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KATHLEEN HERNDER RD, CDE

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Sleep- the part of healthy lifestyle that often gets ignored

October 4, 2016

Sleep is usually one of the first things I discuss with clients, who usually give me a weird look since there isn't an obvious connection to food and health. Here's the thing though; when it comes to your overall health and eating, sleep is super important! If you're not getting enough sleep, your appetite signals get thrown off, your mood may be altered, and you will probably have low energy levels, making it difficult for you to eat in a way that benefits your health!

 

Let's start with our general health and well-being. The recommendations for sleep for adults is generally 7-9 hours per night. Getting enough good quality sleep is important for proper cognitive funtioning, a healthy immune system, and repairing muscles. So if you're hoping to improve your athletic performance or increase muscle mass, sleep is definitely an important part of the equation that you don't want to ignore!

 

Getting enough sleep is also one of the most important habits when it comes to our appetite. This is because when we sleep, one of our hormones Ghrelin, which is responsible for hunger, goes up. This causes us to feel more hungry and eat more on those days we don't get enough sleep. Another hormone called Leptin, which is a satiety hormone, goes down during periods of sleep deprivation, making it even more difficult not to overeat when you're sleep deprived.

 

One study, published in SLEEP showed that sleep deprived individuals, sleeping only 4 hours per night ate on average of 20% more calories per day and gained ten times the amount of weight as control subjects, who were sleeping 8 hours per night. Granted, this is a fairly extreme sleep restriction but you can imagine how this might translate to getting only 6 hours when you're used to 8. 

 

Another study looked at the effects of body composition during caloric restriction with or without sleep deprivation (5.5 hours of sleep versus 8.5 hours of sleep) and found that those who were sleep deprived lost 55% less fat and lost 60% more muscle mass! So even if you do manage to eat less with your sleep deprivation, you might end up losing more muscle and less fat than you were probably hoping for. 

So hopefully I've convinced you that getting enough sleep is important but I know that getting enough sleep can be easier said than done. We tend to lead very busy lives and giving up some of those hours in the day to sleep can be difficult to do. The thing about taking care of ourselves is that sometimes, we need to shift some priorities and give some things up like that extra hour of Netflix to improve our health and feel better.

 

I do realize that lots of people have difficulty sleeping so some of you are likely reading this thinking "that's great and all but if I go to bed early I won't sleep anyways." So here is a list of a few things that can help you to get a better sleep.

 

1) Go to bed at a consistent time every day: This is important for your body's internal clock to establish a regular bedtime and allow you to become tired at the same time of night. I know it can be tempting to stay up really late on weekends and sleep in but try to keep this change to a minimum to get that internal clock set!

 

2) Engage in regular physical activity: This has been linked with improved sleep quality. Watch to see what time of day works best for you; it was once thought that no one should exercise close to bed but some individuals do well with this. I'm not saying you need to go kill yourself at the gym but even going for a walk could help improve your sleep quality.

 

 

3) Turn off screens  before bed: I know in our current age this one is really easier said than done. Between working on your computer, watching television, and scrolling through social media on your phone, it seems to be that most of us can't do without our screens for very long. So why should you stop before bed? That artificial light suppresses a hormone called Melatonin, which helps us to fall asleep. If this absolutely isn't an option for you, try settings and apps on your phone and computer that reduce blue light emitted by your computer like f.lux before bedtime!

 

 

4) Try to relax before bed: Most of us can't go straight from thinking about a stressful day at work to going to sleep; most of us need some time to unwind first. Since screens can keep us awake, try something to unwind such as reading a book, writing in a journal, or taking a bath. Writing down the things that are bothering you in a journal might be helpful if your mind tends to wander and worry before bed to get the ideas down so you can deal with it the next day.

 

 

For more information on sleep hygiene and improving sleep visit The National Sleep Foundation. It's got more great tips and articles to improve your sleep. If you try these options and still have difficulty sleeping, it may be time to speak to your doctor about your sleep issues.

 

Note: that some people experience a condition called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) where their throat closes off their airway at night, causing a disruption in breathing and therefore sleep quality. If your partner reports that you snore and suddenly stop, you should speak to your doctor about this immediately. For more information on OSA, click here.

 

So maybe instead of staying up past your bedtime watching Netflix or scrolling through Facebook (no judgement, we've all done it including me), it might be worth it to turn off the screen, relax, and hit the sack. Your body will thank you!

 

 

 

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