Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sleeping better- another tip of the week

It's been awhile since I have shared a Tip of the Week. This comes from a weekly email I get from Mario Mendias, owner and creator of My Fit Foods

Here are seven tips to better controlling cortisol in the body and sleeping better at night!

The average American is popping out of bed with five hours of sleep, waking up with several cups of coffee, skipping breakfast, and rushing out the door to face the morning rush hour.  Does this sound familiar to any of you?   Add in a diet of processed foods, disturbed sleep, and little exercise and you are faced with a cortisol nightmare.  Cortisol is a hormone made by your adrenal glands and secreted in times of stress.  Unfortunately, many of us are dealing with chronically elevated cortisol levels causing high blood sugar and fat storage.  There are particularly high receptors for cortisol in belly fat cells.  Cortisol also causes muscle breakdown further damaging our metabolism.  So, what can we do to buffer this rising hormone? 

Watch the timing of your meals.   Eating every three to four hours is a very powerful way to control blood sugar, insulin levels, and also all stress hormones.  The body will release more cortisol when it feels it is faced with a sporadic food supply.  Eating smaller meals more often will calm the entire hormone symphony down.  Don't forget to eat a good protein based breakfast 30 to 45 minutes after waking. 

Eliminate sugar and caffeine as much as possible.  One source claims that one cup of coffee can raise your cortisol levels for 14 hours.  Another study concluded that women on a high sugar diet will elevate their cortisol level by 300 to 400 percent.  Clearly, the daily Starbucks run is not helping elevated stress hormones in our society! 

Reduce alcohol intake.  Alcohol, like sugar, will raise cortisol levels and also use up many nutrients like B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium that are much needed to deal with stress.  We tend to gravitate towards alcohol to relax not realizing we are affecting our stress hormones and our quality of sleep.  No wonder we use the phrase "beer belly" literally describing the influence of cortisol increasing fat stores. 

Watch the excessive salt intake.  Around 75 percent of our dietary sodium comes from eating processed foods, so focusing on natural fresh foods will easily lower your sodium intake.  Excessive sodium turns on the enzyme that makes cortisol, so staying within 1500 to 2400 mg a day for most people can be very helpful. 
Include Vitamin C and B-complex.  Studies done on animals found that Vitamin C can buffer the rise in cortisol from stress.  Cortisol levels were three times higher in animals that did not receive Vitamin C.  Taking a B-complex, which includes all the different B's, can fuel the adrenals and help with natural energy production. 

Exercise regularly.  When we first begin exercising, we may release more cortisol than usual, but as our body adapts the opposite effect begins.  Regular exercise will help the body process stress hormones and improve feel good neurotransmitters like serotonin which help us mentally deal with daily stress.  Research on the benefits of yoga has shown that it can dramatically lower stress hormones.   

Sleep 7 to 8 hours in complete darkness.  This may be the most overlooked tip to lower our cortisol levels.  We are often getting into a vicious cycle of 5 hours of sleep, which will naturally raise our cortisol levels the next day, and then supplementing all day with caffeine, which causes an even greater spike of all stress hormones and poor sleep quality.  One study showed that cutting back on sleep will lower fat loss by 55% in those trying to lose weight.  Sleeping in darkness is key.  Even the smallest amount of light in our sleeping environment inhibits important night time hormones and causes elevated cortisol the following day. 
Stress is a modern day reality that at times we are powerless over, but these 7 steps will give you a fighting chance to physically buffer the damaging and fat promoting effects of cortisol.  With cortisol levels under control you can look forward to a calmer mind, a leaner figure, and more restful sleep at night. 

These tips are written by Meg McCall, Corporate Nutritionist for My Fit Foods. Visit www.myfitfoods.com for more information and store locations.