We’ve all had that experience of feeling out of it after a late night, a cold, or perhaps a job that requires unusual or irregular hours. Is there anything you can do to help get back in sync sooner rather than later?
Well, of course, in Ayurveda, we look to our diet for some food choices that can assist. But first, let’s take a look at some of the hormones in the body that might be responsible for our feeling out of sorts. The two most common culprits are cortisol and melatonin levels.
Cortisol helps control blood sugar levels, regulates metabolism, helps reduce inflammation, and assists with memory formulation. It has a controlling effect on salt and water balance and helps control blood pressure. In women, cortisol also supports the developing fetus during pregnancy.
Typically, cortisol levels increase from the break of day until noon, and then wind down until the next morning. In cases of over-stimulation or excess stress, cortisol levels may stay high for a prolonged period of time, wreaking havoc on the body’s nervous system and creating symptoms like rapid weight gain, malabsorption, hypertension, muscle weakness, mood swings, fuzzy brain, blood sugar imbalances, poor sleep, poor immunity and slow wound healing.1
Melatonin is a hormone in your body that plays a role in sleep. The production and release of melatonin in the brain is connected to time of day, increasing when it’s dark and decreasing when it’s light. Melatonin production declines with age. Symptoms of low melatonin levels include tiredness during the day, irritability, social withdrawal and insomnia.2
If either of these two hormones is out of balance, it becomes more difficult to get the rest you need, and numerous health problems can arise. Stress and erratic daily routines are typically precursors for imbalances in either hormone.
If you are having trouble sleeping at night or are undergoing chronic stress, rely on the following foods to help keep these hormones at normal levels.
Diet Guide to Lower Cortisol and Stabilize Blood Sugar3
- coconut or olive oil
- nuts and seeds
- lean proteins like eggs, fish and grass-fed beef
- and probiotic foods(like yogurt, kefir or cultured veggies)
Diet Guide to Increase Melatonin4
Avoid foods or drinks before bedtime that will induce stress hormone production or cause blood sugar imbalances during the night e.g. heavy meals, sugar, caffeine, alcohol.
Some foods naturally contain melatonin and are therefore great to have at an evening meal or as a light night time snack:
- Morello cherries
- Porridge oats
- Sweet corn
Foods that contain tryptophan can also be eaten in the evening as these help induce production of serotonin, which is required to make melatonin:
- Dairy products (avoid cheese though)
- Turkey and chicken
- Whole grains
- Beans and pulses
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
Some micronutrients are also important in the production of melatonin, including:
- Vitamin B-6 (Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate)
- Folic acid
For suggestions on healthy schedule modifications for night shift workers, see Is Working Nights Taking a Toll on Your Health?
The sole purpose of this article is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have an acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or email Karen Callahan at firstname.lastname@example.org.