If Stress Is Causing You To Lie Awake at Night, Try This Functional Medicine Doctor’s Brilliant Before-Bed Fix

Photo: Getty Images/Oleg Breslavtsev

Sleeping through the night is one of those things that's easy to take for granted... until you start waking up at 2 a.m. night after night after night. While there are many reasons why your body may be sounding the alarm in the witching hours, functional medicine doctor Scott Beyer, DC, DACNB, says two hormones may be the reason why you're wide awake, staring at the ceiling when you could be dreaming.

"If you're someone who wakes up between the hours of two and four a.m. and sometimes you're up for 20, 30 minutes, two hours, sometimes this can be due to an imbalance between two adrenal hormones," says Dr. Beyer in a recent TikTok video. Adrenal hormones are hormones that hail from your adrenal glands and include cortisol, aldosterone, adrenaline, and noradrenaline, but in this case, Dr. Beyer really wants you to think about cortisol and adrenaline as it relates to waking up in those wee morning hours.

@drscottbeyer #sleep #sleeptips #insomnia #functionalmedicine #adrenalfatigue #foodismedicine #sleepbetter #wakingup #circadianrhythm ♬ original sound - Dr. Scott Beyer

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Normally, cortisol's number one job is regulating your blood sugar. "Classically, when we're asleep, that's the longest we're going to go without eating, and all throughout the night, cortisol should start to come higher and higher, peaking first thing in the morning," Dr. Beyer says. "The problem is, if individuals have been under stress, sometimes that cortisol rhythm becomes blunted and flat, and now people have to rely on the secondary, compensatory mechanism."

That "compensatory mechanism is "adrenaline," a hormone that—as you can guess—is not at all chill. "Adrenaline is a huge, huge, huge central nervous system stimulant," says Dr. Beyer. For context, your body may also increase your adrenaline levels when your brain perceives stress and danger, like when you're rock climbing, skydiving, or snowboarding.

You probably can pin down the feeling: You feel extra alert, your heart rate quickens, and you may even struggle to breathe. In short, it's not fun—especially when you're just trying to log your eight hours. Luckily, though, Dr. Beyer has a nutritional trick you can try before you hit the sack. "So one of the things that you can actually do for a couple of weeks...is to actually eat very close to bed, particularly something that's heavy in protein and fat," he says. This will essentially keep your blood sugar levels stable overnight and save your adrenaline for more adventurous pursuits.

Now, this doesn't necessarily mean you want to eat, say, an huge steak and potatoes before bed. Late-night meals, particularly of the more hearty variety, can interrupt your natural sleep rhythms. Instead, opt for a lighter snacking nightcap... and head off to bed knowing that your adrenal glands have been cared for.

Below, Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, an inclusive plant-based dietitian in Stamford, CT, and owner of Plant Based with Amy, and Anne Danahy, RDN, founder of Craving Something Healthy, name their three favorite bedtime snacks that contain both fat and protein. 

3 RD-recommended bedtime snacks to help you sleep through the night

1. Prune smoothie

"If you’re looking for quick and easy bedtime recipes you can whip up that boast both protein and fat, I love to make a prune smoothie. It boasts seven grams of protein and 10 grams of fat. It’s made with prunes, which boast the additional benefit of containing the bone-helping vitamins and minerals potassium, vitamin K, phosphorous, and boron," says Gorin. Plus, it has just a hint of sweetness if you like to end the evening on a dessert note, as I do.

2. Full-fat Greek yogurt with fresh fruit

This one's a classic: Danahy recommends grabbing a full-fat Greek yogurt cup and topping it with raspberries, blueberries, or whatever fruit strikes you fancy. "The berries are a low glycemic option that won't spike your blood sugar, and the extra glucose they provide will be released slowly throughout the night," she says. 

3. A toasted, whole grain English muffin with peanut butter and banana

"This too provides complex carbs along with protein and healthy fat," says Danahy. A two-tablespoon serving of peanut butter contains about six grams of protein and about 13 grams of fat, the sweet spot for a good night's sleep.

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