What we eat and how much we exercise are pivotal to weight loss, yet good sleep can help you become slimmer too, whilst poor sleep can contribute to weight gain.
How is your sleep just now? Do you toss-and-turn, wake-up multiple times for a trip to the loo, and still feel tired as your alarm siren-like wakes you from slumber? Everyone occasionally experiences a poor-night’s sleep, but for many people it’s not just the odd-night: it’s most nights. This can lead to a constant, low level exhaustion which not only makes life feel just a little more difficult, it also effects your hunger hormones.
Leptin and ghrelin are the hormones which activate and suppress your appetite. As the stomach empties, ghrelin is secreted into the stomach, which increases your appetite. After we have eaten, leptin is released from our fat cells, which sends signals to the brain, telling us we are full and stops the release of ghrelin. However, when we don’t get sufficient or deep enough sleep, our leptin levels drop, which has a double whammy effect: low levels of leptin lead to a diminished ‘I’m full’ message being sent to the brain and a weaker ‘off’ switch to ghrelin. This can lead to us feeling both overeating and yet feeling hungrier too.
We can help improve our body’s natural hormonal rhythm by getting better sleep. I know this is easier said than done, but prioritising sleep and consistently working on sleep improvement (typically takes 3 months to change from very poor sleep to good sleep) as waking up refreshed every morning makes all the difference to how you feel.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP
There are many different reasons why you may not be sleeping well. The biggest overall cause for poor sleep, is stress. Others reasons include; your body clock being out of synch; an unsupportive, dust-mite-filled mattress; too much caffeine and/or alcohol; and/or being over-tired.
Stress Reduction: If you lie in bed worrying and feeling anxious about what is going on in your life, please don’t dismiss these feelings; you can change it. Stress not only is the biggest depriver of sleep, it also has a role in virtually all illnesses and diseases, so minimising stress can help you improve your health overall. The following simple steps may help you:
- I recommend not watching the TV right-up until you go to bed: instead have an electronic-free wind-down time. The blue light emitted from TVs and laptops can affect our circadian rhythms, making it harder for us to fall asleep naturally. In particular, watching the late night news (watch it the earlier edition if you wish) is not conducive to peaceful sleep as it fills our mind with images of terror, horror and grief.
- If you have lots to remember, try a ‘brain-dump’ in the evening. Simply, this is noting down everything you are worried that might forget. There is no need to order or structure this list—just write it all down. Place it beside your bed with a pen, just in case you need to add something you think of before closing your eyes. Then when you lie down, if you mind starts spinning, you can reassure yourself that you have everything written down.
- Just before going to bed, do some simple breathing exercises: breathing for 4 or 5 minutes can make a big difference to the quality of your sleep.
- When you are stressed, your body’s level of adrenaline is higher than normal. One way to help body rebalance adrenal function is through massaging the arch of your feet. You can do this an old tennis ball. Just before you get into bed, place the tennis ball under the arch of one foot. Standing on the ball, allow your weight and toes move the ball around, massaging the arch of your foot as you do so. After 2 minutes, change feet. It is surprisingly relaxing.
Body Clock: Your body clock is controlled by circadian rhythms that respond to light, temperature, the season and hormones. When we experience jetlag, it is predominately the effect of our circadian rhythms being out of synch. After a few days of being in a new time zone, the body adjusts its rhythm to rebalance itself. However, in the winter months we can often get out of synch for weeks and months, as we get up in the dark and in evenings, artificial lighting and especially the blue light emitted by TVs and our laptops, upsets our body clock.
One of the most useful ways to help you wake-up naturally and start the day in harmony is to invest in a dawn-simulation lamp. If a loud alarm wakes us from our deep sleep, the body begins the day already out of its natural rhythm. A dawn-simulation-lamp works by switching on half-an-hour before you need to get up, with the light, slowly getting brighter which naturally awakens you. I love my dawn light: in the winter it helps me fight-off SAD and fatigue.
Change your mattresses? How long your mattress offers optimum support for your body depends on many factors including; the original quality; whether you sleep alone or with a partner; if sleeping with a partner—their sleep, snoring and movements and whether there is big difference in weight. However, typically, you will need a new mattress every 8 years.
An old mattress may contain as many as 10 million dust-mites. Yuk! They thrive in warm, moist environments where there is an ample supply of food—in this case your discarded skin cells. If your mattress is full of dust-mites, every time you move, a wave of microscopic dust mite detritus—their dead bodies and faecal matter—rises into the air. Breathing this in during your sleep can impair your sleep and may cause allergic reactions too.
To help counter any dust mite problems, throw back your duvet to allow your bed to air for awhile before you make it. Vacuum your mattress regularly, turn it according to the mattress manufacturers recommendations. Also consider using a dust-mite-proof cover.
Make your bedroom a sanctuary: If your bedroom has clothes strewn all over the place, work materials on your bedside table, a scattering of magazines, books and with a TV, computer, laptop and/or music player there too, it creates a busy rather than calming energy. In particular consider removing electrical devices from your bedroom as set up magnetic currents which can impact on the quality of your sleep. Most people still like to have a TV or at least their mobile phone in the bedroom. If this is you, ensure any electric cables don’t trail under your bed and that you recharge your phone away from your head whilst you sleep.
If your bedroom needs a Spring Clean, diarise a day to have a tidy, declutter and rearrange your bedroom. The more ‘sanctury-like’ it becomes, the more likely you are to sleep well.
The ideal temperature for sleep for most people is 18°C – slightly cooler perhaps your other rooms. You will also sleep better if there is fresh air. If you can’t bear the idea of sleeping with your window slightly open in winter, make sure you open the windows each day so stale air is replaced.
Caffeine and alcohol: As your body prepares for you to go to sleep, your brain produces melatonin to help you relax and at the same time decreases your adrenalin levels (this helps keeps you alert). Caffeine is a stimulant and has the exact opposite effect to this: it suppresses melatonin (for up to 10 hours) and increases adrenalin. Avoid drinking coffee, tea, cola or energy drinks from the afternoon onwards as this can seriously impact on your ability to fall asleep. Caffeine affects the quality of your deep sleep; this means you are more likely to wake-up tired, feel the need for a caffeine hit to get going, and so begins a vicious-circle of not sleeping well because of the caffeine, waking up tired and needing more caffeine to wake-up.
If you drink alcohol just before going to bed, it can help you fall asleep more quickly, however, alcohol is rapidly metabolized and the quality of sleep in the second half of the night is more likely to be broken, with less deep sleep time and more vivid dreams. Insomniacs often use alcohol to try and get to sleep – which sometimes works. But a lack of deep sleep can make you tired and miserable during the day, to the point of being too tired to sleep well.
For different reasons, both caffeine and alcohol are widely used (and abused) to help us deal with stress. If you suspect one or both are getting in your way of a good night’s sleep, try a 2-week caffeine/alcohol detox. I know many people think this is extreme, but on the Eat Well–Be Well program we do this and the difference to the quality of sleep is so significant that many of my attendees choose to remain caffeine free. Note, it takes at least 1 week before any changes are noticeable.
Patterns: Your body loves regularity. Choose what will be your bedtime and rising time, and endeavour to be consistent with these time—even dare I say it, at the weekends. In this way your body comes to know when you will be sleeping and waking-up and will set a natural body clock.
I hope this has inspired you to take some new actions to improve the quality of your sleep.