Sleep, Stress and Diet

Have you ever wondered why you wake up in the morning when the sun comes up and go to sleep at night? Unless you are a teenager or suffering from sleep issues, your body will naturally wake up in the morning and feel tired and sleepy at night.

This whole process isn’t accidental. It’s our circadian rhythm; our sleep wake cycle that is hardwired into us as humans.

The hormone responsible for helping us keep this rhythm is cortisol. Early in the morning cortisol levels are at their highest and this helps us get out of bed and start the day. After this, cortisol levels should gently sink down until they’re negligible in the evening and another hormone, melatonin, takes over to help us sleep.

Experiencing jet lag is an example of a circadian rhythm that’s gone haywire– and some of you probably know what that feels like. Not pleasant at all - in fact very hard to function normally - and although most of us aren’t experiencing jet lag regularly, there is still plenty of opportunity for this cycle to get out of whack.

You see cortisol isn’t just the hormone that helps us get up in the morning. It’s also our stress hormone and because of this dual role that cortisol plays, stress also negatively impacts our circadian rhythm.

When we are faced with a stressor, our body automatically produces cortisol. Blood flows to the arms, legs and brain, breathing gets faster, pupils dilate, your heart beats faster, neck and shoulder muscles tense up. These are all signs of your fight or flight response – the stress response. What’s going on behind the scenes in a stress response is that cortisol also raises your blood pressure and your blood sugar levels, slows down or completely stops your digestion and suppresses your immune system.

Let’s back up and talk about stress for a minute because that word can mean different things to different people. I’m sure most of you reading this can relate to mental and emotional stress: worries about relationships, money, thoughts, feelings, caring for family members, your state of happiness, life goals. However, there are other types of stress too, a lot which are hidden, that your body reacts to in much the same way: lack of sufficient nutrients in your diet, sugar overload, food allergies or sensitivities, sleep deprivation, illness and infection, alcohol, medications, pesticides and herbicides, bad postural alignment – to name just a few.

Being under some sort of low level stress on a daily basis wreaks havoc with your circadian rhythm and if you have a dysfunctional circadian rhythm, the way your body does business is massively affected. You’re going to have issues with metabolism and your thyroid, your sleep, your digestion and your vitality reserves will become severely depleted, which then affects your immune system.


So, what can you do?

Firstly, you need to support your body in the face of all the different stressors. Then, you need to work at removing as many of the stressors as you can – especially the hidden stressors. This is exactly what I do when I work with my clients, one to one.

Here are some ideas you can implement:


  • ·         Eat real food – ditch the takeaways and ready meals. If you’re strapped for time, try one of the many recipe box companies out there that take the hassle out of thinking up meals and shopping for them: Riverford, Hello Fresh, Gousto are all great. This will reduce your toxin load dramatically.
  • ·         Ditch the caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and switches on your stress response. It’s also an appetite suppressant, so having one instead of breakfast means you’re missing out on filling up on valuable nutrients.
  • ·         Balance your blood sugar. Eating too many sugary foods and refined carbs will have you on a blood sugar rollercoaster leaving you feeling exhausted, cranky and putting on weight. It also switches your stress response on.
  • ·         Get enough sleep to support your natural circadian rhythm. This means 7-9 hours of good sleep every night. If you’re waking up after a full night’s sleep feeling exhausted, it’s a sure sign that your circadian rhythm is out of balance.
  • ·         Exercise – but not too much. Endurance exercise switches on your stress response and affects your circadian rhythm. Make sure you balance out your exercise with good rest and recovery practices.
  • ·        Daily gratitudes: download the 5 minute journal app and fill it in every morning or evening
  • ·         Daily deep breathing: this helps switch on your digestion, your immune system and your potential to heal.
  • ·         Test. I’m a great fan of functional lab tests, as they help give real insight into how your body is functioning and identify healing opportunities. If you’re doing all the above but still feeling sick and tired, then contact me for a free discovery session to work out a plan forward to obtain the health and vitality you want.


Author: Gus Grima is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and Health Coach who helps women double their energy, balance their hormones and sort out gut issues.

To book a free discovery consultation with Gus, contact Mint Wellbeing.