Natasha Turner, N.D. is a Toronto-based naturopathic doctor. She is the founder of the Clear Medicine wellness boutique and author of the bestselling book The Hormone Diet. Each week in her column for That’s Fit.ca, Dr. Turner will illustrate a health issue she commonly sees in her practice, and advise readers on how to remedy the problem as well as improve their overall health.
This week she discusses the top 10 habits that cause hormonal havoc and interfere with the natural fat burning-benefits of sleep.
1. Eating too close to bedtime
Late-night meals and snacks prevent your body from cooling down during sleep and raise your insulin level. As a result, less of the fat- burning and anti-aging hormones, melatonin and growth hormone, are released while you snooze.
2. Sleeping with light exposure
When light hits your skin, it disrupts the production of melatonin. Studies have shown that even a small amount of light anywhere on your skin can cause a decrease in melatonin levels which affects sleep, interferes with weight loss and may raise your cancer risks. This means wearing an eye mask is not enough. You must sleep in total darkness.
3. Too much liquid before bed
Drinking before bedtime can definitely increase your need for late-night trips to the loo. Waking to go to the washroom interrupts your natural sleep patterns. If you turn the light on when you go, you also run the risk of suppressing melatonin production.
4. Exercising late at night
Regular exercise can certainly help you sleep better, as long as you do it early enough in the day. A late-night workout, especially a cardio session, raises body temperature significantly, preventing the release of melatonin. It can also interfere with your ability to fall asleep since it usually increases noradrenalin, dopamine and cortisol, which stimulate your brain activity.
5. Too much TV or computer use before bed
Many of us enjoy watching favourite shows, catching up on emails or surfing the ‘Net in the evenings, but too much time in front of either screen close to bedtime can interfere with a good night’s rest. Both these activities increase the stimulating hormones noradrenalin and dopamine, which can hamper your ability to fall asleep.
6. Keeping your bedroom too warm (higher than 70F).
Plenty of people like to feel cozy at bedtime, but a sleep environment that’s too warm can prevent the natural cooling that should take place in your body while you sleep. Without this cool-down process, melatonin and growth hormone release is disrupted.
7. Sleeping in tight-fitting clothes or heavy blankets
Besides feeling comfy, your favourite PJs and blankets actually help you sleep better – but not if they’re too tight or too heavy. Strange as it may sound, wearing tight-fitting clothing at bedtime – even your bra or underwear — appears to raise your body temperature and has been proven to reduce the secretion of melatonin and growth hormone. Your body should cool while you sleep, therefore, heavy blankets should also be avoided.
8. Failure to open the blinds or go outside in the morning
Remember, melatonin is supposed to be lowest first thing in the morning. If you remain in darkness, your body will not get the signal that the time has come to get up and go. High melatonin during the day leaves you feeling fatigued and unable to wake up properly. It may also lower serotonin leading to more depression, anxiety and cravings.
9. Not getting the right amount of sleep
The American Cancer Association found higher incidences of cancer in individuals who consistently slept 6 hours or less or more than 9 hours nightly. New research recently reported that people who regularly sleep 7.5 hours per night live longer. Most sleep experts agree that 7-8 hours a night is optimal. However, some people may require more or less sleep than others. If you wake without an alarm and feel refreshed when you get up, you’re likely getting the right amount of sleep for you.
When your sleep is insufficient, your cortisol and hunger hormones both surge, causing a corresponding increase in insulin. You also experience decreases in the fat-burning and appetite controlling hormones.
10. Going to bed too late
More than half the respondents to the 2005 National Sleep survey reported they are morning people with higher energy earlier in the day, while 41% considered themselves night owls. Evening people were more likely than morning people to experience symptoms of insomnia, sleep apnea, enjoy less sleep than they felt they needed and take longer to fall asleep.
Staying awake into the wee hours causes hormonal imbalance because it increases cortisol, decreases leptin and depletes growth hormone. This causes us to eat more and messes with our metabolism. Cortisol naturally begins to increase during the second half of your sleep – a small boost at 2 a.m., another at 4 a.m. and the peak at around 6a.m. If you’re just getting to bed immediately beforehand, you’re missing out on your most restful period of sleep. I advocate getting to bed between 10 -11 p.m. for this basic reason.
Dr. Natasha Turner ND is the author of The Hormone Diet and she welcomes your questions or comments. Although you may not receive a response, your submission will certainly be read and may be selected as a topic for a future column.