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Sleep, Stress, Sunlight and Food, Part 1

The Rhythm of Life…Humans come equipped with a Circadian Rhythm - your behavioral,

physical, and mental changes over the course of 24 hours. Circadian rhythms are essential in determining your sleep patterns, and they are affected by light (which is why it always takes a little time to adjust during Daylight Savings). There’s a huge connection between sleep, stress, the amount of sunlight and exercise you get, and diet. If one is out of whack, you may be setting yourself up for some serious health risks. So how can you make sure your Circadian Rhythm is in check? For this post, I’ll focus on sleep and stress and exercise. (Look for sunlight and diet in the next post ;) ).

Artificial light and Sleepiness. When light goes through the optic nerve in your eyes, your brain is signaled to produce less melatonin, a calming hormone. There is an indirect relationship with light and melatonin. As daylight goes down or lights get turned off, your brain gets signaled to produce melatonin. This makes you more tired so you can sleep. If you’re one of those people who gets into bed and then gets on their phone, scrolling through social media until you fall asleep, you’re actually throwing off your Circadian Rhythm because you’re putting light right in front of your eyes. Anything stimulating like your phone, television, etc. should not be in your bedroom because the light they produce are essentially telling your brain to not secrete melatonin. So hide your phone from yourself when it’s time for bed, and try to not use it as your alarm clock (too tempting to peak when you’re trying to wind down).

Hormones and Side Effects of Not Getting Enough Sleep...Messing up your sleep patterns with things like phones and TVs can lead to you being sleep deprived, and that increases your chances of obesity and contracting diabetes and heart disease. Studies have even shown that people who get less sleep are more prone to breast cancer and colon cancer. Not getting enough sleep can also lead to inflammation, which is really a Catch 22 because if you have pain, you also have trouble sleeping through the night. And if you have trouble sleeping you are going to cause inflammation.

Of course, if you are having trouble sleeping you’re also producing less cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone that helps break down fat and synthesize lean muscle mass. (Remember the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism is - A dirty little secret the big weight loss companies try to hide). In other words, less cortisol due to lack of sleep means a slower metabolism and less fat break down.

You may not be aware of this, but there is a surge of hormones when you sleep 7-8 hours per night. During those hours, you enter REM (rapid eye movement) cycles. These are periods of really deep sleep. Everything - your heartbeat, your breathing, etc. - slows down and you produce hormones like leptin and ghrelin. Both of these hormones work to decrease appetite. So, not enough sleep equals less leptin and ghrelin which means more hunger and cravings, specifically carb cravings according to studies.

The bad news…..

If you are not exercising, you will eventually have trouble sleeping. In order to get to where you need to be, you need to eat right, sleep well and not eat crap that has you waking up with a food hangover (YES, that is a thing). Think of it this way: You weigh yourself in the morning, you see you’re up a few pounds, so now you try on an outfit that doesn’t fit right and your day is off to a rough start. Is that the type of morning you want to have? Or, would you rather eat whole healthy food, sleep well because you exercise and aren’t using your phone to fall asleep, and then you weigh yourself, see you’re down a few pounds and try on an outfit that actually feels a little loose? It is up to you!

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll dig deeper into sunlight and food, and how they both play a bigger role in your weight and overall health.



Photo of food collage courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ Photo of me taken at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Hope & Main, Rhode Island's first kitchen incubator, of which I'm a BIG supporter. Learn more at

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