It doesn't matter how much you exercise, how well you eat, or how strictly you control your caloric intake — your body is constantly stressed or your sleep is inadequate, you will constantly fail in pursuing your health, wellness, or performance goals. But if these barriers are removed, you will vastly improve your ability to gain maximum benefits from a good nutrition plan.

As you explain the importance of stress and sleep to your class, here is what to tell them:

The body has several neurotransmitters that are actively involved in control of appetite and mental motivation. Dopamine, one neurotransmitter, is your body's pleasure molecule, acting to significantly affect desire for activity, eating satisfaction and food cravings. Inadequate dopamine increases the chances that you will have a decreased drive to exercise and be less effective at regulating your nutritional intake.

Serotonin, another neurotransmitter, plays a significant role in the regulation of sleep, mood, and appetite. If serotonin levels are too low, one result is carbohydrate and sugar cravings, since these nutrients actually increase productin of serotonin. Another result is sleep loss, since low serotonin results in low melatonin levels, and melatonin is necessary for deep sleep.

Low levels of another neuorotransmitter, GABA, can result in mood swings, sleep loss, anxiety, and lack of self-control. So what causes low levels of these key neurotransmitters? Stress, and lack of sleep. This makes for a vicious cycle.

Insensitivity to dopamine and serotonin simply makes grabbing a handful of M&M”™s or a Snickers bar that much easier.

In addition, cortisol is a steroid hormone that is secreted in response to repetitive negative stress. Although there are many harmful results from elevated cortisol levels, some of the more common effects include high blood pressure, decreased blood sugar regulation, a suppressed immune system, depression, anxiety, and excess fat around the mid-section.

Not only can this subtract significant years from your life, but the high levels of the stress molecules released in conjunction with cortisol, called catecholamines, can decrease testosterone levels and sex drive. If you are the type of person who has difficulty with breathing throughout the day, has constant hectic deadlines or work projects, feel "spread too thin", and do not have time to relax until the wee evening hours, then you may have high cortisol levels. In addition, lack of sleep can directly lower testosterone levels, which as an anabolic hormone basically does the good opposite of everything bad that cortisol does!

Finally, when it comes to appetite control, leptin is responsible for appetite satiety, while ghrelin is response for appetite cravings. Can you guess which goes up and which goes down when you”™re stressed out or low on sleep? That”™s right, ghrelin goes up, while leptin sensitivity decreases.

So, in an nutshell, inadequate sleep affects insulin sensitivity, appetite control hormones (increased leptin, decreased ghrelin), weight loss hormones (decreased testosterone, increased cortisol) and appetite neurotransmitters (decreased GABA, serotonin, dopamine).

What can your students do? Here are my recommendations:

* Increase sleep
o Goal is 6-8 hours
o Stop eating 2 hours prior to bedtime, especially from carbohydrates
o Keep room dark as possible
o No TV before bed
o No computer use in bed
o Keep pen and pad next to bed
o Avoid afternoon caffeine intake
o Keep bedroom temp close to 70 degrees or less
o Take hot bath or shower before bed
o Keep alarm quiet or use natural light source to awake
o Try to go to sleep before 11pm
o Take Melatonin or Somnidren GH (
* Decrease stress

o 4, 7, 8 breathing (breathe in 4 count, hold for 7 count, breathe out for 8 count)

o Progressive Muscular Relaxation (contract-relax style stretching)

o Exercise

o Word association/imagery (associating words like “Blue” with relaxation, then reciting that word when stressed).

o Yoga/stretching

o Music (no loud rock music, focus instead on classical, acoustic, jazz, etc.)

o Control (remind yourself what you can/can”™t control)

So remember — the best nutrition plan on the planet is useless if you”™re stressed out or low on sleep. Take care of your body, and you”™ll feel and perform fantastic.

I hope you”™ve enjoyed this series of ten articles. If you have more questions, or want more resources, just check out , where I offer a free weekly blog and podcast with non run-of-the-mill alternative health, holistic nutrition and lifestyle fitness information!
Indoor Cycling Instructor Association

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