In the first part of this post about sleep, we touched on the importance of finding the rhythm in our daily routine. Our body appreciates rhythm, movement, and nourishment. Our hunter-gather ancestors would wake when the sun rises and go to sleep when the sun goes down. Today's modern lifestyle has broken this hunter-gatherer rhythm with catastrophic impacted on our natural hormone balance. The impacts of how we manage our day-to-day activities like eating, sleeping, working, and training impact the release of hormone that can take us from a state of “fight or flight” (sympathetic nervous system) to “rest and digest” (parasympathetic nervous system). A healthy balance is required, but far too often the stress of modern lifestyles is more towards the sympathetic state.
So what should you be doing to help rebalance your hormones, decrease your body fat, increase your energy levels, increase your libido, increase your immune function, improve your digestive health, increase your recovery while lowering your chances of illness and even death?
Did you know: Cortisol is made from cholesterol in the adrenal cortex. Cholesterol is also needed to make anabolic hormones like DHA, prognetherlone, progesterone, and testosterone. High cortisol production steals available cholesterol and lowers the production of these anabolic hormones because the body number one priority is survival at whatever cost.
Creating Sustainable & Healthy Habits:
Establish a regular sleep schedule, wake up at the same time, go to bed at the same time every day to install a healthy rhythm. Yes, this means getting up early on the weekends and not staying out late at night. Ever glitch in the matrix comes at a cost and the stricter you are with the small details the better your body will look, feel and perform. Sleep from 10pm to 5-6am daily.
Your body doesn’t like to run low on cortisol (adrenal fatigue). The adrenal glands help to control the demands for energy throughout the day. If you stay up late at night your body will install a rhythm of having low cortisol in the AM and high cortisol in PM, which is not a healthy program. This will screw up your body’s natural rhythm, and play havoc with your energy levels, sleep, and your health
Try to get to bed early and sleep between the hours of 10pm and 2am. During these hours the body releases hormones, like growth hormone, that help to repair and rebuild the body after each day. If you’re not sleeping between these hours the body can skip this process and leave you feeling low on energy.
Sleep in a bat cave:
o Pitch Black - A pinhole of light can disrupt the production of melatonin in the pituitary gland, a hormone that helps us sleep. A sleeping mask can help, but a pitch-black room is always best.
o Zero electronic gadgets – radio waves, wireless technology, mobile devices and even electrical currents can interrupt the bodies rhythm. Modern technology comes at a cost to our health and limiting your exposure to these devices is highly recommended. All of these gadgets have been shown to increase stress on the body. Turn off all electrical devices (phone, tablets, wireless internet, etc..) as you won’t be using them while you’re getting a good night sleep.
o Cold – our body can make more melatonin (sleep hormone) in a cold environment
Maximise sleep quality - Do whatever you can to maximise the quality of your sleep:
* Batman cave the shit out of your bedroom, make it dark and cold
* Buy a Himalayan salt lamp
* Replace all LED and bright lights in your home
* Stop watching blue screens before bed
* Drink chamomile or passionflower tea
* Download that app of monks chanting or waves crashing on the shoreline
* Wear an eye mask
* Take a good quality Magnesium Supplement
* Take a GABBA Supplement
* Make sure your vitamin D levels are 120nmol/L
* Avoid caffeine after 1 pm
* Eat more protein during the day and carbs at dinner
* Pick a regular bedtime (get 8hr sleep) and create a routine in line with the circadian rhythm
* Don’t go overboard with high-intensity exercise at night
* Drink Tart cherry juice to raise melatonin levels
Get 8hr of uninterrupted sleep to help the body recharge, repair and reboot for the next day. When you sleeping the body goes through a number of chemical processes to recover, detoxify, and top up many of the resources that it needs for the next day.
Don’t work night shift – night shift workers have serious issues with their adrenals because their body clock is so screwed up. Night shift workers have a greater chance of depression, anxiety, adrenal fatigue, burn out, and disease.
Limit caffeine, no caffeine after 3pm in the afternoon as the half-life of caffeine is 6hours (it stays in the body for 6 hours) and elevates cortisol (drives up sympathetic state). We should not need caffeine to wake us up or give us energy, the body should be able to function correctly without any stimulants.
Don’t drink "so-called" energy drinks with zero calories, they do not give you energy. How do you get energy from zero calories? Where does the energy come from? A high release of cortisol is caused by the intake of "so-called" energy drinks, pre-workout supplements and caffeine. This high release of cortisol can break down lean muscle mass and turn it into energy (sympathetic state). We also impact the natural release of cortisol and start breaking the body rhythm.
Don't take sleeping tables - taking sleeping tablet of valium to induce sleep solves very little and actually makes matters worse in the long run because they impact our hormone rhythms. Manually trying to override the body’s natural rhythm leads to insomnia and adrenal fatigue that flat lines the cortisol response and increasing the chance of autoimmune diseases and inflammation diseases.
Use meditation, breathing, mobility, or other parasympathetic activities in the PM to help lower cortisol and increase parasympathetic hormones
Eat your meals at set time every day to help regulate melatonin, ghrelin, leptin, and other hormones that affect your sleep cycles. If you feed the machine at the same time every day it starts to get use to the idea. The body start to release bile and digestive enzymes into the gut and increase the hormone ghrelin (the hunger hormone) in preparation for the meal to come. People who skip breakfast often say they are not hungry because they have established a terrible habit which discourages this process. Their body fails to release the right hormones because it has not rhythm.
Don’t skip meals as putting your body into a state of starvation is a stress. Food give us energy and without food the body will need to increase cortisol for energy. Parasympathetic activity is rest and digest, eating the right food can help lower cortisol levels.
Avoid food sensitivities (IgG) as they can cause digestive issues and elevate cortisol levels. They also impact parasympathetic hormones like serotonin that are made in the gut. Food sensitivities cause inflammation which elevates cortisol, it’s an evil circle.
Eat carbohydrates in the PM to help increase serotonin production in the gut
Take a 600-800mg of magnesium (Mg) 1-2hr before bed. Mg helps us relax and calms the nervous system. We also use magnesium to make our hormones. Mg can improve sleep and countless other benefits <insert Instagram link>
Take magnesium around the training window. The harder you train the more cortisol your body will try to release. If you take magnesium before/during/after training you can help lower the cortisol release
Take a cold shower in the AM to elevate cortisol levels and increase energy by switching into a sympathetic state
Take a cold shower at night to lower cortisol levels, cool the body down and switch into a parasympathetic state. I’ll talk about the fat-loss and sperm-count benefits of this in a future post. The result of taking a cold shower (even an ice bath) is like getting hit with an elephant tranquilizer. Don’t expect it to be pleasant at first.
Men release high levels of serotonin after sex, they roll over and go to sleep
Start to priorities your recovery. Always remember that it’s not the training that makes you leaner, stronger and fitter, it’s the ability to adapt to that stress of the training session. If your body can’t recover appropriately, it will not adapt to the stress of training and you will never reach your potential or your goals.
Do not train at night as training is a stress on the body that will elevate cortisol just like any other stress (sympathetic state). High levels of cortisol in the PM will block the impacts of the parasympathetic (rest and digest) hormones that help us sleep. This can lead to anxiety and depression. We will talk more about the impact of training in a future post.
Train smarter, not harder - The harder you train the more cortisol you will realise. High-intensity training in the PM is not a smart idea. Lifting heavy weights or performing gymnastics, mobility, and breathing exercises would be a smarter idea if you must train in the evening.
Train smarter, not harder part 2 - high-intensity training equals high cortisol levels. If you put your body into this style of training on a daily basis it will eventually catch-up with you and impact your health and longevity. 2-3 HIT sessions per week is more than enough to increase fitness levels and decrease body fat. High levels of HIT training will increase cortisol which will decrease lean muscle mass. Yes, your training style can be detrimental to your strength, more is not always better.
There are stressors in our life everywhere and many of them are out of our control. We need to manage the stressors that we do have control over. We can't afford to not manage our cortisol levels, because we can become cortisol resistant (just like insulin resistance) which means our body must increase the level of cortisol. Cortisol breaks down muscle and bone, elevates insulin levels, holds fat and fluid around your internal organs – fat storage around the gut.
It is never a good idea to burn the candle at both ends. The body can only produce so much cortisol in one day and asking your body for excessive amounts of cortisol will only lead to illness and disease.
Most people will probably ignore many of the points above because they require dedication and willpower, they are the opposite of what most stressed out people are doing. I’m not here to pat you on the back and tell you that your current lifestyle habits are acceptable, I’m here to share the truths, but are you ready to listen? At the end of the day there is no magic pill, there are no shortcuts, the health and longevity of your body comes down to how well you take care of it and how well you balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic state. Too much of one, and not enough of the other will catch-up with you in the long run.