Chasing the Buzz

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Our bodies have evolved to respond to light and darkness (the sun and the moon); to be awake with light and sleep with dark. This is known as Circadian Rhythm.

Cortisol is an essential steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland. The amount produced throughout the day is governed by your internal body clock; your circadian rhythm. On waking (sun rise), cortisol levels should be at their peak; ensuring you’re full of beans to attack the day ahead. As the day progresses cortisol levels should gradually drop off, before flat lining at night (dark/moon) when you sleep. At this point the hormone melatonin has taken over after gradually ramping up, and sets you up nicely for rest and recovery whilst you sleep.

Consistent sleep and wake timings, meal timings, and exercise timings are all crucial to maintaining quality rhythm. Quality rhythm results in the correct amounts of hormones being released at the optimum time of the day.

With that in mind, here’s where the issues can arise: 

  • ‘Burning the candle at both ends’ (sleep late/rise early - less sleep)

  • Constantly changing sleep/wake times

  • High levels of stress throughout the day

  • Erratic meal timings + long eating window (over 12 hours)

  • Exercising late in the evening

  • Alcohol late in the evening effecting sleep quality

  • Large shifts in timings between week days and weekends.

All of the above will effect your daily rhythm and therefore the sufficient production of cortisol and melatonin at the right times - i.e. potentially lower Cortisol in the morning and higher in the evening due to external stressors. At this point you’ve shifted your body clock - you’re effectively jet lagged - not a good feeling right? You’re alarm clock will wake you and you’ll hit snooze multiple times before crawling out of bed, tired and fatigued, all whilst the sun is up and ready to go. Evenings get longer due to cramming more activities in at that end of the day because hey, you’re wide awake so why not? Well, you’re alarm isn’t going to go off any later the next day, so the only outcome is a reduction in sleep quantity. There are enough studies around now to prove to even the most stubborn of non believers that insufficient sleep for prolonged periods literally takes years off your life! Scary? Hopefully scary enough to make you think twice about it. 

What has this got to do with ‘Chasing the Buzz’? I wanted to give you a brief overview of the above to enable you to understand the following point. How many of you have said “I’m really tired so I’m going to go to the gym to wake myself up.”? You might be thinking “Yes, but it works pretty well so what is your point?”. The point is that you should not need a bout of exercise to wake you up. If your circadian rhythm is dialled in, and you’re training at the same time of the day every day, you should have more than enough energy to train - as the saying goes “have energy to train, do not train for energy”. 

Exercise will give you a dose of cortisol. However, it should not be used to mask the underlying more important reason you’re cortisol is low in the first instance - likely your rhythm is out of whack. This is where the ‘Buzz’ comes in: The more you use exercise to give you a hit of cortisol without addressing the fundamental issue, the more you’ll want it. Over time the ‘want’ turns into ‘need’ and well thats just a slippery slope - you’ve become that person who walks into the gym dead on their feet, pushes themselves in the pursuit of ‘the buzz’, and finishes lying flat on their back with a temporary glint in their eye claiming “I needed that!”

STOP - remember the intention of your exercise - more than likely one of your ‘whys’ will be for improved health. Training for the cortisol hit is NOT healthy. Instead take the time to look at your daily schedule and change it to suit your daily rhythm - a good fix is to exercise in the morning or at lunch time - getting it in whilst your cortisol is naturally higher (if your rhythm is dialled in).

Everything can be effected by poor rhythm: your sleep might be hit first, meaning you don’t get sufficient rest and recovery. As a result you wake tired with no vitality, so it takes you some time to get into gear and you likely have an irritable start to the day. Your mental acuity is lowered so it takes you longer to do your work when you get there. As a result you have to work longer hours because you’re less efficient. Longer hours in work means less time for exercise and social connections and everything else outside of work. ‘Out of work’ activities get pushed out later in the day. ‘Later in the day’ activity means you go to bed later…and so on, and so on: a VISCOUS circle. Break it - get off the crack and sort your rhythm out. How this can affect weight loss/gain is a topic in itself - lets save that for another time.

Dom Beardwell