If you're feeling stressed and sleeping badly, a few simple changes could turn your life around and break an unforgiving cycle, writes Deborah Telford.

Your road to losing weight, sleeping better and having more energy could begin with something as simple as taking up yoga.

Sharon Kolkka of Queensland's Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat says stress is often the root cause of broken sleep and a dodgy diet which will make us feel sluggish.

So alleviating stress can have a positive knock-on effect in those other areas of our lives.

She has a "Triple S" theory about stress, sugar and sleep to explain why many of us don't feel as good as we could.

It goes like this. If you are stressed, you produce too much of the "stress" hormone, cortisol, which interferes with the "sleep" hormone, melatonin.

When excess cortisol interferes with the production of melatonin, it interferes with your biological clock _ affecting your ability to sleep, think clearly, remember key facts and make sound decisions.

"It's when you wake up in the early hours of the morning thinking: 'I've got to get back to sleep. I have a really big day tomorrow'.

"All the world feels full of doom and gloom and all of your worries feel out of proportion," says Kolkka, the general manager of Gwinganna which attracts about 300 Kiwis each year. Then, when you wake up tired, you crave something _ usually sugar or caffeine _ that will give you energy.

Eating something sugary to boost your low blood sugar levels raises them too high. Your body then releases insulin to normalise the levels, they drop again and you crave more sweet food.

"That can lead to mood swings and a love-hate relationship with food as well as inconsistent energy levels. Using an artificial stimulus like sugar or caffeine to get the body functioning is a false economy because at some point something will break."

Kolkka, who recently ran a Triple S seminar in Auckland, says about two thirds of people who visit Gwinganna to improve their health and wellbeing say they do not sleep properly.

"You get on to a treadmill of feeling stressed, not sleeping well, eating the wrong foods, then feeling more stressed and you start to forget what feeling normal is like."

But by taking action to break down the first stage of the cycle, stress, you may find you sleep better and don't crave sugary foods so much. Even a short daily walk at a local park will give you some peace and quiet in the fresh air, and help you feel more relaxed.

Breaking the "Triple S"cycle:
* Have a healthy relationship with food. Eat food as close to as you can to what nature intended - whole foods and lots of vegetables - and avoid processed foods with refined sugars.

* Cut out caffeine until you are sleeping better at night. For some people one coffee might do nothing but for others it has a huge effect.

* Begin to realise that the stress in your life is not what is happening on the outside. It is how your body reacts to external factors that counts.

* Live in the now by doing something that requires you to focus on anything other than your day-to-day life - meditation, yoga, t'ai chi, acupuncture.