Needing your beauty sleep is more than an excuse to lounge in bed; upping your zzz’s really does help with weight-loss and management! Sleep is crucial in maintaining a healthy life because of the brain activity, hormone regulation, and physical recovery that occurs while you are snoozing. Go ahead and set that alarm back for a healthier, happier you!
If you consider evolution’s impact on our ancestors’ metabolism the role of sleep becomes more clear. In times of excess people of the past could spend more time sleeping (because they didn’t need to hunt, forage, stress about staying alive), but when food was scarce they would need to spend less time sleeping and more time looking for food in order to survive. In short, the human body adapted to be more efficient (burn less calories) to compensate for the extended hunting and activity time. Now when we get less sleep it triggers the same response as our ancestors even though we have enough food. When you don’t get enough sleep your body begins to assume it is because you can’t sleep due to a lack of resources; this assumption leads to a decrease in metabolism and rationing of fat stores. In the end, a decrease in metabolism makes it much more difficult to successfully diet.
Apart from the evolutionary theories behind sleep and weight gain, a lack of sleep does cause brain activity to change. Inadequate shut-eye causes function in the frontal lobe to decrease. This is the decision and logic portion of your brain, so when it is tired you may be more likely to make choices that don’t align with your goals. The tendency for impulsive decisions is also increased when you are not firing on all cylinders. Cravings become stronger as your brain seeks something to make it feel better (because you are tired and grumpy… at least I get tired and grumpy!) and you are too tired to muster the will power to say no. A well rested brain can make self-control and discipline that much easier.
Hormones lay at the base of many weight management struggles and are strongly impacted by your sleeping patterns. Ghrelin and leptin are key hormones in hunger and satiation. Ghrelin signals that you are hungry and should eat. When you are awake, and tired, ghrelin levels increase– making you more hungry. Leptin is the hormone that says, “Hold tight partner, you are plenty full.” A sleepy brain doesn’t produce as much leptin and your body will want more food before it feels satisfied. Additionally, cortisol (that pesky stress hormone) spikes when you are not well-rested. A stressed body will conserve energy and hold onto fat… just what everyone wants.
The last impact and reason to get more sleep along your journey is simple: you can’t eat anything if you are sleeping. The longer you are awake the more opportunities you will have to snack, graze, and give into temptation. In the end, it is far better to dream about pizza than to be awake and ordering it.
Things you can do:
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep every night. It seems like a tall order, but if you go to bed at 11:30pm and get up at 7am you have already hit the range.
- Turn off your devices 1 hour pre-bedtime. It can be hard to unwind when emails, texts, and cat videos are keeping you up.
- Avoid caffeine after 3pm. Caffeine stays in your system for 5-6 hours and is made to keep you alert.
- Create a space for relaxation. Your bedroom should be your haven for sleep, sex, and relaxing. If possible, move your work space into another room or location to create subconscious associations. Bedroom= zzzzzzz Office= focused work
- Follow an evening routine to begin to unwind. Similarly to space associations, you can start creating habits that signal your body to relax and help you fall asleep faster. Floss your teeth, do a few stretches, drink a cup of tea every night 30 minutes before you want to go to bed so your brain gets in the mood.
- Close your curtains and minimize light pollution. You know it is hard to sleep with the neighbor’s porch light in the window or your computer blinking blue all night. Light was a signal to our ancestors to get up and begin the daily forage. Artificial light produces the same effect and throws off your natural inclination to sleep. Make your room dark to reach maximum snoozing.
- Eat a small serving of oatmeal or a slice of whole grain toast in the evening. Oatmeal, and other select whole grains, contains compounds that actually help induce sleep. Plus it is yummy and you won’t wake up hungry.
- Take a shower or drink a warm beverage before bed. As your body cools from the change in temperature your muscles and brain will relax.
After writing this I am feeling a little tired myself. I am going to take a quick nap before the gym— and if Preston tells me to get up I will tell him it is important for my goals and health to stay in bed a little longer.