Good, restorative, restful sleep. It’s the cornerstone of wellness, and if you are chronically shorting yourself on this health-enhancing stuff, it’s just a matter of time before your system will breakdown in any number of subtle, or not so subtle, ways. Sleep is more than something to fill in the nighttime hours – it’s an utterly essential activity which, when done well, promotes focused mental performance, a stable mood, a strong immune system, a healthy stress response, proper cellular repair and a healthy metabolism. It’s also the very important time your body makes use of to do much of its disease-fighting maintenance work – when it ‘takes out the cellular trash,’ makes repairs and restores you for the day ahead. So, when you’re chronically short on restorative sleep, it’s a lot bigger deal than just feeling lousy and cranky in the morning – you’re inviting increased risk for serious health problems.
Another major reason to raise your sleep game? Weight control. Turns out, the lack of good, quality sleep also disrupts your metabolism and hormonal balance, which in turn play a big role in weight gain. Something to keep in mind next time you’re contemplating a late-night Netflix binge!
Here’s a snapshot of how seven of the key hormones that regulate metabolism and help keep weight on an even keel are impacted by cheating on your sleep:
1) Not enough quality sleep = more fat-triggering cortisol.
Lack of sleep is a stressor. Stress stimulates cortisol production which signals your body to retain fat by disrupting your insulin response, promoting insulin resistance.
2) Not enough quality sleep = carb cravings
Excess cortisol can trigger excess hunger, usually for starches and sweet stuff, in other words, a junkie-level addiction to sweets.
3) Not enough quality sleep = not enough fat-burning glucagon.
Just as too much-insulin cues your body to store fat, glucagon tells your body to burn it. When you don’t get enough good quality sleep, glucagon levels drop, leaving you without enough glucagon on hand to keep burning fat.
4) Not enough quality sleep = less heart-helping adiponectin.
Adiponectin is a hormone that promotes insulin sensitivity and helps your body break down fat. It also decreases inflammation and supports cardiovascular function. Less sleep means you lose those benefits—and gain weight.
5) Not enough quality sleep = less satiety-taming leptin.
Leptin is the hormone that causes you to feel full. When leptin levels are low, that feeling of fullness is slow in coming and that delay results in eating more than your body really needs.
6) Not enough quality sleep = too much ghrelin.
Ghrelin is the hormone that triggers hunger. When your ghrelin levels are high, you feel hungrier than you should, and again, you eat more.
7) Not enough quality sleep = insufficient human growth hormone (HGH).
HGH improves your body’s ability to metabolize fat, so when HGH levels drop, weight tends to rise. This “fountain of youth” hormone is made during the deepest stage of sleep, so it’s not enough just to get sleep—you have to get deep, uninterrupted sleep.
BE WELL TIPS: Raise your sleep game – starting tonight!
OK, so once you understand the impact poor sleep has on your body’s ability to keep weight in check, the next question is, what can you do, tonight, to get back on track? There are a number of ways to do it, but here are five quick-start tips to try tonight:
1) Don’t fight the feeling.
Babies get over-tired and impossible to soothe, and adults do, too. Instead of pushing through your natural sleepy signals to stay up later, go with the flow, and when you get that first wave of sleepiness, ride it to bed.
2) Eat dinner earlier.
To stay in sync with your body’s natural sleep rhythms, eat dinner at least two to three hours before bedtime and avoid sugar at night. When an after-dinner craving or hunger pang strikes, have a spoonful of quality almond butter to help stabilize your blood sugar, without overloading digestion too close to bedtime.
3) Banish the too-close-to bedtime booze.
Granted, a shot of booze may make you drowsy (unless it’s tequila, which does the opposite) but because it can actually delay the onset of REM sleep, it also reduces your ability to get the restorative sleep you’re after. Limit alcohol to one drink and have it at least three hours before bedtime to give your body enough time to process it.
4) Get the technology out of the bedroom
It’s an oldie but a goodie: Keep your bedroom simple – keep sleep-disrupting, blue-light beaming TVs, laptops, tablets and smart phones out of it, and reserve the bedroom for sleep and sex.
5) Put the wi-fi on a timer.
This limits the temptation to go online before bed and protects you from disruptive electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) which, among other things, can undermine the quality of your sleep. Ideally, you should completely shut your phone down at night. If, however, you must keep a phone nearby for emergencies, keep it as far away from you as possible – at least 3 -6 feet or more – to curtail exposure because when the phone is “asleep,” (versus fully off) it’s still emitting EMFs.
6) Keep your bedroom very dark.
Blackout curtains, shades or heavy curtains that block out all external light are a great investment in your better-sleep mission. A good eye mask is also a good-sleep must-have, particularly if you travel frequently across multiple time zones.
7) Keep your bedroom cool.
A room that is around 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit is considered optimal for good sleep. If your extremities get chilly, wear socks in bed to keep feet cozy without raising your core temperature, which can interfere with your ability to stay asleep.
8) Rethink your alarm clock.
Instead of using your phone or a glowing digital alarm clock, switch to a battery-operated travel alarm or a soothing “light” alarm that gradually illuminates, mimicking the dawn, or chime alarms that increase in volume from subtle to loud, such as the one made by Now & Zen. Both are stress-free ways to greet the dawn.