Balancing Your Hormones, Your Sleep, and Your Health
Your hormones control many of your body's processes. Your hormone levels, in turn, are influenced by many of your behaviors. The way you eat, the way you deal with stress, and how much exercise you get all have an impact on the ebb and flow of your hormones through your bloodstream. This in turn affects your digestion, your energy level, your mental clarity and focus, and more.
Sleep is a process medical science is still trying to understand, but we do know that getting enough sleep—and at the right time—can have a huge impact on your hormone balance and your overall health. And other aspects of your health can greatly influence the hormones that influence your sleep.
It's all a big cycle, and getting your sleep in line can help you rebalance your hormones and your overall health.
Better Hormones for Better Sleep
Research shows that inadequate sleep can lead to decreased insulin sensitivity (which can lead to increased insulin production), increased concentrations of cortisol (the "stress hormone," which can cause all kinds of harm), increased levels of ghrelin (which triggers hunger or appetite), and decreased levels of leptin (which plays a role in fat metabolism and energy balance).
Getting enough sleep means putting all of these hormones back in balance, which promotes better nutrition, digestion, and overall health and mood.
So what hormones help trigger and promote a healthy night's sleep, and what can you do to work with your body and set the hormonal stage for sleep? Melatonin is the hormone most commonly associated with sleep. It is released by the pineal gland deep in the brain and signals the body to begin preparing for sleep. Melatonin levels stay elevated throughout the night, tapering off towards morning.
Melatonin is actually triggered by light, or rather the absence of it. When our eyes tell our brains that lower levels of light are coming, melatonin is released and we start to feel drowsy. Of course, if our eyes have a lot of light coming into them even at night, then our melatonin levels and cycle can be thrown way out of balance.
In today's world of artificial lights and lots of bright screens to devote our attention to, it's no wonder that more than 60 million Americans report sleep problems every year. It may also help explain our nation's obesity epidemic, high stress levels, and related problems like Type II Diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, and more.
In order to help bring your melatonin in line, promote better sleep, and and help restore your overall health, trying cutting out screens and as much artificial light as you can after 9pm. Using red-tinted lights at low levels (and red nightlights in your bathroom) can also "fool" your brain and let you see around your house with less disruption to your natural melatonin cycle. This can put you on the path to a better night's sleep and a better day's health.
More Help for Serious Sleep Problems
If you suffer from insomnia—an ongoing problem falling asleep and/or staying asleep—simply limiting light in the evening might not be enough. For example, some people suffer from sluggish melatonin production and need supplementation to have a positive impact on sleep. LIght plays a big role but so does genetics Alterations in the enzymes that produce melatonin can impair how you make it and therfor alter your sleep. (check out sleep gentic article for more on this).
You can talk to a naturopathic doctor about finding ways to work with your body, adjusting behavior, diet, and possibly using natural supplements to encourage proper sleep.
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