7 Ways to Improve Your Sleep
Editor’s Note: The following article is a guest post from Amanda Carlson, R.D., a nutritionist at Athletes’ Performance.
If someone were to ask me the weight loss tip that is most commonly overlooked, I'd start with the behavior that’s easiest to change: Sleep.
A good night's sleep can lift your mood, increase energy, and improve productivity. More importantly for your weight, sleeping longer and sounder plays a vital role in helping you drop pounds.
Before you disregard this advice, you'd be wise to understand all the ways that sleep can help you shed your gut--and all decisions you're making that are hurting the quality of your sleep.
A 2011 study published in the journal Obesity found that going to bed early and getting a solid night's sleep can help you eat less. In the study, researchers at Northwestern University found that people who went to bed late frequented the drive-thru, ate fewer fruits and veggies, and had higher BMIs compared to people with early bedtimes.
Here's why: When you're tired, grehlin (the hormone that regulates hunger) rises while leptin (the hormone that regulates satiety) decreases. So you're left feeling hungry and less satisfied--even when you eat. Sleep deprivation also reduces your basal metabolic rate. This means that your body actually needs fewer calories to function. The problem with this is that you're already hungry, and if your body needs fewer calories, it will store the rest as fat.
If you struggled with the sleep, these tips below can help you improve your nightly shuteye and put you on the fast track to a healthier weight. Remember: Sleep debt is cumulative. The sooner you improve your sleep habits, the better your body will feel--and the better positioned you'll be to lose weight.
A little morning pick-me-up isn't a problem, but drinking caffeine-laden drinks at night can interfere with your sleep. Caffeine leaves you wide-awake when you should be sleeping because it causes a rise in catecholamines. These hormones increase energy, heart rate, and blood vessel constriction, and prepare your body to respond to any challenge. Everyone metabolizes caffeine differently, so you need to stay in tune with your body's response to it. Enjoy a morning cup of Joe, but cut yourself off from caffeine about six hours (for some as little as four hours and for others as much as eight hours) before you hit the sack. Need another reason to cut back on coffee? Here are six more side effects of too much caffeine.
Alcohol disrupts the sequence and duration of sleep states by altering total sleep time and the time required to fall under. (It also disrupts the muscle-building process.) Alcohol negatively impacts REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep cycles, which account for about 25 percent of your total sleep time. At this time, brain activity increases and you commit things to long-term memory, there is an increase in heart rate, and you experience erratic breathing. Missing out on this critical window will leave you tired and experiencing brain fog in the morning.
Electronics keep your brain busy. Try removing all electronic devices (phone, computer, TV, iPad, etc.) from your bedroom and see how your sleep improves. (A little less e-time may also ease neck, elbow, and shoulder pain.) Making your bed a place solely for sleep will help your brain and body relax when you're ready to go to sleep.
START A BEDTIME ROUTINE
Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day will help your body stick to a routine. Aim to go to bed at 10 p.m. each night. In addition to helping you maintain healthy eating habits, research has shown that sleeping from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. is optimal for physical and psychological recovery. Thirty minutes before bedtime, practice a few calming activities--drink a cup of herbal tea, stretch or meditate, read a short story (no reading the news before bedtime). All told, this will help you fall asleep faster.
FIT IN A WORKOUT
Not only is exercise beneficial to your health, it can also help you fall asleep faster. Set aside at least 30 minutes each morning or afternoon to hit the gym. Give yourself at least six hours, if possible, between working out and going to bed. This allows your body to wind down from the stimulation provided by exercise.
Lower your thermostat before you go to bed. Cooler temperatures have been shown to induce sleep and help you sleep longer and more soundly. The typical recommendation is to keep the room between 65 and 72 degrees. However, you need to determine what temperature is most comfortable to you.
TALK WITH YOUR DOCTOR
If your sleep problems continue even after you've made the changes above, consult your doctor. Lack of sleep and inconsistent sleep patterns can seriously affect your mental and physical health, leaving you more susceptible to illness.
Amanda Carlson-Phillips is the vice president of nutrition and research for Athletes' Performance and Core Performance and a regular contributor to CorePerformance.com.
- Baron et al., (July2011) Role of Sleep Timing in Caloric Intake and BMI. VOLUME 19; NUMBER 7 | july 2011 www.obesityjournal.org