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Hormones & Sleep

Article written by Jay Stadtfeld for LiftBigEatBig.com

As we learned from the first sleep article, it’s imperative that we get enough sleep. How much sleep we need relies on a bevy of factors, including age and activity level. What wasn’t touched upon was what happens when we sleep. Obviously we know we need it to recover, but how recovery works is a science in itself.

For being the most intelligent species, humans are also a very predictable species. We tend to begin the waking process when the sun comes up, and get tired when the sun starts to set, signifying our day is about to begin and end. From this, our sleep schedule is predominantly made for us without us having to intervene. Much like breathing, it’s ingrained in our genetics to know what to do.

However, being the most intelligent species comes with a price. That price is often finding a way to ruin what nature intended. One of the many things that ruins the secretion of melatonin (the chemical released from the Pineal gland that induces sleepiness) is artificial light, which permits us to work longer, in turn creating stress on the brain making us more awake at times when we likely shouldn’t be. This is the exact reason light blocking blinds are suggested, along with turning off all electronic devices.

According to Medscape.com, the release of hormones by the pituitary gland is influenced by sleep. If you’re not in the know, the pituitary gland is the small gland in the bottom of your brain between the optic nerves that controls all of the hormones in your body, which means estrogen in females, and testosterone in males. However, it also serves a few other purposes, such as:

· Body temperature

· Thyroid activity

· Urine production

A fourth point that I feel is too important for simple bullets is Human Growth Hormone (or HGH). During the second and third stages of sleep, HGH is released into your blood stream, which increases your ability to recover through rebuilding of muscular structures, promoting a restful feeling the next day. As with every other act during sleep, getting the deepest sleep possible will only assist in helping your body receive this chemical, and enhance your training cycle.

A deep sleep will also promote many other occurrences, such as:

· Suppression of Cortisol production

o This is important because cortisol increases insulin resistance, which increases risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and mind impairment.

· Suppression of the Sympathetic Nervous System

o The SNS is the portion of the nervous system activated during times of stress, whereas the Para-sympathetic Nervous System is what is activated during times of rest and recovery.

· Prolactin release

o This chemical has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, which is important for muscle and joint recovery.

Without the necessary amounts of sleep, your body doesn’t get the opportunity to regulate itself as well as it would with the proper dose of sleep, meaning possible sickness, irritation, improper bowel movements, and even fluctuations in hormone dosage throughout the body. None of which are preferable if you’re attempting to become the best athlete you can be.

If you are a third shift worker, your sleep schedule is much different than what nature intended, frequently finding yourself sleeping during the day. My suggestion to you is to invest in a melatonin supplement, light blocking blinds, and maybe even ZMA (a recovery supplement) and get some better sleep. A quick word on artificial melatonin usage: I find 5 mcg’s (read: micrograms) to be sufficient in creating drowsiness. The dosage is low enough that you don’t really need to “cycle” it as you would if you used more. However, prolonged use of a supplement that is naturally occurring in the body is not recommended.

In closing, it’s imperative you get enough sleep to keep your body a well-oiled machine. Turn off electronics at least an hour before bed and find a way to calm your mind. The release of melatonin is necessary in helping you achieve a good night’s sleep, and a good night’s sleep is imperative to your general well being as an athlete.

As my favorite t-shirt states, “Lift, Eat, Sleep, Repeat.”

Works Cited:

“What Is the Pituitary Gland?” What Is the Pituitary Gland? N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Aug. 2012. <http://www.neurosurgery.pitt.edu/minc/skullbase/pituitary/index.html>.

“The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Hormones and Metabolism” 05 Aug. 2012. http://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/502825

“The Four Stages of Sleep and How They Impact You.” The Four Stages of Sleep and How They Impact You. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Aug. 2012. <http://www.reverie.com/sleep-system-for-people-with-sleeping-conditions/sleep-research.html>.