 minutes right before bedtime to calm your mind.

- Take lyseine and arginine; These 2 amino acids have been shown to effectively reduce levels of anxiety, which may be preventing the mind from settling. 

More information and support can be found here if your sleep has been worrying you: NHS: Every Mind Matters