We all know sleep is a good idea. But just how important is sleep when it comes to thyroid health? Turns out that your thyroid's production of hormone is dependent on several other hormones, in particular the right amount of cortisol, melatonin and growth hormone.
Step 1: Nail down your cortisol.
I see a lot of patients with cortisol levels that are low when they should be high (that is, in the morning), and high when they should be low (at night, when sleeping). The boss of your cortisol is the hypothalamus – and often the problem is that the control center is inappropriately switched on – actually stuck in the on position. The hypothalamus tells the adrenal glands to make more and more cortisol, particularly at night, and by the morning, the adrenals are exhausted, and can’t make enough.
What does this feel like? Your mind races at night. Perhaps you fall asleep OK, only to awaken to a racing mind at 1am or 2am. It’s hard to fall back asleep. You get out of bed eventually, after tossing and turning, angry and frustrated, wired and tired.
The real problem? The unremitting stress we face. And it becomes a vicious cycle: elevated cortisol at night damages the brain.
High cortisol at night also leads to blood sugar instability – it swings low and high. This makes you hungry at night.
My favorite ways to lower your cortisol before you go to bed? Meditation. Yoga for sleep, a sequence by yoga teacher Ann Dyer, available on DVD. Ashwagandha, an Ayurvedic herb available at your local health food store.
High and low cortisol inhibit thyroid hormone, or more specifically, the production of active thyroid hormone (T3) from inactive thyroid hormone (T4). What about other hormones?
Step 2. Maximize melatonin without taking it.
Melatonin, made from serotonin, is a hormone that you release at night and helps you sleep soundly and restoratively. Melatonin also stimulates your thyroid to make more thyroid hormone.
Are you low in melatonin? Symptoms include poor sleep and night-time muscle tension. The New York Times reported in a front-page article last Sunday 5/15/11 a new trend among processed snacks: eat a brownie and get 8 mg of melatonin. However, this is not the best way to sleep better at night and help your thyroid.
I prefer to boost melatonin using normal physiology. Examples include increased morning daylight, particularly bright morning sunlight – using a sunlamp on cloudy days if needed. And while sleeping, one must maximize complete darkness so that you have maximal day/night contrast to perk up your circadian rhythm. This may mean using block out blinds or drapes, blocking out any light coming from digital clocks and using an eye mask. For more info, click on this previous post on melatonin
Step 3. Exercise at your anaerobic threshold and boost your growth hormone.
You’ve heard me state this before – the idea is that when you exercise at your anaerobic threshold, you boost growth hormone. Not surprisingly, growth hormone, like melatonin, stimulates thyroid hormone production. Interval training, where you are at 80% of your maximal heart rate, or weight training, will do the job for you. Exercising earlier in the day, when you can, will help you sleep better.
Eating a “Paleo” food plan also helps boost growth hormone. You don’t want too much protein as this lowers growth hormone. Ideal is to know your lean body mass, and to eat ¾ to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean (or fat-free) mass.
What are some of the signs that your growth hormone is low? Premature aging, fatty “cushions” above the knees, lack of inner peace, and excessively emotionality, particularly sharp verbal retorts, are common among folks with growth hormone deficiency.