Twenty something me: Sleeping’s cheating. What’s tired? I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
Early thirties me: I love my bed. Think I might stay in and watch a film. Have an early night.
Mid thirties me, with a baby: Sleep is over rated right?
Now: I love my bed but I have other things to do.
We all go through phases. I have always been someone who needed X amount of hours to function effectively. In my younger years I just didn’t care. I have realised now that I need around eight hours a night. Some people are lucky and have the ‘Margaret Thatcher gene’ that enables them to get by with less than five hours every night (just think how much you could get done!), however most people fall into the eight hour category.
This is not by chance. We are programmed this way. Without this necessary shuteye, things can start to go wrong. There are many different things that can happen to a person if they are sleep deprived, even if it’s only by a couple of hours per night.
1. It impairs your level of concentration, attention and problem solving.
2. It can contribute to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
3. It can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, strokes, diabetes, high blood pressure and more.
4. It ages your skin.
5. It kills your libido.
6. It can cause you to gain weight.
The list goes on.
In particular, I wanted to talk about how it can cause weight gain and how getting the right amount of sleep can actually assist you in losing weight.
This may sound like a no brainer but of course, going to bed at decent hour will put an end to the late night snacking. If you are not awake, you cannot eat it!
It is assumed that the longer you stay up, the more calories you will burn. Unfortunately, insufficient sleep really has the opposite effect.
Lack of sleep affects your ‘hunger’ and ‘fullness’ hormones, Ghrelin and Leptin.
Ghrelin signals your brain that it’s time to eat. When you are sleep deprived, your body makes more Ghrelin. Leptin tells your brain when you have had enough food and you’ve guessed it, lack of sleep causes your levels of Leptin to drop, thus telling your brain to carry on eating.
It’s not over. Your body also increases it’s levels of the stress hormone Cortisol. This spike, causes your body to conserve energy, to give you enough fuel to get through those tiring, day time hours. Worse still, the fat that it holds on to tends to be viseral fat – the type that sits around your middle and more dangerously, around your vital organs.
Do those voices tell you to reach for the chocolate or a bag of crisps when you’re tired?
Perhaps the voices talk only to me but depriving your brain of sleep, does dull activity in the frontal lobe – the part of the brain that is used for impulse control and decision making. You will naturally seek food that makes you feel good i.e. high carb, sugary snacks.
In summary an overtired you is not only in a bad mood but craves junk food, larger portions and has no will power!
Lets say, you have a will of steel. You are able to get through the long and tiring day without reaching for those empty foods and you manage to continue with your healthy and nutritious diet. It’s still bad news. You will continue hold onto the weight, struggle to lose weight if you are following a plan or even gain weight.
In truth, sleeping actually helps you to burn more calories. A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that normal sleepers resting energy expenditure was 5% higher than those not getting enough shut eye. They also burned 20% more calories after a meal than those lacking in Zs.
Sleep is also vital for recovery. Without it, you cannot build muscle mass, no matter how much you work out. If you’ve read my post on BCAAs you’ll know how important maintaining or building muscle is. The more you have, the more fat you are able to burn.
Is sleep a priority for you?
In our busy, day to day lives, commuting, working, caring for others, working out, socialising, running a household, whatever…sleeping (even when we have the opportunity) just isn’t top of the list of things to do.
Many people need a wind down period at the end of the day. This could involve a book or social media but more often than not it’s all about the telly. Just one episode of GOT. As if! Then here’s what happens, a conscious decision is made to not sleep but to entertain ourselves instead. With that comes the probability of a snack, just one more episode and another tiring day the next day.
So why do we fight it? Some of you don’t. I realise that you may be one of the many people who really struggle to get any real slumber time, try as you might. Most are just not aware of the impact sleep (or no sleep) has on the body.
Below are some helpful tips on how to get better quality sleep and more of it.
- Don’t drink alcohol before going to bed. It may make you sleepy but the quality of sleep you’ll have will reduce, as you will not have the deep restorative REM sleep you need to wake up feeling refreshed.
- Make your bedroom a comfortable environment. Keep it cool (the best temperature for sleeping is between 15-19 degrees), peaceful and clutter free. Also, keep it dark. Your natural sleep hormone, Melatonin is suppressed if there is too much light.
- Wake up and go to bed at the same time everyday. Ideally you need to think about what time you need to wake up (roughly the same time everyday) and count backwards 8 hours and try to stick to that bed time. Catching up on sleep at the weekends does not work. In fact Harvard Medical School has found it’s near on impossible. Too much sleep all of a sudden can actually worsen your brain’s focus and reaction time.
- Turn off the TV/mobile/tablet 1 hour before bed. The blue light emitted from these devises is known to mess with our Melatonin levels and interrupt our circadian rhythm (body clock).
- Exercise. The National Sleep Foundation states that ‘people sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week’. A 20-30 minute walk everyday should do the trick.
- No heavy meals and not too late. Try to eat 3 hours before going to bed. Eating too close to bed time could leave you tossing and turning as your digestive system keeps working through the night.
- Take a bath. Your core temperature drops during the evening and night time, making you feel sleepy. If you take a soak an hour or so before bed and raise your temperature a couple of degrees, the temperature drop is steeper and therefore leaves you feeling drowsier. You are also more likely to stay asleep through the night.
- Use essential oils. High quality, pure essential oils can help you relax and promote more restful sleep. Use them in the bath, in a diffuser or on the soles of your feet.
- Read with a dim light. In fact dimming the room from around 9/10 o’clock at night will start to increase that sleepy hormone.
- Limit caffeine in the afternoon/evening. This one seems obvious but if you have trouble sleeping, it is recommended that you avoid caffeine after midday.
- Eat more magnesium rich foods or take a supplement. Magnesium helps to decrease cortisol levels, calm nerves and relax muscles, therefore helping you to unwind. Try taking a supplement 1/2 hour before bed.
- Go outside. Not at bedtime! This again is to do with setting your body clock. Getting some daylight early on in the day really helps that circadian rhythm.
- Organise for the next day and keep a bedtime routine. Not only will you de-clutter your brain but having the same series of relaxing events (changing into PJs, brushing teeth, reading for 30 minutes etc) happen each night, should help to train your brain to fall asleep shortly after.
- Nanna nap. No more than 10-30 minutes and not after 4pm.
- Save your bed for sleep and sex only. This conditions your brain to make you sleepy when you lay down in your bed and to fall asleep faster.
So here’s to a new routine and (if you’re trying to lose weight) hopefully shedding some more pounds. Sleep tight.
Watch this space for more on Magnesium, essential oils and what to look for when shopping for nutritional supplements.