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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Melatonin and Metabolism: How Sleep Affects Your Health

GettyImages-681814096One of the most critical things we do for our health is sleep. Without sufficient sleep, we risk impairing cognitive function, developing chronic diseases and mental disorders, and even an early death.

There’s a lot about sleep that remains a mystery to science, but what is known is that it plays a major role in consolidating memories, cleaning metabolites from the brain, and allowing the nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems to repair themselves. Good sleep is essential for our bodies to thrive, but 30 percent of employed adults have reported 6 or less hours of sleep per night, when the recommended amount is between 7 and 9 hours. Hormones directly involved in the sleep cycle also play a critical role in health, so it’s important to maintain a steady sleep schedule to prevent these hormones from becoming imbalanced. One of the hormones that plays a role in sleep is melatonin, and this blog will focus on its effects on sleep as well as metabolism.

The Physiology of Melatonin

The physiology of melatonin is a complex subject, and research to discover its mechanisms and effects is ongoing. However, I will explain some of the things we know to be true about melatonin and why it may be important for you.

Melatonin is a hormone made in the pineal gland when it gets dark outside. When melatonin levels increase in the bloodstream, you begin to feel less alert and more sleepy. Although a major function of melatonin is to encourage sleep, it has a huge impact on metabolism. Some of the functions are these:

  • Regulates energy expenditure.
  • Potentiates various actions of insulin.
  • Regulates glycemia (blood glucose) and lipidemia (blood lipids).
  • Manages circadian synchronization of insulin secretion, synthesis, and action; hepatic (liver) metabolism; white adipose tissue metabolism; and skeletal muscle metabolism.
  • Regulates energy flow to and from storages.

That’s a lot of responsibility for one hormone. Whereas a lot of these functions are significant, what’s most important to understand is that melatonin balances energy expenditure by controlling the flow between energy stores. It has a direct impact on the browning of white adipose tissue, which is a way for the body to regulate body weight. This works because the function of brown adipose tissue is heat production by burning large amounts of calories. It also plays a major role in regulating glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. When melatonin levels are normal, all of these essential functions can be carried out.

Chronodisruption

Chronodisruption is what occurs when melatonin production is impaired. This can be due to illumination such as lights turned on inside when it’s nighttime, working the night shift, or aging. All of the functions listed above become disrupted and no longer work efficiently. This disorganization can lead to metabolic diseases and obesity.

The best thing to do if you think you may be experiencing chronodisruption is to talk to a doctor. They may encourage you to try melatonin-replacement therapy, because there have been some successes in various research studies, or help you find a healthier sleeping routine.

Top Takeaways About Sleep and Weight Management

Melatonin is a huge contributor to overall health and metabolism. If disrupted, your whole body can feel the consequences. It might seem like the most important thing to do for your health is healthy eating and exercise, but sleep may be at the top of the list. Without adequate sleep, our hormones lose balance, our mental capacity is reduced, and our overall health is negatively impacted.

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This blog was written by Hannah Peters, BS, CPT, Health Fitness Instructor. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: metabolism weight management sleep obesity blood sugar hormones

Back Away from the Sugar: Making Better Nutrition Choices

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 5.16.05 PMEaster might be over, but the candy lingers. There is no escaping the colors of the sugary candy that is around every corner. From jelly beans to chocolate bunnies and Cadbury eggs, the temptations are endless and the calories are empty.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but it is important for you to know what you’re getting yourself into when you reach for that fluffy pink and yellow Peep. Brace yourself…this might hurt.

Sugar Is Harmful to Your Body

Sugars are caloric, sweet-tasting compounds that occur widely in nature, including in fruits, vegetables, honey, and human and dairy milk. We are born with the desire or preference for sweet taste. The presence of lactose in breast milk helps ensure that this primary source of nutrition for infants is palatable and acceptable. Chemically and with respect to food, sugars are monosaccharide or disaccharide carbohydrates, which impact sweet taste. Most foods contain some of each.

Monosaccharide is a single molecular unit that is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. The most common monosaccharides are glucose, fructose, galactose, and mannose.

Disaccharide is sugar containing two monosaccharides that are linked together, and which are broken down in the body into single sugars. The most common disaccharide is sucrose, which is also known as table sugar.

What Happens When You Eat Sugary Candy

When you consume Easter candy, you are getting a large dose of sugar. Whether it’s in the form of high-fructose corn syrup or cane sugar, it slams into your system like a bowling ball, and the effects are disastrous. Within the first 20 minutes or so, your blood-sugar level spikes as the sugar enters your bloodstream. It arrives there in the form of glucose, which is your body’s main source of energy. This sudden rise in blood glucose stimulates your pancreas to start pumping out large amounts of insulin, which is the hormone that helps your cells take in the available glucose. Some of this glucose is used instantly for energy, but the rest is stored as fat by insulin, to be used later.

I know what you’re thinking, “But it’s Easter and it only happens once every year!” No it doesn’t! There are always going to be excuses to eat poorly. Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve also “only happen once a year!”

The holidays alone aren’t the only times that we allow the excuses to take over. Daily your efforts to eat well are sidetracked by busy schedules, which include business diners, birthday parties, evenings out with your friends, fundraising banquets, breakfast meetings, church dinners… the list goes on.

Alternatives for Healthy Eating and Celebrating

At some point, you have to stop making excuses and start making better decisions to put your health first. Here are some healthier alternatives. Don’t forget that you also have the option to meet with our Registered Dietitians on staff to help you get on the right path.

Let’s look at ways to enjoy Easter and not feel like you have to munch on carrots and lettuce the whole day. Alternatives to candy:

  • Dried fruit (eat with protein such as nuts)
  • Very dark chocolate (choose some with very little sugar)
  • Nuts
  • Fresh fruit
  • Whole-grain crackers and pretzels
  • Cheeses
  • Popcorn

And start thinking about next Easter with these non-food ideas for kids’ Easter baskets:

  • Play dough
  • Balls
  • Jump ropes
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Crayons
  • Garden starter set
  • Butterfly habitat
  • Beading supplies
  • Swimming toys
  • Card games

The possibilities are honestly endless. It’s just a matter of taking the time to think healthier and smarter next Easter!

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This blog was written by Ashley Duncan, Weight Loss Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition weight loss snacks holidays diabetes sugar blood sugar