A good night’s sleep is desired by all. It helps in lowering stress and improving energy. But many of us suffer from lack of sleep or insomnia. Sleep deficiency makes people low in energy and may cause serious health crises. Lack of sleep, combined with stress upsets the body functioning, weakens the immune system and accelerates aging process. Lack of sleep upsets hormone levels (cortisol) and contributes to surplus kilos at all the wrong places in the body.
There seems to be an inverse relation between sleep and weight— the less you sleep, the more you weigh. Studies show that sleeping five hours or less elevates the risk of obesity by 15 per cent, while six hours elevates it by six per cent.
Chronic sleep deprivation can leave you short-tempered and cause unnecessary stress to the heart, which raises risk of cardiovascular diseases. Stress causes cortisol to rise and leads to various physiological changes like increase in blood sugar and insulin. Prolonged high cortisol levels can cause increase in blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar levels, abdominal fat and decline in the effectiveness of the immune response.
Lifestyle changes like exercising and sleeping right can help lower cortisol levels. Here are dietary tips to reduce cortisol production:
Up your protein intake: Eat enough high quality protein, as low protein consumption leads to chronically elevated cortisol levels. Include chicken, fish, eggs, beans and nuts.
Add Omega 3 fatty acids in diet: They help reduce inflammation and cortisol levels. Foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids include flaxseeds, walnuts, kidney beans, olive oil and fresh cold water fish such as salmon and tuna.
Eat gluten-free diet: Foods high in gluten like pastas, breads made with processed foods causes inflammation in the intestinal tract and inflammation eventually leads to secretion of cortisol. Gluten free grains are millet, amaranth and buckwheat.
Eat food low in glycemic index: Glycemic index indicates how much a food raises blood sugar levels. Foods with high glycemic index are of refined flours, sugars like breads, pastries, pasta. Instead, go in for bran, whole grains, soya, green leafy vegetable, beans, carrots, apples and pears.
Avoid coffee: Drinking two-three cups of coffee daily raises cortisol. Hence, avoid caffeinated drinks.
Eat food rich in Vitamin C: Vitamin C fights against cortisol buildup in the body. Oranges and berries are two such fruits, which eliminate cortisol and also make good stress relieving snacks.
On the whole, if you want to shed off those extra kilos around your waist and raise your energy levels, you need to get good sleep of at least eight to nine hours every night. Anything less can increase ones risk of precipitating diabetes, obesity, hypertension and breast cancer. Even mild sleep deprivation is as bad for overall health as gorging on junk food or leading an inactive life.
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre