Some Stats on Sleep
The average adult gets about 7 hours of sleep per night. 33% of the population gets fewer than 6.5 hours per night (no wonder it feels like the world is kind of cranky and distracted sometimes!). Women sleep a bit more than men. Those who carry high amounts of body fat tend to sleep less than those with a normal body fat. Studies suggest that people who sleep fewer than 6 hours per night gain almost twice as much weight over a 6-year period as people who sleep 7 to 8 hours per night. Excessive sleep isn’t necessarily better: those who sleep more than 9 hours per night have similar body composition outcomes as those who sleep less than 6 hours. According to some sleep experts, because of the way our natural circadian rhythms work, every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after. Experts also say we’re meant to go to sleep when it gets dark, and to wake when it gets light. That old saying about early to bed and early to rise still stands the test of time.
What Can Negatively Affect Sleep?
Sugar Consumption: You guessed it! The more sugar that you eat during the day, the more often you’re going to wake up in the middle of the night. Even if you don’t fully wake up, the sugar in your system can pull you out of a deep sleep, making you feel exhausted the next day. While you're at, it eliminating stimulants like caffeine/nicotine, especially later in the day, can also interfere with sleep.
Alcohol: While alcohol, a depressant, can help you fall asleep faster, it also contributes to poor quality and inhibited restorative sleep. It does this by disrupting sleep patterns responsible for memory formation and learning, interrupting circadian rhythms, waking you before you're truly rested, blocking REM sleep (restorative deep sleep), aggravate breathing problems making you more prone to snoring and sleep apnea, and leads to more bathroom trips!
Stress: We all have natural rise and fall of the stress hormone, Cortisol throughout our day and when we sleep. When we go to sleep, cortisol steadily declines, and in stressful times, we have higher levels of cortisol to begin with, and that decline doesn't happen as much it should. This can lead to decreased short-wave sleep and an increase in light sleep and frequent waking up.
Too Many Later Night Activities: We cut back on sleep because we choose to. We watch TV. We browse the internet. We go out with friends. These voluntary bedtime delays can lead to chronic sleep loss, and may be a contributing risk factor for weight gain, insulin resistance, and Type 2 diabetes.
Problems Lack of Sleep Can Cause Sleep debt is cumulative, meaning that the more nights with less sleep, the greater likelihood of negative effects taking place.
Performance/Workouts Suffer: When someone sleeps less than their body needs, growth hormone secretion (GH secretion, which supports physical and mental recovery and restoration) is lowered, and overall exercise performance can taper off. It may feel as though your workouts are VERY hard and intense, when in fact they really aren’t. Cravings and Hunger Increase: A study with 12 young, healthy, normal-weight men found that just two nights in a row with 4 hours of sleep (and no napping) resulted in lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin. As low leptin and high ghrelin both stimulate hunger and appetite, the men reported higher overall hunger ratings, especially cravings for energy dense, processed foods like sweets, baked goods and bread. From this, scientists speculate that deregulation of these appetite hormones could be another reason that sleep deprivation results in body fat gains.
Overeating Continues: A study in the in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition finds that partial sleep deprivation—missing a few hours of sleep per night—is linked to taking in significantly more calories the next day, and specifically lower protein. And the bigger issue might be that the connection also seems to work the other way: Poor food choices during the day may affect how well we sleep. So it’s a bit of a vicious cycle we’re up against, and it seems to mainly be happening in the brain.
Increased Body Fat and Obesity: Partial and chronic sleep restriction can create a decrease in growth hormone (GH) and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), and increase cortisol (that stress hormone), most notably in the evening. Moreover, chronic sleep restriction results in elevated sympathetic nerve activity and a slow insulin response. This is the perfect storm of peripheral effects to increase body fat and lead to obesity.
Ways to Improve Your Sleep - Or At Least Get Some! The good news is that you can actually catch up with just a few consecutive nights of adequate sleep. Experts hypothesize that each hour of sleep debt needs to be repaid, eventually.
Keep Blood Sugar Levels Stable: To avoid those nap-inducing energy dips, you want to do everything that you can to keep your blood sugar level steady. Remember, no sugar, eat protein, fat and healthy carbs each time you eat to balance insulin responses and regulate blood sugar spikes.
Consistent Bedtime and Wake Up Schedule: Our bodies like regularity. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day and night. While it might be unrealistic to do this seven days a week, try to be as consistent as possible, If you're consistent, your body will know when to release calming hormones before bed and stimulating hormones to help you wake up. You’ll feel sleepy when it’s time for bed and wake up more refreshed, often without needing an alarm. Include heading to the bedroom to start your bedtime routine at least 30-45 mins before you expect to be sleeping.
Develop a Relaxing and Familiar Pre-Bedtime Routine: Your body needs transition time and environmental cues to wind down. So, the first step to getting more and better sleep is to create a nighttime routine that tells your body that you're preparing to go to sleep. Over time, if you’re consistent, your body will start the process of gearing down automatically. This might be setting out your gear for the morning, taking a bath or shower, reading for 30 minutes, and then switching things off.
Set Up Your Sleep Environment: Television, work, computer use, movies, and deep/stressful discussions late at night can disrupt sleep, so remove electronics and distracting elements from your room. Keep the bedroom dark, to tell the body’s light-sensitive clock that it’s time to sleep. Keep the bedroom extremely quiet or use a white noise generator (such as a fan). Keep a slightly cool temperature in the room, between 66-72 F (18-22 C).
Do a Brain Dump: Clear your mind for genuine relaxation by taking a few minutes to write out a list of whatever’s bugging you: e-mails you need to send or reply to, calls you have to make, project ideas, creative thoughts, etc. Whatever is in your brain, get it out and on to paper so you're ready to relax.
Exercise: It’s not only good for a tight butt and big guns, it can help improve sleep. Exercising regularly helps normalize circadian rhythms, tone down the sympathetic nervous system, and regulate endocrine function. However, save the intense exercise for a bit more before bedtime, if possible — a weights or interval workout in the evening can rev us up and make it tougher to get to sleep.Need more ideas to improve your sleep?
Read more on this Hacking Sleep article!
Article Sources: All About Sleep, Precision Nutrition (https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-sleep) How Sugar Impacts Your Sleep, sleep.org (https://www.sleep.org/articles/sugar-impacts-sleep/) The Role of Cortisol in Sleep, The Natural Medicine Journal (https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2010-06/role-cortisol-sleep) The effects of partial sleep deprivation on energy balance: a systematic review and meta-analysis, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2016.201) Hacking Sleep, Precision Nutrition (https://www.precisionnutrition.com/hacking-sleep)
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