I am SO envious of women who tell me that they have no troubles sleeping! If feels like my entire life has been one HUGE battle with sleep.
In fact, when I was 12, I came down with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This just made me sleepy and I would spend all day thinking about bedtime that night. I literally craved my bed and would turn down any invitation to hang out or play sports just to get to bed.
This was my life for over 15 years. Then, when I started to discover how eating wheat before bed gave me wicked insomnia, or having cheese made my brain a foggy mess, I finally had some answers.
My battle with sleep continues but it’s manageable. I’ve gone through CFS, through stage 3 adrenal fatigue, and weeks of insomnia and come out the other side with a very good understanding of my body and what it needs for better sleep.
It’s not perfect…I am still experimenting. But what I’ve discovered can help you biohack your own sleep naturally.
Why Is Sleep So Important Anyway?
Seriously, when was the last time you woke up feeling refreshed? Where you didn’t immediately dive into that venti Starbucks coffee?
If you’re like I was (and still am sometimes, for sure), the answer is probably out of your grasp. Months? Years? If this is you, I feel ya! It’s not fun being tired all the time. Nor is it fun to be SO tired only to wake up at 2 AM and not be able to go back to sleep!
And, yeah, we live with this because, hey, we’re all taught to just suck it up and hustle and grind, and we’re in this constant state of digital stimulation. This lifestyle is the WORST for good quality sleep.
Sleep is SO important though. It really should be one of your top 3 priorities in life, along with eating good food and drinking enough water.
When your sleep is off even for just 2 nights in a row, your hormones go all whacky. Your biological inflammation markers rise, and you put yourself at risk for major disease.
You don’t want this, right? (Please say you’re agreeing with me!)
When your hormones get out of whack and your inflammation rises, this affects memory and mental health. It messes up the gut microbiome, and it impairs your natural detoxification systems.
Hormones Involved in Sleep
While your body is swarming with so many important hormones, there are 2 main ones that affect your sleep.
First up, melatonin.
Melatonin helps to regulate your circadian rhythm. When balanced, melatonin should be high at bedtime (around 10 PM) and then naturally lower throughout the night. Another important function of this hormone is to help reduce chronic low-grade inflammation in the brain and nervous system.
Next up, cortisol.
Cortisol is your main stress hormone. One of cortisol’s main functions is to activate your fight or flight response. This, obviously, wakes you up!
Cortisol should be high in the morning and gradually reduce throughout the day and be low at bedtime. Think of melatonin and cortisol as acting in opposition to each other, at least when both are balanced.
Let’s also give an honorable mention to another chemical – serotonin.
Technically a neurotransmitter, serotonin helps to make melatonin. Serotonin also helps us feel happy and relaxed.
Why We Can’t Sleep
The obvious answer to this is that melatonin and cortisol, and possible serotonin, are out of whack, right?
But what’s causing this? I mean, if we really want to improve our sleep, no amount of darkness or temperatures changes are ever going to balance these hormones.
Stress is the #1 cause of imbalanced sleep hormones. When you’re constantly stimulated by technology, a demanding boss, looming deadlines and even daily exercise, your cortisol levels are up.
This is fine if all these things only happen in the morning. But they don’t…I can’t tell you how many times I go to bed, turn off the light and suddenly my mind starts sorting through all the things I need to do the next day. Or I worry about something I said at work.
If you can’t fall asleep at night, your cortisol is too high at bedtime. But, if you fall asleep no problem but wake up at 2 AM for no reason and can’t get back to sleep…well, this is an indication that your blood sugar is too low (another reason for poor sleep is insulin resistance).
Stress reduces the production of serotonin, which has a negative effect on melatonin.
More Hormonal Issues When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep
Yes, when certain hormones are out of whack, you don’t sleep well. But, lack of sleep can also cause imbalances across other hormones too!
- Ghrelin is your hunger hormone – the one that makes your stomach growl. After just one night of poor sleep, ghrelin increases by 15%! This, in turn, affects leptin, your fullness hormone, causes those massive sugar and carb cravings that happen when you’re tired!
- Besides out of whack cortisol making sleep a mess, lack of sleep also causes your cortisol levels to go crazy. Kind of a chicken-and-egg situation!
- Human Growth Hormone – pay attention to this one! – is dubbed the “fountain of youth” hormone. Lack of sleep, especially in the Delta phase, prevents the production of HGH.
6 Natural Ways to Boost Sleep!
As I mentioned, I’ve spent years trying to improve my sleep quality and figure out how to wake up refreshed. And not always rely on coffee to get through the day! (Honestly, though? I do love my coffee! I doubt I’ll ever give it up entirely.)
Some things that have worked for me specifically with my CFS and then adrenal fatigue are to really pay attention to how food affects my sleep. This takes time and dedication, to really become in tune with your own body. Start a food and sleep journal and watch for patterns.
I remember the night it clicked for me that wheat caused my insomnia. I felt like a weight had been lifted. Ever since then, I know that I’m going to pay for a meal that contains wheat, especially if I eat it after 4 PM. So, things like Chinese food or pasta have to be strategically planned.
But, even if you’re not that in tune with your sleep patterns yet, there are some biohacks you can do to help improve your overall sleep.
- Eat a diet rich in both prebiotic & probiotic foods as the bad bacteria in your gut can interfere with melatonin. Also, eating foods that are high in “sleep nutrients”, like potassium and magnesium’ is essential.Foods to eat regularly: Kombucha, apples, dairy-free yogurt, ground flaxseeds, sauerkraut, asparagus, bananas, coconut water, avocado, leafy greens, dark chocolate.
- Carb-up at dinner. If you’re stressed (and most of us are), the best meal of the day to eat slow-burning complex carbs is dinner. They contain vitamins and minerals that help you sleep and keep that blood sugar balanced throughout the night.
Foods to eat: sweet potato, carrots, white potato, quinoa, brown rice
- Limit alcohol in the evenings because it inhibits REM sleep, the sleep that helps solidify memories.Want something that feels ‘special’ in the evening? Try kombucha over ice, or sparking water infused with fruits or herbs.
- While this mostly seems like an old wives’ tale to me now that I know what I know about hormones, it is still a good idea to set up your bedroom for good sleep. Make it a temperature that works for you – for me, I sleep best when it’s about 18 degrees Celsius. I also need total darkness and a white noise source, so I have shutters and a fan going all night. You do you.
Pro Tip: Try going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning. This can do a LOT to regulate that melatonin-cortisol circadian rhythm!
- Turn off the technology, at least 2 hours before bed. I know, I know…this is a tough one. But the blue light and activation of your brain stimulates your body, making it harder to sleep. Try reading an actual book with pages, meditate, or stretch in the time before bed. I actually enjoy cooking and doing meal prep between 7 and 9 PM on a Saturday – this relaxes me and keeps me away from the technology.
- If you’re into essential oils and you find these help, go for it! Lavender, vetiver, frankincense, sandalwood and chamomile are known to improve sleep.
What Will You Try First?
Now you know that getting enough sleep is super important right? Lack of sleep messes up your hormones, it increases inflammation, promotes weight gain, and can increase your risk of major disease.
A healthy, balanced, sleep-promoting diet is a wonderful first step to boost sleep. Take note of foods that might be negatively impacting your sleep and ditch those to experiment.
Remember that cortisol needs to naturally decrease throughout the day so try switching up your workouts to the morning.
You can get a better night’s sleep with a little naturally biohacking.
For some extra help, try the Sleepytime Smoothie Recipe below!
Sleepytime Smoothie Recipe
Should you eat before bed or not? There is no right or wrong answer to this question. The right answer for you is…does eating certain foods before bed help or hinder your sleep?
As a woman with adrenal fatigue, I need to eat something before bed. It doesn’t have to be big, but I need something to keep my blood sugar balanced. Otherwise, I wake up at 2 AM and can’t get back to sleep.
Try this smoothie before for a week or two – it’s full of nutrients known to help boost sleep.
Cherry-Ginger-Lime Sleepytime Smoothie
Makes 2 servings
- 2 cups tart cherries – fresh or frozen
- ¾ cup blueberries – fresh or frozen
- 1 whole lime – peeled
- ⅔ cup coconut milk yogurt, plain
- ¼ cup coconut water
- 1 scoop high quality protein powder – plain flavor, unsweetened & vegan (or pure hemp) protein suggested
- 2 inch piece ginger root – thinly sliced
- 2 Tbsp. flaxseed, freshly ground (can substitute with chia seed, but this will change the consistency)
- ¾ cup water and a few ice cubes for desired consistency
Add all ingredients to a high speed blender and pulse on high (or use smoothie setting) until desired consistency reached. Add ice and/or water if necessary. Consume 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime.
Healthline: 10 Health Benefits of Tart Cherry Juice
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