Is late night snacking healthy for you?
Eating late at night - a large dinner or something small to snack on while watching your favorite television program - may help you fall asleep but can affect your overall metabolism and ultimately create stress inside the body.
During the dark hours of the night, a hormone called norepinephrine is released. It tells the brain to make melatonin. Think of melatonin as the chemical that dominates sleep cycles. A couple of things need to be in place for the production of melatonin.
- Norepinephrine is one essential element necessary for melatonin production.
- Actual darkness is needed for norepinephrine release and for melatonin production. This means that bright lights, including the light from a television, can inhibit this process.
- Excess of cortisol, a chemical tied to stress, will also inhibit the release of norepinephrine and the production of melatonin.
- Melatonin and cortisol have an inverse relationship. When cortisol is high, melatonin will be low. Likewise, when cortisol is low, melatonin will be high.
Causes of Stress That Will Affect Your Sleep
- Anything that engages strong, reactive emotions.
- Over-thinking and worrying.
- Trauma, both physical and emotional.
- Adrenal stimulants, like coffee.
- Lack of sleep.
- Unhealthy fats, which release pro-inflammatory chemicals.
- Irregular blood sugar levels.
A Vicious Stress Cycle: Too Much and Too Little Blood Sugar
Eating late at night will initially raise your blood sugar. While sleeping, your body goes into a light fast. If you eat before sleeping, you are more likely to experience a crash in blood sugar while asleep.
The mechanism goes like this:
- Blood sugar spikes.
- The pancreas releases insulin to get the sugar out of the blood and into cells.
- If the blood sugar spike happens frequently (as it does for most of us), the pancreas delivers too much insulin into the bloodstream.
- This causes a drastic drop in blood sugar, or a crash.
- A blood sugar crash alerts the adrenals that there is an emergency.
- The adrenals secrete the stress hormone cortisol.
- Cortisol inflames the body and weakens digestive function.
- Constant sugar crashes exhaust adrenal function.
Skipping meals or frequently eating foods that are starchy or sugary cause blood sugar spikes, and both lead to the same thing: adrenal exhaustion. What’s interesting is that people who skip meals will often use adrenal stimulants or excessively sugary foods to get a quick lift of energy.
This blood sugar yo-yo effect in the body will pull on the adrenal glands for cortisol. This pulling on the adrenal glands does something else in the body. Eventually, it will exhaust other elements of the endocrine system. The endocrine system is the system in charge of regulating hormones in the body.
Cortisol Lowers Your Melatonin
Sleep is an activity that is all about relaxation and restoration. Thus, cortisol, the stress hormone, should be at its lowest at night. When blood sugar crashes in the middle of the night, cortisol levels rise, and melatonin production diminishes.
- The natural cycles of cortisol and melatonin are part of your circadian rhythm.
- Chronically high cortisol levels suppress human growth hormone.
- Chronically high cortisol levels suppress immune function.
- Chronically high cortisol levels also open the door to a series of inflammatory cascades in the body.
No, supplementing with melatonin is not recommended. Short-term, emergency use may be tolerated. But keep in mind that ultimately you want your body to remember its own natural ebb and flow of hormones. Melatonin is a hormone and giving your body this hormone over time will actually lead to a deeper and more pathological imbalance.
More Magnesium, Deeper Sleep
Most people do well with magnesium supplementation, and it is best to try magnesium first before using melatonin. Magnesium does have a laxative effect, so keep this in mind if you decide to use it as a sleep aid. A full-spectrum mineral supplement, like Body Ecology Ancient Earth Minerals, is another good way to not only restore levels of magnesium in the body but to also bring the body fully into mineral balance.
What to Remember Most About This Article:
- Make your last meal of the day around or shortly after nightfall.
- Your natural production of melatonin depends on low levels of cortisol.
- Stress will increase cortisol levels in the body.
- The foods that you eat, depending on what they are, can be a significant stressor in the body.
- Supplementing with a full-spectrum mineral supplement, like Body Ecology Ancient Earth Minerals, will alkalize your body, dampen the inflammatory cascade, and create a more restful sleep.