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Your Brain and Body Need This

What happens when we sleep? Sleep removes toxins from the brain. A process called the glymphatic system washes over the brain and eliminates toxins and broken DNA. Sleep is essential for memory and cognition. REM sleep (dreaming phase) happens about 90 minutes after we fall asleep.

Did you know that poor sleep can cause weight gain? Why would that be? Because lack of sleep affects our hormones and increases our hunger and blood sugar. All of this contributes to unwanted weight gain.

What hormones are responsible for this? Insulin, ghrelin, and leptin.

Insulin increases in our body when we don’t sleep well, increasing our blood sugar- making it difficult to lose weight.

A poor night’s sleep raises ghrelin, the hunger hormone, making us hungrier. Leptin, the hormone that tells us we are full, decreases, making it more difficult to know when to stop eating.

Lack of quality sleep also affects our immune system. Sleep well to stay well.

What are some habits you should quit if you want to get a better night of sleep?

Avoid alcohol before bed. Alcohol will help you fall asleep, but it will also wake you up in the middle of the night. Alcohol increases your heart rate and makes getting REM sleep very difficult. Remember, REM sleep is essential for memory and cognition. Glymphatic flow does not happen when we drink.

Stop drinking caffeine past noon. Caffeine can keep you up if you are a slow metabolizer. Feeling tired at 3:00 p.m. and want to head to the nearest coffee shop for a jolt? Don’t. It will ruin your sleep. Instead, go for a walk outside.

What are some things you can do to get a better night of sleep?

Avoid blue lights before bed. Blue lights come from our TVs, iPads, computers, and phones. Reduce exposure 2 hours before bed. If you are unable to, wear blue light-blocking glasses.

Stop eating 3 hours before bed. We do not sleep well when our body is busy digesting food. Our food will likely be stored as fat because there is no time to burn it off before bed.

Keep your room cool. 67 degrees is a reasonable temperature. Keep your room dark to avoid exposure to light. Wear an eye mask to help with this.

Set your circadian rhythm. In the morning, expose your eyes to sunlight within the first 20 minutes of waking. When the sun goes down, keep lights dim in your house and put blue light-blocking glasses on. This helps regulate your sleep hormones (lower cortisol, higher melatonin production).

Have a sleep schedule. Waking up and going to bed at the same time every night helps you get the best sleep.

Do you snore? If you have excess weight, snore at night, and wake up tired in the morning, you might have sleep apnea. Get a sleep study done. You could have sleep apnea even at average body weight. It depends on the structure of your airway. Sleep apnea leads to many health concerns, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.

Avoid stress in the evening. This could raise cortisol and keep you up—Journal down your thoughts and your to-dos before bed. Do something calming before bed. Stretching, yoga, meditation, reading, or sex. Anything to get your body ready for slumber.

I hope these tips are helpful. Prioritize your sleep. Your brain and body are counting on you to do so.

In good health,

Jenny Smith Functional Medicine Health Coach


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