Maureen Auricchio– Staff Writer
You may think that there is no relationship between what you eat and how you sleep, but the two are more related than you think. While you sleep, a process called circadian rhythm is occurring. According to ScienceDaily, this process is “important in determining the sleeping and feeding patterns of all animals, including human beings.”
Cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, is produced during this rhythm. It regulates the thyroid gland, which regulates the bones’ ability to absorb nutrients, muscle strength and energy production.
If the circadian rhythm is altered, results can include fatigue, infection and low or high blood pressure. Congruently, if there is a spike of cortisol levels during the night an individual will not have optimal REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and will not wake up well rested. REM sleep is a state where maximum muscle relaxation is achieved and intense dreaming occurs. During this state the eyes tend to rapidly move back and forth, which is where REM gets its name.
To achieve optimal cortisol levels overall, one must maintain these levels–which are primarily dependent on the glycemic index of a meal–during the day. The glycemic index is a mirror of one’s blood sugar level; foods high in sugar and low in fiber are high on the glycemic index. A high glycemic index causes cortisol levels to rise. If one starts the day with a meal full of starchy or sugary breakfast foods, cortisol levels will remain slightly high all day.
However, having a high glycemic meal is better than having no meal at all. No food in the body will cause cortisol levels to rise, specifically if one goes without eating for five hours. So if you skip a meal or eat late at night this will also raise cortisol levels. If one has a high level of cortisol during the day, it typically carries over into the night and can harm the REM cycle. On the other hand, starting your day with low glycemic food such as eggs, meat, poultry or vegetables will allow for a lower cortisol level during the day and near bedtime.
The best way to approach these ideal levels is to have a balance of whole grains, sugar and animal protein. It is recommended to eat animal protein with each meal when sugar is present; if you are not a meat eater replace the meat with beans or your choice of vegan meat substitute.
If you are unsure of how to achieve a normal balanced cortisol rhythm, here are a few tips:
– Try aiming for a bedtime by 10 p.m.
– Eat breakfast around 7 a.m.
– Eat low glycemic index meals every five hours while awake. These are foods that are not high in carbohydrates.
– Avoid sugar and excess starch. These are craved most when one is stressed or very hungry and feel the need for a quick sugar rush.
Realistically, these tips are difficult to follow, especially in college when schedules are complicated. Being aware of some of these steps is one way to help jump-start your journey to achieving a healthy circadian rhythm. It’s the small advances that can cause bad habits to change and new habits to form. If you have difficulty getting out of bed in the morning this could be the solution to your problem. Soon you’ll be springing out of bed and decreasing the amount of times you hit snooze.