Get the Most Out of Sleep

Want to maximize your fitness gains and burn the most amount of fat possible? Get good sleep.

The circadian rhythm is the 24-hour cycle of hormones and transmitters our bodies produce for maximum efficiency. However, our society has done a great job of completely hay-wiring that rhythm with long work days, late night TV watching sessions, only getting 4-5 hours of sleep a night, etc...

You've probably heard of melatonin, it's the hormone your body releases at night to get you ready for nighty night time.

In the morning, the light of the new day brings melatonin secretion to a halt which makes room for cortisol (think fight or flight, adrenaline, little aliens smashing metal pots together inside your head).

Ghrelin is also released in the morning. This hormone makes you hungry...it's an appetite enhancer. Your brain saying "I need energy to survive, go get me some energy."

If you don't get a dose of sunlight first thing in the morning, your cycle will be all funky, you won't really wake up (ever wonder why rainy days seem like "lazy" days? Not a coincidence), and your body will have a hard time secreting melatonin that night which further enhances the problem.

Cortisol secretion begins to slow down in the evening making way for leptin (my favorite hormone), the appetite suppressor. Leptin does the opposite of ghrelin. It says, "time to get ready for bed, I'm shutting down the stomach furnace and will now get energy from fat stores while we sleep."

BUT - if you eat dinner late at night, or eat a normal dinner then eat a late night snack, you can hinder leptin production and won't get full fat-burning potential when you're counting sheep.

When melatonin is at its peak secretion (roughly 3 hours after sunset), there's another compound released called agouti protein which, if not balanced out by leptin, will make you hungry...and the vicious late night hunger cycle begins.

So you eat dinner, everything's fine, then you eat a snack (maybe a piece of fruit or a sandwich), so the leptin that makes you NOT hungry isn't fully functioning, melatonin causes agouti protein to be released, leptin is gone, you get hungry again, and you eat some more unneeded calories...even if they're "good" calories...they're still not needed.

Melatonin also does a lot of crazy stuff when you're sleeping, too, and if its production has been hindered by ill-timed food or a lot of blue light (think TV and computer) retina exposure, it won't work.

That crazy stuff includes burning fat, regulating thyroid function, rebuilding muscle tissue (vital for athletes and kiddos), and releasing human growth hormone (yes, the stuff the baseball players used).

So in conclusion, limit bright, artificial lights after dark, don't eat a couple of hours after it gets dark, and expose yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning and you'll take full advantage of all the amazing things the body is designed to do during the amazing process we call sleep.

All of the information in this post came from the August issue of LAVA magazine.