Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill is a leading holistic hormone health specialist who previously provided us with an article on thyroid health. More recently she has published a book ‘Weight Loss Winners & Dieting Downfalls. In today’s blog Alyssa has kindly provided an excerpt from a chapter in this book titled ‘dieting downfall – your sleep’. This information will be of interest to anyone who suffers from disturbed or disrupted sleep, and particularly those planning or undergoing a weight loss diet. As Dr Burns-Hill notes “you can make a significant difference to your ability to sleep by using some simple guidelines”. Alyssa starts today’s article by asking us all a few questions about our typical sleep patterns.
Questionnaire: Do these problems apply to you on a regular basis?
Disturbed or disrupted sleep – yes/no
Difficulty getting to sleep – yes/no
Take sleeping pills – yes/no
Use alcohol to relax – yes/no
Use caffeine to wake up – yes/no
Have memory problems – yes/no
Foggy thinking – yes/no
Sugar cravings – yes/no
If you have answered yes to more than 3 of the above problems you are likely to be suffering with a sleep problem that is not only keeping you tired and irritable it is increasing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, as well as cancer and creating problems with depression or anxiety. One study has shown that people who have long-term sleep problems have a three times greater risk of dying from any cause. It’s important to take your sleep seriously.
Sleep problems are everywhere in our 24/7 environment. It’s something you’re supposed to do every day of your life but where does it fit in? The world is filled with workers on variable and lengthy shift patterns, TV is available twenty four hours a day, work hours stretch out into your evening and can start as soon as you get up in the morning with mobile devices delivering demanding emails and text messages; let alone having a social life and being part of your family and its needs. Stress and the inability to ‘switch off’ are common problems.
More and more people are resorting to sleeping pills and in 2011 NHS doctors in the UK handed out 15.3 million prescriptions, but sleeping pills are not a solution to sleep problems and will pose other risks and compromises to your health and wellbeing. Side effects such as: change to your appetite, headaches, constipation, drowsiness, dizziness, confusion and forgetfulness are only a part of the large array of symptoms from these drugs.
Withdrawal is another story as it can be extremely difficult to get yourself off these drugs once you start, not just because of chemical addiction but also because of the fear of not sleeping and wondering if you can trust your body again. Problems with sleep can be a major factor that gets in the way of a successful diet not only because it interferes with your mental faculties (causing forgetfulness and poor decision-making) but also because it will dramatically affect your energy and mood.
Which one are you?
Can’t Sleep/Won’t Sleep
Going to bed to sleep might be a bit of a battleground for you. As you turn off your light and place your head on your pillow does your mind start chattering away? It’s all about yesterday, tomorrow, she said that …, why did I do that…, oh damn, I forgot so and so … and so it goes on … and on. The mind races away on all its little thought loops keeping you from feeling relaxed enough to sleep. Sleep is but a distant dream as the raised cortisol that is keeping your mind active is also suppressing the secretion of your sleep hormone, melatonin.
Sleep can be elusive until finally things quieten down and you can nod off.
Fitful, Light & Disrupted
It might be easy for you to fall asleep when you fall into bed but within an hour or two you wake for the first of many times through the night. It may be that your sleep in between is very light and each time you wake up you’re wide awake and the mind is already thinking about the day ahead, things that have annoyed you or distressed you or any number of things that your mind happens to come across.
Quality, deep and restful sleep is a dim and distant memory
This problem is again linked to cortisol levels playing with your mind and your melatonin levels but what might also be featuring is a disruption of your sleep/wake cycle. This means that your biological pattern (related to your daily and nightly cortisol levels) has become disrupted, probably through poor sleep habits (for example, falling asleep too many times in front of the TV and then expecting to sleep soundly all night). The body learns new behaviour in the end. Your cortisol levels may be staying too high during night time hours for your mind to switch off properly and for your melatonin to be secreted enough to take you off to dreamland.
This cannot be rectified with the use of addictive benzo-based sleeping tablets – drugs.
- Dieting Downfall – raised night time cortisol will keep your mind active preventing the secretion of melatonin, your sleep hormone.
- Dieting Downfall – lack of quality sleep at night will cause you to reach for quick energy and stimulants to keep you going during the day.
- Dieting Downfall – difficulty going to sleep can cause you to reach for alcohol as a relaxant.
- Dieting Downfall – difficulty sleeping will have a marked impact on your mood.
- Dieting Downfall – difficulty sleeping can increase or even cause problems with
foggy thinking and memory.
When Poor Sleep is a Constant Problem
When poor sleep is a constant problem it’s very stressful, placing big demands on those poor adrenals again. If lack of sleep is a constant issue it can contribute significantly to the adrenals becoming tired and unable to respond at healthy levels. Tired adrenals contribute to that feeling of getting through each day as though your knuckles are dragging along the floor and that constant feeling of needing to eat to give yourself energy. Quality sleep is essential to your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
What do you do when you wake up feeling unrefreshed and hard pushed to get into the day? Many people reach for the caffeine in the form of tea and coffee, perhaps with some sugar (cereal or toast and jam or perhaps a pastry or a croissant or even a breakfast bar if you slept through the snooze alarm). This is how you might be self-medicating your way into the day with caffeine and high octane fuel. The trouble is that these high octane fuels burn quickly and can leave you feeling more tired than when you started, then your body is screaming even harder for more stimulus and more instant energy.
This boom during the day might end with a bust at night. When you get home from work you probably experience that ‘tired but wired’ feeling and you need help climbing down from your caffeine and sugar induced buzz. Perhaps a glass of wine or beer is your wind down after a hard day at work? If this is a reasonable picture of you, you are self-medicating your way down to a more relaxed state of being. It just might be another dieting downfall that is interfering with your sleep.
Following your meal do you fall asleep in the chair with the TV blaring away to itself or your partner? You wake up feeling exhausted and cursing the waste of another evening when you planned to do the ironing and organise yourself for the next day so that, for once, you could feel that you were starting the next day a little ahead. Now, it’s all you can do to get a glass of water to quench your dreadful thirst and dry mouth and stumble up the stairs to fall into bed. These evening naps will really disrupt your natural sleep pattern and may be contributing to your wakefulness at night.
- Weight Loss Winner – sleep in complete darkness as this will support melatonin
- Weight Loss Winner – keep regular hours, even at weekends, as much as possible.
- Weight Loss Winner – make it a rule not to eat within two hours of bed time to avoid blood sugar highs that may keep you awake.
- Weight Loss Winner – listen to relaxing music to help you unwind, or, have a hot bath.
- Weight Loss Winner – avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evenings.
Hormonally speaking what does this all mean?
Simple Guidelines to Support Good Sleep
You can make a significant difference to your ability to sleep by using some simple guidelines as follows:
It’s important to sleep in complete darkness because this will boost your melatonin secretion, which will help you go into a deeper, more restful sleep. Use black out curtains if you need to block out street lights or invest in an eye mask.
Your ability to go to sleep is also affected by your body’s clock and if you continually change your sleep wake hours and take naps it can interfere with a normal pattern. Keep to more regular hours for sleeping and waking so that you support your body’s natural rhythms. This is important because your cortisol levels should reflect where you are in your sleep/wake pattern and if your cortisol levels are too high when you go to bed your mind will keep chattering and this is something that causes problems for many people trying to get off to sleep.
If you’re having real problems with sleep and feelings of anxiety or tension you might want to look at using a supplement called 5-HTP (L-5-hydroxytryptophan) and you can read more about this in the ‘More Tips and Tricks’ chapter of the book. You may need to experiment to find out what works for you so start small and use it to re-educate your sleep pattern. Start with 50mg dose about half an hour before bed and see if your sleep improves enough. If it’s not enough go up to 100 mg but 150mg should be the maximum to help you with sleep. Take it consistently for a month or so before you start to reduce the dose and see how you respond. It should work right from the outset with regard to improving your sleep quality and works by increasing serotonin, which converts to melatonin at night. If you are still having problems at the maximum dose you will need to introduce 5-HTP earlier in the day because you may be carrying intense feelings of stress or anxiety into your evening that cannot be addressed by a late dose of 5-HTP.
NB 5-HTP should not be taken with anti-depressants, weight control drugs or other serotonin modifying drugs or substances known to cause liver damage. People with compromised liver function may not be able to regulate 5-HTP properly.
A good way of supporting relaxation at bed time is an Epsom Salt bath. Epsom Salts or Magnesium Sulphate is not the same thing as salt! The health benefits of Epsom Salts have been known for hundreds of years and the benefit of the mineral is easily absorbed through the skin in a warm, relaxing bath. The magnesium in the salt is known to help to reduce inflammation, relax muscles and tendons and it can help to boost serotonin levels. The sulphate can also help to flush toxins, another benefit when you’re on a healthful weight loss regime. Don’t use these salts any more than three times per week as they can be quite drying on the skin. If you have a bit of dry skin use a little extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil after your bath as a natural moisturiser. A warm, relaxing bath can help you to quieten the mind and lower your cortisol levels before you go to bed.
Relaxation can also be supported by listening to gentle music at any time of the day, but sounds of nature or the sea or even white noise can also be helpful in helping you to switch off at bed time. The important thing is to establish a good night time routine that helps you to slow things down from the day’s hustle and bustle and make the transition between your daytime activities and your night time rest.
Another factor that can be troublesome at bed time is high blood sugar and a good way to avoid it is to resolve not to eat within two hours of going to bed. It can be a good ground rule to instigate as it draws a line under your eating activities for the day and encourages you to take a natural, overnight fast. Foods that boost your sugar levels are important to avoid before bed and, at the other end of the scale, if you try to use alcohol to relax you will cause a drop in blood sugar causing hunger that might keep you awake.
If you find you get hungry at night you need to look at what you’re eating in the evening, if it’s too high in simple carbs your body is burning your fuel too quickly. Think about your metabolic fire and see what changes you might need to make. You might even like to try making sure that you include some dietary intake of the amino acid L-Tryptophan with the following foods: pork, cottage cheese, duck, wheat germ or avocado for example. L-Tryptophan is the amino acid that is a building block of serotonin and melatonin.
Giving your body a prod with stimulants to keep it going during the day and then coshing it at night with alcohol is a very unkind way of treating yourself. Be more gentle with yourself during your days and nights could be flowing more easily.
© Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill, PhD
Hormone & Holistic Health Specialist
Harley Street – Jersey – International
Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill is a leading holistic hormone health specialist with practices in Harley Street, London, Jersey in the Channel Islands and an international virtual clinic with patients all over the world. She is a fervent supporter of the charity Thyroid UK, being a Trustee and on their advisory panel, supporting their aims of promoting better thyroid health.
Alyssa has a background in health that stretches over 20 years – with an academic background in health promotion (MSc) and a PhD focused on ‘Holistic healing from breast cancer through the lens of hormones: Synopsis and synthesis’. More information about her and her book ‘Weight Loss Winners & Dieting Downfalls’ (including buying online) can be found by following the link below. The book provides a wealth of information including:
“Learn key factors that can help you overcome your Dieting Downfalls and maximise your Weight Loss Winners with questionnaires to assess how you shape up in hormone health. This is not another diet book this information will make a difference whatever regime you choose to follow. If you want to know why, this book will provide you with hormone insights that impact men and women alike.”
With many thanks to Alyssa for this excellent and informative article, sleep disruption is a significant health issue for many people. If you have any questions regarding this article, any of the health topics raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time. If you want to be alerted by email when a new post is published simply add your email address in the ‘Get The Latest Post By Email’ in the right-hand column.
Amanda Williams, Cytoplan Ltd
[email protected], 01684 310099
Cytoplan Blog: Magnesium and Sleep
Cytoplan Blog: Stress and Cortisol
Cytoplan Blog: Thyroid Problems – the difference between ‘form’ and ‘function’ – by Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill
Cytoplan Blog: Methylation: energy for life and living! – by Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill
Cytoplan 5-HTP Plus – This nutritional food supplement contains 5HTP in a bio-effective form – this is a safe precursor to Serotonin. It also contains the nutrients necessary for the conversion of 5-HTP to Serotonin. Made from the natural shrub Griffonia Simplicifolia, with added Magnesium & Vitamin B6
Free sample pots of 5-HTP available – We have free trial pots of our supplement available while stocks last – Please email Amanda (details above) with your details and address (one per household and sorry UK only thank you).
The contraindications for this supplement are: This product is not suitable for pregnant or lactating women, or those taking appetite suppressants containing fenfluramine. If you are on anti-depressant medication, consult your doctor before use.