How I became Sleeping Pretty

I kinda hate to admit this, but when I was in nursing school I slept in class every single day. I tried everything to try to stay awake, but nothing worked.

Coffee…no way.

Drinking tons of water…not even close.

Sitting in the front row…nope.

It became a joke among my classmates and soon I was branded “Sleeping Pretty”. Another girl slept a lot too, but she was always sprawled all over her desk, so they called her “Sleeping Beauty”.

Hilarious, but also not…

It was actually pretty embarrassing. But I had good reason. I was working 2 jobs on top of classes and clinicals. One as a Patient Care Tech from 3-11p and then Saturday mornings as a medical assistant at a doctor’s office.

Looking back on it now, I developed a lot of unhealthy habits at that time that were probably aggravated by my lack of quality sleep. I was hungry all the time, ate loads of carbs and quick and easy junk food. I gained a lot of weight too. When I look at my nursing school class picture I think, holy crap! I look like a bloated puffer fish!

Sleep is influenced and also influences your neurotransmitters and hormones. Understanding these is pretty much an entire course unto itself, so I’m going to keep it high-level here and give you an overview of the hormones that affect your sleep.

When you don’t get enough sleep, you can feel really hungry and not satisfied when you do eat. This has to do with 2 specific hormones-ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is what I like to call the “hunger hormone”. It tells your body that you’re hungry. Leptin is the “I’m full hormone” and it lets your brain know when you’ve had enough to eat. Ghrelin is elevated with lack of sleep and Leptin is decreased.

When your eating schedule is off, you can have dips and spikes in your blood sugar, which impacts another hormone-insulin. Over time, if you’re eating foods with a high sugar content (like carbs and processed food) then your body is constantly producing insulin to regulate your blood sugar. For people who develop insulin resistance, it’s basically like their cells are desensitized to it and need more and more to control the blood sugar. It’s a bad cycle to be in and is a precursor to diabetes.

This can impact your sleep because you’re not eating for several hours while you’re sleeping. You could be waking up in the middle of the night because your blood sugar has dipped and your body thinks it’s in danger. So you wake up so you can feed it.

Which leads us to the final hormone I’m going to cover here-cortisol. You may be familiar with cortisol as the “stress response” hormone. It’s normal to have cortisol in your body. It’s released when you wake up, when you exercise, and when you’re under stress. That’s great if you’re being chased by a tiger, but not so much if it’s flooding your body all the time because you are chronically stressed.

If your cortisol levels are off, you can have a really hard time waking up and feel groggy in the morning and wired at night. Nighttime waking can also be related to the cortisol cycle being off kilter. In a normal curve, cortisol levels should be at their highest first thing in the morning to help you wake up and get moving and should taper down over the day. Some people can get another spike at night, especially if you push through to stay up past the point of feeling tired. If you don’t go to bed when you start to feel tired, you’ll miss the boat because cortisol is going to start spiking to keep you awake!

Cortisol also affects the insulin response. Because it’s trying to prepare your body for some stressful situation, it works to make sure your blood sugar is higher so you have energy to run from that tiger, or deal with rush hour gridlock. And because blood sugar is high, insulin is released.

Are you starting to see how all these things are connected?

I would wager that my cortisol levels were way off when I was in nursing school. I didn’t go to bed until 1am or later and had to be up early for class or clinicals. It’s no wonder I couldn’t stay awake in class!

Sleep is necessary for our bodies to rest and recover and if we don’t allow it to do so, we can trigger this whole cascade that can make us feel awful, fuels chronic inflammation, and increases our risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, among other things.

Sleep is a non-negotiable in my opinion. You have to prioritize getting enough sleep.

Now that you have some background on the effects of lack of sleep, check out my top tips to improve your sleep naturally in part 2.

If you’re looking for personalized support with your sleep or other issues, send me a message to learn how my coaching can help you!

Alida Wagner

Alida Wagner

Holistic Life and Wellness Coach

I’m a mom, wife, and busy with my career and I have been there. There was a point in my life when I was drifting through life and didn’t even know who I was anymore.

I specialize in helping you stop taking on the burdens of taking care of everyone else first, and start prioritizing yourself.

I can show you that you are worth taking care of yourself. You don’t have to sacrifice yourself for the sake of anything else. I help the caregivers finally take care of themselves.


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Alida Wagner | Holistic Life and Wellness Coach

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