Isn't it great how kids can fall asleep anywhere and sleep through anything? Us adults on the other hand often face an entire different scenario when it comes to sleep habits. Do you often wish you could sleep like a baby through the night? I know I do. There are ways to get better sleep and it starts with your diet.
Cortisol and Sleep
Even if you get the recommended amount of sleep a night you can still wake up feeling tired. This is because you aren't getting enough quality sleep and going through the different phases of sleep. This can be due to a rise in cortisol levels in the body. For example, when we enter the REM phase of sleep our muscles are able to relax and the rate of breathing increases to rejuvenate the body. If there is too much of the hormone cortisol present in the body left over from the daytime then this vital sleep phase can be disrupted. Normally cortisol is released in cycles with the highest amount present in the morning and much lower amounts present at night. You've probably heard of the circadian rhythm and this cycling of cortisol plays a big role in it. If this rhythm is "off" the body isn't able to rejuvenate itself at night like it is supposed to and can result in feeling fatigued, developing osteoporosis, having a low sex drive, cause acne, migraines, stomach bloating, and high or low blood pressure. For good quality sleep, your cortisol levels need to be in the normal range at night and during the day leading up to sleep time. Your diet plays a role in maintaining normal cortisol levels as the higher the glycemic index of the foods you eat, the higher your cortisol levels will be. Foods that are high in sugar and low in fiber are high on the glycemic index level so if you start your day off with a breakfast that has a lot of sugar or starch then you are starting out the day with a high cortisol level that will stick with you throughout the day and into the night. Skipping meals can also raise your cortisol level so it's important to eat a meal or at least a snack at least every 5 hours throughout the day. An increase in cortisol levels can also lead to an increase in food cravings. These cravings most often are for sweets and carb filled foods that aren't part of a healthy diet and which as we know now increase the glycemic index levels and produce even more cortisol. By starting out the day eating foods with a low glycemic index you lower your cortisol levels and continuing this throughout the day with low glycemic foods eaten every 5 hours will match the normal cortisol cycle and let you start your sleep time with a low cortisol level which means better sleep. Low glycemic foods that help you sleep include fish, poultry, other lean meats, eggs, and the majority of vegetables.
Natural Solutions for Lowering Cortisol
Besides eating foods that help you sleep by reducing cortisol levels, there are many herbal remedies that have been found to affect cortisol levels. De-glycerinized licorice or phosphatidyl serine can help lower cortisol levels and taken in the evening can help your body get ready for sleep. Licorice root extract on the other hand does the opposite and will raise cortisol levels which can be useful when taken in the morning if you are fatigued and have a low cortisol level. Other herbs that have been found useful in balancing cortisol levels include Chinese and American ginseng, reishi and cordyceps mushrooms, Siberian ginseng, ashwaganda, golden root, and black cohosh. Stress also contributes to higher cortisol levels so finding ways to manage stress such as through meditation can help counteract this rise in cortisol. Omega-3 fatty acids also help lower cortisol and adrenaline that are released by stress. Our bodies don't produce this essential fatty acid by themselves so we have to get them from the foods we eat. Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and tuna are good sources for omega-3s as are walnuts, avocado, Brussels sprouts, flaxseeds, olive oil and AFA bluegreen algae which also has magnesium and cholorophyll and lots of other good nutrients to help your body deal with stress. The body needs magnesium to help muscles relax, maintain an overall body calmness and to soothe mood. This wholefood algae supplement not only gives you the nutrition from AFA bluegreen algae but also eleuthero, Ginkgo biloba, Lion's Mane, bee pollen, wheatgrass juice, and noni that can all help your brain function more clearly when stress overwhelms you and interferes with sleep. Bee pollen is reported to have a high amino acid content useful for stimulating memory and concentration, wheatgrass juice has been found to provide nutrients that support brain health and clearer thinking, and Gingko biloba has been used for a long time to promote increased memory and mental concentration by increasing circulation and providing increased oxygenation of brain cells.
Probiotics and Sleep
Besides interfering with good quality sleep, cortisol is detrimental to the friendly bacteria in the intestines. This friendly bacteria not only helps with digestion, but is also part of the immune system that fights off bad bacteria and viruses that can make us sick. When our cortisol levels are high our supply of B vitamins gets used up and we need our friendly bacteria or probiotics to replace them. We can give our own natural probiotics some help by taking probiotic supplements like acidophilus and bifidus. Studies report that having a strong colony of friendly bacteria can help lower anxiety and activity in the brain related to emotion and pain as well as raise the level of brain activity linked to decision making. Having a strong colony of friendly probiotics also helps with sleep as they contribute to the production of serotonin and melatonin hormones that help us relax and induce calmness as well as help with digestion allowing us to get the nutrition to the body for energy production.
Eating my way to better sleep sounds great to me. Eating low glycemic foods as well as foods and supplements that help with stress and boost probiotics can help you sleep like a baby and have the energy to stay on top of things and active during the day.