by Eda Erturk
Lack of sleep resembles a “credit card debt”. As the debt accumulates, you end up paying a huge amount of interest and eventually your account gets shut down if you do not repay. Similarly, if you deprive yourself of good quality sleep, your body will experience the negative effects before the organs start to malfunction!
What happens when you don’t sleep well?
Think about the days when you did not have a good night’s sleep. You do feel tired, sleepy, irritable and most importantly your relationship to food and drinks changes. Here is what some people may do when they do not sleep well:
- Increase in the cups of coffee and tea
- Increase in snacking, usually sugary treats like biscuits or cakes.
- Increase in takeaways as you are too tired to cook
- Avoid going to the gym or reducing physical activity as you seem to have less energy
- You perceive you are tired and think that you need more energy and consume energy dense food.
As you can see you pay a heavy price for poor quality sleep, which in turn can have a significant impact on your body weight.
Research in adults shows that getting four-hour-sleep a night in comparison to a 10-hour-sleep increases hunger significantly. Moreover, observational studies conducted on children and adolescents suggests that sleep deprivation is closely linked to obesity.
Why should you feel hungry when you are sleep deprived?
There is a continuous neurohormonal talk between your gut and brain. Leptin and ghrelin are the predominant hormones regulating your appetite. Ghrelin is the “go” hormone that tells you when to eat and leptin is the “quit” hormone that tells you when to stop eating. When you are sleep deprived, these hormones do not behave and you may end up feeling very hungry or not feel full even after eating a large meal. In addition, less sleep you have had, you are more likely to be stressed and your body produces more of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is a form of steroid, which is known to increase your appetite and leads to fluid retention.
Cortisol produced as a result of stress is also known to reduce your “happiness” hormone ‘‘serotonin’’. This leads to anxiety, low mood and unhappiness. The natural tendency is to increase the levels of serotonin in the body by eating food rich in the amino acid tryptophan. Serotonin is made of a protein called tryptophan which is found in meat, cheese and eggs.
So, good sleep is not only crucial for our health but also very important if you are planning to lose weight. Please see below the recommended sleep duration based on your age based on National sleep foundation.
Recommended Sleep duration by age (National Sleep Foundation)
Several studies conducted on identical twins indicate that insufficient sleep can promote obesity-related gene expression. People who are overweight or obese can be troubled with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea(OSA), which can lead to sleep deprivation and also leads to some serious medical conditions including Type 2 diabetes, reflux disease and rarely right heart failure.
How can I improve my sleep quality?
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine after 2 pm (Opt for decaf beverages)
- Avoid heavy meals before bed but can have light healthy snacks ( e.g. fruits, yoghurt)
- Aim for moderate regular exercise helps you fall asleep early
- Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool (make sure the light from windows is blocked. If you cannot, try an eye shield)
- Avoid sitting in front of TV or computer for at least one hour before bedtime as the light from these screens stimulates the release of melatonin which keeps you alert. (you could read a book or listen to relaxing songs instead)
- Try to go to sleep and wake up preferably at the same time each day. (set your body’s internal clock to optimise your sleep quality and stick to this pattern even on weekends)
- Avoid sleeping long hours during the day (limit your sleep 15-20 mins during the day)
- Try to spend more hours outside during the day to benefit from natural light which helps you sleep during the night (getting off the tube one stop before your destination so as to walk to work in the morning, walking your dog or sitting in your balcony during the daylight every day)
In conclusion, good sleep is one of the recipes for success, if you are on a weight loss journey. If you are experiencing poor sleep you should consider seeing an expert soon!
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