Copyright 2006 Mary Desaulniers
My friend, Gail, has been a restless sleeper since childhood. “It’s rare that I get a goodnight’s sleep,” she confided in me several years ago. Her weight has been a problem as well, spiraling upwards of 60 lbs within the past 20 years. Like most of us, her exercise and diet plans begin with enthusiasm but fizzle out within the first month. “Just too tired to keep them going” is her excuse. It wasn’t until her doctor referred her to the Sleep Specialist that things began to change. Within 6 months, she lost 25 lbs. She began exercising and now she feels much more optimistic about her future. “I’ll get down to where I want to be,” she said. “But the great thing is I can sleep like a baby at night.”
Gail’s situation points to a distinct connection between sleep and weight. Recently, sleep deprivation has been identified as one of the major problems of our internet culture. Not coincidentally, obesity (despite the many diets that are around) is at its highest level. The connection between sleep deprivation and weight gain is no longer in the realm of conjecture. Several studies show a direct correlation between sleep and weight.
Research shows that sleep directly affects hunger. At the New York Obesity Research Center of St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, scientists have identified a direct correlation between the amount of sleep you get and your body’s secretion of hormones related to satiation and hunger. Leptin is the hormone that is released when your body feels satiated and full. It’s the hormone that makes you push your plate away from you at the dinner table. Ghrelin is the hormone that is secreted when your body needs nourishment; it’s the hormone that makes you say “Feed me! I want more!” While leptin suppresses appetite, ghrelin stimulates it. Lack of sleep decreases the body’s production of leptin by 18% and increases the body’s production of ghrelin by 15%.
In essence, sleep deprivation puts the body in starvation mode, stimulating the cells to ask for more food. The result is you eat more. Does feeling hungry at 3 am sound familiar?
How then can you enlist sleep to be one of your weight loss allies?
First of all, make sure that you are on a healthy eating plan. Having the best sleep every night and the worst diet in the world at the same time will not make you lose weight. Make sure that your daily food intake includes 25-30% protein, 45-55% complex carbohydrates, 15-20% essential fatty acids.
Secondly, make sure you are on an effective exercise program 4-5 times a week. The best workout includes both weight training and aerobics. Exercise PLUS protein is the most effective way to sculpt your body.
Nowwe can talk sleep. Just having enough sleep will not make you lose weight, but it will surely help you stick to your weight loss plans. Here are some suggestions for enhancing your sleep experience.
1.Limit your consumption of alcohol and caffeine especially in the evening. Alcohol will give you unnecessary calories; so eliminating it entirely while you are trying to lose weight might not be a bad idea. Caffeine (especially from green tea) taken during the day can enhance your metabolism and burn fat. But caffeine in the evening can bring about a restless night.
2.Develop a personal sense of sleep hygiene. This means cultivating a regular wake and sleep schedule so that you can program your body to a routine. Find a sleep ritual that works best for you. For me, it’s reading in bed. For Gail, it’s listening to a sleep enhancing CD. Find a ritual that helps your body understand that you are ready for sleep.
3.Don’t go to bed hungry. While this does not mean that you should have a heavy snack at bedtime, it does suggest that a light snack,rich in sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan, can help. Warm low-fat milk is best. You can add a few( no more than 2-3) lean slices of lean turkey( also rich in tryptophan) if you wish.
4.Exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime. Physical activity contributes to the body’s need for sleep. But exercising too close to bedtime can actually prevent sleep because exercise raises the body’s metabolism and alertness level.
5.Take a warm bath an hour before bedtime. Your body temperature will slowly drop after you get out of the tub making you feel tired.
6.Create a Bed Sanctuary. If you want to sleep well, make your bedroom sleep- conducive. Get the best mattress you can afford, the most comfortable pillows, the best blackout shades. Keep your bedroom cool and dark. Eliminate noise by using earplugs.
7.Eliminate distractions like a humming TV, computer or phone.
8.Keep your days active. Resist the temptation of nap so that your body will be ready for a restful sleep at night.