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Sleep Duration and Hunger Hormones

in Uncategorized by Ray McGarty


We all know what hunger feels like. Our stomachs start growling and rumbling, our brains can feel a little foggy and all we can focus on is getting something to eat. But what tells our brains we’re hungry or full? It turns out that the gut and the brain are connected, forming the gut-brain axis and hormones help communication between the major organs. The satiety hormone, leptin and the hunger hormone, grehlin are the major players along this axis. One of the best ways to keep the gut-brain axis communicating properly? Sleep. The amount of grehlin and leptin produced by the body differ greatly when you don’t get enough sleep.

Individuals who have short sleep duration, 6 or fewer hours a night, have dysregulated amounts of leptin and grehlin. Their bodies are producing much more grehlin, leading them to feel hungrier and not producing enough leptin, so they never get the satiated signal. Not only are they hungrier, but because the brain thinks they’re fuel deprived, the body craves simple carbohydrates and sugars to get a quick boost of energy. So on average, sleep-deprived people are eating an extra 385 empty calories a day!

But why does sleep have such a significant impact on these hormones? It all starts deep in the brain, with the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is the “master” endocrine gland, it oversees and communicates all hormone production and is markedly impacted by sleep. The pituitary gland receives feedback from two major pathways, the first being its connecting to the hypothalamus and the second being the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS has two sub-divisions, the sympathetic, “fight or flight,” and parasympathetic, “rest and digest.” When you’re sleeping, the sympathetic system is less activated and the parasympathetic system is more activated, but when you’re not sleeping enough, this balance is thrown off. Sleep loss leads to increase in sympathetic nervous system activity, which greatly affects the endocrine system.

These changes in the endocrine system during sleep, lead to changes in appetite and metabolism when you’re awake.  The satiety hormone, leptin, which is released by fat cells, is incredibly sleep-dependent. When there is less leptin, the body will produce more grehlin, signaling hunger. So when an individual is sleep-deprived, they have a greater caloric need, due to the extended amount of time spent awake, so the body upregulated hunger cues and downregulates fullness cues in order to meet these needs. Leptin rises as you sleep, signaling to the brain that you have enough energy for the time being. But when sleep is cut short, your brain doesn’t get the proper signals that it has enough energy.

Lack of sleep also leads to an increase in cortisol (the stress hormone) and an increase in insulin resistance.


Sleep helps regulate the delicate balance of hormones required to keep our bodies running effectively. Adults should be aiming for 7-8 hours of sleep each night.


Sweet Dreams!

-McGarty and Associates

Eat Your Way to Better Sleep

in Uncategorized by Ray McGarty

Sleeping and eating, two of the best parts of the day! But what you eat and when you eat it plays a large role in how well you’re sleeping! Our food choices help to regulate our circadian rhythms. Eating the right food at the right time is important for keeping our bodies and brains on schedule. Try to eat meals during the daylight hours, so that when it’s darker, your body has already done the bulk of digesting and can focus on promoting restful sleep. When you eat too close to bedtime, your body has to work harder to digest the food instead of allowing you to get restful and restorative sleep.  We’ve compiled a list of some of the best and worst foods to eat before bedtime.

Best sleep foods: Eat these closer to bedtime to help prepare for a restful night. Light snacks can be enjoyed 2-3 hours before your head hits the pillow!

  1. Cherries – one of the few melatonin-containing foods and melatonin is important for the sleep cycle. One study found that adults with chronic insomnia had improved sleep when they drank some tart cherry juice before bed. So snack on a few cherries before hitting the hay!
  2. Complex Carbs – eating complex carbs, like sweet potatoes or starchy root vegetables four hours before bed has shown to improve sleep quality. Because complex carbs take longer to break down, blood sugar stays more stable throughout the night, which improves sleep.
  3. Bananas – Bananas contain potassium and magnesium, which play a key role in helping muscles relax. Bananas are also a source of carbs, which make you feel sleepy.
  4. Herbal Teas – Herbal teas like valerian and chamomile have been shown to help people fall asleep faster. There is a debate about whether it is the teas themselves or the powerful ritual of adding them to a relaxing bedtime routine.
  5. Almonds – raw almonds contain tryptophan and magnesium, which both have a powerful role in helping you sleep. Tryptophan eventually gets converted into melatonin and magnesium helps the body relax.


Worst sleep foods: These are foods that should be enjoyed in moderation and long before lights out.

  1. Coffee – This one should be obvious. Coffee contains caffeine, which acts as a stimulant on the central nervous system, causing you to be more alert. Have your last cup at LEAST 6 hours before bedtime. 
  2. Dark Chocolate – In addition to containing caffeine, dark chocolate contains theobromine, which increases heart rate and sleeplessness.
  3. Alcohol – Although it acts as a sedative, alcohol is terrible for sleep. It greatly diminishes the quality of sleep AND promotes snoring. So have your last libation at LEAST 3 before bedtime and make sure to hydrate!
  4. Protein – This is more about eating a balanced dinner. When you sleep, digestion should slow by 50%, but when you eat just protein, digestion slows even more. So instead of your body’s resources being used for sleep and repair, the body is still working on digestion. Add some complex carbs to a meal to balance this out. Aim to finish dinner 3-4 hours before bedtime.


Sweet Dreams!

-McGarty and Associates

Stress, Cortisol, and Sleep

in Brain Health, Neurofeedback, Sleep, Training, Uncategorized by Ray McGarty

Sleep and stress often go hand in hand. A lack of sleep can cause stress, and stress can cause a lack of sleep. a Study done in 2007 found that 7 out of 10 adults in the U.S. experience stress every day and 70% of those adults have trouble sleeping. 75% of those not sleeping well also reported increased anxiety and stress. It can turn into a vicious cycle, with insomnia being both the cause and the result of stress. But what is stress? What’s going on in our bodies that prevents us from falling asleep? First, let’s define what we’re calling stress – stress is anything that triggers a stress response in the body. The stress response is fight or flight, an increased release of cortisol. The stress response can be triggered by something physical, emotional, psychological or a combination of several factors.

Cortisol itself has the potential to keep you up, it keeps the body alert, slows the production of sleep-inducing melatonin and doesn’t let the brain shut down. Cortisol gets a bad reputation, we almost exclusively think of it as the “stress hormone” and while that’s true, cortisol is actually a major player in most bodily systems. When cortisol is at an optimal level, we feel energized and great, but when cortisol is dysregulated we feel irritated, fatigued, unmotivated and anxious. Cortisol has a profound effect on our very biology, from our endocrine system (our hormones), insulin (regulates blood sugar), our sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone). If that wasn’t enough, cortisol levels impact our digestion, immune system and even the neurotransmitters in our brain.

Cortisol imbalances contribute to almost every illness and disease. Keeping cortisol on track is incredibly important for our health and one way to make sure the cortisol cycle is humming along as it should is by getting enough sleep. We want our cortisol levels to be lowest at night when we’re getting ready to sleep. This is because cortisol is the signal to keep your body alert and energized. When cortisol levels are higher, melatonin levels are lower.


People with insomnia may not have a regulated cortisol cycle. Cortisol should be highest when you first wake up, to energize you enough to get out of bed and get moving. Then cortisol levels should steadily decrease throughout the day until they are at their lowest night. People with insomnia may have higher cortisol levels throughout the day, their cortisol may not decline much at all. Higher cortisol levels keep the body and mind in a state of hyperarousal and this hyperarousal is what prevents relaxation and sleep.

What to Do if You Think You Have Cortisol Imbalance

  1. Find a naturopathic doctor who will do cortisol level tests. You get blood drawn 3-4 times over the course of the day to see if your cortisol cycle is functioning as it should. You can also ask them about adrenal fatigue and strategies to help support your adrenals.
  2. Do some diet and lifestyle changes near bedtime. Put the screens down, eat foods that promote sleep and make your bedroom calm and peaceful
  3. Neurofeedback can help regulate sleep. All hormone production begins in the brain, with the pituitary gland. Since neurofeedback can directly train how the brain functions, you can start treating the root cause right away.
  4. meditate before bed, taking the time to pause and breathe deeply, send signals to your brain that you are safe and can help shut down the fight or flight response. It is incredibly important to take some time each day to let your brain relax and help your body follow suit.


Cortisol is an incredibly important hormone, but when left unchecked, it wreaks havoc on our sleep. But sleep helps regulate our cortisol levels. So if you’re not sleeping, you wind up in a vicious cycle that only leads to even less sleep and even more stress. But there are ways to combat it. Meditate, get your cortisol levels checked, improve your sleep hygiene!


Sweet Dreams!

McGarty and Associates.