Sleep and Stress

My blog last week was about the connection between sleep deprivation and blood sugar issues. My goal was to encourage people to sleep more to help improve their overall health, but some people know they need more sleep but are struggling with insomnia. There are two different patterns of insomnia. Some people have trouble falling asleep. For others, the issue is staying asleep. Today I am focusing on this second type of insomnia known as sleep fragmentation. As I mentioned in my blog last week, insufficient sleep can lead to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, but sleep fragmentation can in turn be due to increased levels of cortisol. Stress can increase cortisol levels and shift peak cortisol production to later in the day, which may interfere with sleep. Our cortisol level is supposed to decline throughout the day so it doesn’t keep us awake at night. In addition, stress and worry can contribute to the sleep disturbance by keeping people up if they wake in the night.

Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress and low blood sugar. Herbs known as adaptogens can help balance adrenal output of cortisol. Examples of these herbs are ashwagandha, rhodiola, and astragalus just to name a few. Some people benefit from including these herbs to their sleep protocol. These herbs don’t necessarily have an immediate effect. They are taken during the day on a regular basis to help tone the adrenal glands and compensate for the effects of long-term stress. They may even increase energy during the day.

Another related issue that can interfere with a good night’s sleep is blood sugar. If blood sugar drops during the night, the body releases cortisol and adrenaline to help raise it. Then these stimulating hormones can wake us up. For this issue, a healthy, balanced snack before bed may help us sleep through the night.

Using healthy food choices to maintain a steady blood sugar is important because of the relationship between blood sugar and cortisol. Low blood sugar can cause cortisol release. This cortisol can interferes with sleep, which leads to further increases in cortisol. Cortisol has several effects on the body including interfering with sleep and contributing to insulin resistance so it can throw off our blood sugar further. This is yet another reason we all need to continue to focus on healthy foods, good sleep, and stress reduction. I hope you get some of all of these this weekend.

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3 responses to “Sleep and Stress

  1. psychospiritualfun

    Reblogged this on Psychology, spirituality and mental health and commented:
    Sleep advice from an ND…

  2. Interesting information about the “vicious cycle” of cortisol levels. I’ve read that some pharmaceuticals have been shown to increase these levels as well – so it may be worth looking into your medicine cabinet to see if anything may be affecting your sleep there.

  3. Pingback: Sleep Tight, Think Right: The link between insomnia and Alzheimer’s disease | Dr. Laurell Matthews, ND

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