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Understand Carbohydrates Part 7

Let Vision PT show you that carbohydrates are crucial to achieving our health and fitness goals - part 7
Health & Nutrition Articles
Health & Nutrition Articles

By Leo Nannetti at Pyrmont

Cortisol and sleep

In the previous article we introduced Cortisol and its relationship with carbohydrates. In this article I will be focusing more on our sleep wake cycle, how cortisol disrupts this cycle and how we can use carbohydrates in a dietary capacity to improve sleep, which will in turn improve daily energy and focus which is vital for making the necessary lifestyle changes to improve our health.


I believe it is fair to say that any eating and exercise plan is easy to follow if we have the energy to do so. Many of us begin a diet and or training program with full determination and motivation but quickly find ourselves bailing off the wagon at the first sight of discomfort and lack of willpower. Lack of willpower can be attributed to many things but a lot of the time we just don't have energy, we are too stressed and always just end up going for the easiest and most convenient option, usually that's what made the weight pile on. If we cut through all the crap and really try to understand why we can't follow a specific food plan, exercise plan or improve our lifestyle it almost always comes down to not having enough energy. What's the best way to improve our energy? Get good sleep!


Our sleep wake cycle as briefly discussed in the last article is determined by our cortisol and melatonin rhythms. Basically cortisol is like our body's natural coffee machine providing the energy we need to wake up and begin our day. It is gradually shut off as the day goes by. As soon as cortisol is shut off the body releases melatonin to mellow us out and get us into sleep and repair mode. Now if cortisol is chronically high as a result of a poor diet, no exercise and the general stresses of life, our sleep will be everything but rejuvenating. The reason for this is that if cortisol is high, melatonin cannot be released. If we are to improve our sleep we must gain control of and reset our cortisol rhythms. One of the chief ways of doing this is by correctly timing our carbohydrates during the day. The goal here is to compliment the body's natural secretion and subsequent shutting off of cortisol. As you may recall from the last article, cortisol starts its release at around midnight in very small doses depending on the body's blood sugar levels. If the blood sugar drops too low into hypoglycaemic zone (low blood sugar) the body will be forced to release larger amounts of cortisol to extract glycogen from the liver and muscle into the blood stream to raise blood sugar levels. This usually occurs when we have a low carb or poor choice carbohydrate for dinner. The problem with elevated cortisol is it keeps us awake and resists the release of our rest and repair hormone, melatonin. In a healthy state an individual will eat a higher carbohydrate dinner consisting of high carb vegetables such as root vegetables (potatoes), legumes (beans & lentils) and in some cases whole complex grains such as brown rice and quinoa. These carbohydrates will produce a slow constant release of sugar into the blood keeping the blood glucose at a safe level and in doing so keeping the cortisol low and in check so melatonin can be released. Now the carbohydrates we ate at dinner will give us enough sugar to keep the blood glucose at a safe level so that cortisol won't need to be released until the very early hours in the morning and only in small quantities to keep the blood sugar at a level state. A quick example of when cortisol is not in its natural state in the evening.

  • You're drowsy but lie in bed tossing and turning and never really getting to sleep
  • You wake up in the early hours and can't get back to sleep

Both these occasions could have many causes but usually it's just a case of poor diet choices and cortisol being too high.

How to reset.

  • Start by getting home from work and turning on as few lights as possible, abstain from TV and enjoy light reading instead.
  • Enjoy a higher carb meal making sure its good quality vegetables carbs, if you're focusing on losing fat avoid grains. Stick to Potatoes, pumpkin. Beans, lentils and sweet potato.
  • Have the coldest shower you can possibly stand right before bed
  • Get in bed before 10pm
  • If you wake up any time after 5am DO NOT GO BACK TO SLEEP
  • Start the day with a high protein moderate fat breakfast (eggs, nuts, seeds, sliced meats, avocado)
  • You may also include some low carb green vegetables, avoid fruit & have a protein shake ready for mid-morning
  • Have 1/3 of your remaining carbs for lunch and the remaining carbs for dinner making sure they are vegetable or legume carbs


*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.

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