Ah, sleep…the stuff of dreams. It can be elusive and difficult to embrace in a consistent way. Interrupted sleep and not getting enough sleep leaves us tired. And when we are tired, many things get more difficult such as making decisions, feeding ourselves at predictable times and having enough energy to include exercise in our day.
But the hot news about sleep deprivation is that it can lead to weight gain…
…due to effects on the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin. When you don’t get enough sleep, it drives leptin levels down. Leptin is the hormone that helps us feel satisfied, so when we have less of it, we tend to need more food to be satisfied. Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates appetite, and sleep deprivation causes us to produce more of it. The result: We feel hungrier than usual. It’s a perfect storm for weight gain.
Lack of sleep may also lead to chronic inflammation which can play havoc with our health as well as our weight. Studies have linked sleep deprivation with increased risk for metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
How Much Sleep Is Enough?
It seems that the magic number for how much sleep we need each night is no less than seven hours and as much as nine for some people. In our harried, busy lives this can seem like a lot of time.
So how do you help the Zzz’s visit you each night?
Falling asleep is a process of allowing. You can’t make yourself go to sleep. You have to create an environment that is attractive to sleep. This is unique to each person and by exploring what is helpful to you, you can create a Snuggle In plan against sleep deprivation.
Create predictability. Your body has a natural rhythm but sometimes when we use food to cope we get disconnected from it. We ignore body signals and don’t know when we are hungry or full or when we are sleepy or tired. Just like feeding yourself healthy food at predictable times interrupts binge eating, creating a predictable time and routine for sleep can reduce sleep difficulties.
How to Sleep
- Use your bed for sleeping and making love, not watching TV.
- Avoid caffeine for at least 8 hours before bedtime and alcohol for at least 3 hours. Many people think that alcohol is a relaxant and will help them sleep, and alcohol actually interferes with deep sleep and may create the need for urination during the night due to its diuretic effects.
- Include regular exercise in your day, but give yourself 3 hours without rigorous exercise before bed.
- Get at least 15 minutes of sunlight each morning to help regulate melatonin production.
- Create a nighttime routine before bed. Such as when we help children learn how to go to sleep and have a bedtime ritual such as a bath, a story and some soft music to aid in helping them settle.
- Try to go to sleep at the same time each night.
- Darken the room: Light interferes with the normal biorhythm of melatonin production, which can prevent you from falling asleep.
- Limit computer, iPad, smartphone use one hour before bed to decrease stimulation from light.
- Keep room between 68 and 72 degrees. A slight drop in body temperature can help us fall asleep.
- Reframe your awake time: Instead of saying: “Oh, no! I just can’t sleep…say, “Ah, yes, I have two more hours to sleep.”
- Try 4,7,8 breathing: Inhale for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7, and exhale for 8. The counting allows you to focus on your own body and get out of the ruminating mind.
- Write down your concerns before you get into bed and go to a relaxing scene in your mind.
- Talk with your healthcare provider whether nutritional or herbal supplements could help.
- Last but not least, get out of bed, rock in a rocking chair, swaddle yourself and pet your cat or dog.
If you aren’t rested after 7-8 hours of sleep and/or you snore, get evaluated and treated for sleep apnea.
Learning how to sleep is an allowing process. Be your own detective and notice what helps you to sleep and what interrupts your sleep. You can work at creative bedtime activities that invite Morpheus to spend the night.
To learn more about the interaction of stress on sleep and health, read another original article from Green Mountain on stress, sleep and health.