It’s between 3 and 4am. Once again, you’re awake for seemingly no reason.
In the darkness, you sleepily stumble to the bathroom, thinking your bladder must be to blame for this undesired wake up.
But before we start pointing fingers (poor bladder), let’s look at additional reasons as to why people wake up in the dead of the night. I’ll also address why it’s often a struggle to fall back to sleep.
But first… let’s quickly review the power of sleep.
Why Sleep Matters
If your sleep is poor, I encourage you to start aggressively addressing it.
Poor quality sleep leads to a myriad of health problems. Each bodily system needs sufficient rest and recovery or it will start to fail. Let’s avoid that.
Good sleep improves energy, helps digestive function, reduces anxiety and depression, enables proper detoxification, and decreases unwanted fat.
Without quality sleep, energy reserves are drained. Caffeine and carbohydrates become necessary crutches to help a person hobble through the day. However, those small, dietary boosts can’t replace the healing power of sleep. They are only temporary fixes that have negative, long-term ramifications.
The Causes of the 3-4am Wake Up
When the body and brain are overtaxed, it can be challenging to get through the night without waking up. This can be for 3 main reasons:
1. Hormones are imbalanced due to a poor diet.
2. Stress has compromised blood sugar levels.
3. Minerals are depleted.
#1. Diet, Blood Sugar, and Sleep
Sugary foods and beverages throw off the body’s ability to keep blood sugar in check. This can dramatically impact sleep.
For example, before bed you eat some chips and enjoy a glass of wine, which both process like sugar in the body. These refined carbohydrates give an initial energy kick and/or feel good mental buzz thanks to the serotonin boost they provide.
However, ingesting refined carbohydrates and alcohol can cause disrupted sleep. This negative impact is amplified if these are consumed in the evening.
Why is that?
Sugar is Stressful
Eating refined carbohydrates disrupts the whole hormonal system, which helps determine sleep quality.
What defines a refined carbohydrate? Essentially it is any sweet or starchy food or drink that has been processed. Chips, almost all bread, most protein bars, alcohol, soda, cereal, cookies, candy, and pasta can sabotage sleep.
The Impact of the Evening Snack
After ingesting the chips and wine (or insert your night-time guilty pleasure), the body receives a surge of sugar in the blood.
As the sugar pours in, the pancreas releases unnaturally large amounts of insulin, the sugar storage hormone. This is an emergency like response because high blood sugar is very damaging and causes concerning inflammation.
Running on Empty!
Sometimes the surge of sugar causes insulin to overreact. The excess insulin stores too much sugar. It is stowed away not only as energy in muscles (good) but also as body fat (bad in excess).
This results in low blood sugar. The body needs a certain level of blood sugar to function properly. Otherwise systems start to shut down.
Between 3am and 4am, the body sometimes runs out of fuel due to a dangerous blood sugar dip. In the dead of night, the body increases stress hormones, which activate the release of glucose (e.g. sugar) into the blood.
Your brain is trying to keep you alive.
Those stress hormones not only normalize blood sugar levels but they also wake you up.
When your system is flooded with stress hormones, it can be extremely challenging to relax and sleep.
Blood sugar can be balanced.
So what is the perfect diet to optimize sleep? A whole food diet is a good start. Reduce or cut out the sweets, alcohol, and soda.
However, it’s often not that straight forward. Each person has unique stresses, brain chemistry, genetics, and activity level. Those factors will determine the ratio of dietary fat, protein, and carbohydrates needed. A tailored food plan can help reverse a negative sleep cycle.
If you are tired of dealing with sleep deprivation and want targeted dietary guidance to address it, I encourage you to reach out to me.
But wait! There’s more!
This is part 1 of a 3 part series on overcoming sleep disruption. On Wednesday and Friday of this week, I’ll cover how stress and mineral depletion can cause sleep deprivation. Stay tuned!
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