I think I’m becoming a nag about sleep habits. Some of this is because my own sleep has been so backward all my life and the other reason- the more important reason- is that sleep affects the rest of our health in a truly profound way.
Most people push sleep to the back burner because it’s usually viewed as ‘down time’ and ‘wasted time.’ “Time spent sleeping is time you could be using to do something productive!” HELLO!! Your time asleep is productive time! It’s time your body and BRAIN are using to repair itself! We learn that after exercise, we need ‘recovery time’ so your muscles and joints can rebuild and don’t burn out or get injured at our next exercise session- your body and brain are the same! Each day, we use our ENTIRE body for our regular everyday activities, which may or may not include that next exercise session. Our body processes what we eat and drink, moves us around our world, performs our daily activities and our brain processes every thing we perceive and controls every thing our body does. And you think YOU’RE tired at the end of the day?! If we don’t get enough sleep- meaning quality sleep- our body feels it, even if we don’t perceive it, and the more sleep deprived we are, the greater the effect on our body and brain.
In my job as a paralegal, one of the documents I see on a fairly regular basis is a Traffic Collision Report, and I am not surprised there is a box on there in the section under Sobriety-Drugs-Physical labeled ‘Sleepy/ fatigued.’ I commute 2 hours each way five days a week and when I get tired while I’m driving, it’s a very scary feeling! My solution is to pull over, walk around a bit and get some caffeine, but really, that’s just a stop-gap measure until I get home. What I need to do is get more sleep!
Unfortunately, we live in a society that does not prioritize sleep: it’s something we ‘have to do’ but it’s not our ‘best use of our time.’ The bottom line is that we all know we need to get more sleep and that sleep is good for us but most of us pooh-pooh the idea of doing anything about it because we don’t see the tangible results of getting more sleep. Yes, we feel more rested but blah blah. Yes, we are more alert but blah blah pooh pooh. Show me something I can measure!! So, how about weight loss?
It wasn’t until I started getting more sleep and learning more about aspects of healthy living other than food and exercise that I learned the effect sleep deprivation has on weight loss: elevated cortisol levels; cravings; and poor food choices. (I like to call them the 3 C’s of Sleep.)
Elevated Cortisol Levels: There’s a lot being thrown around the health/ fitness world right now about adrenal fatigue and whether it’s real or not. Frankly, I don’t know: both arguments seem pretty good to me, but what concerns me more is the fact that when you don’t get enough sleep, it puts stress on the body. Your body feels the lack of rest and repair, which keep the cortisol levels higher than normal, so your body is hanging on to whatever resources it can in case it’s going to need them. Your body doesn’t know what is causing this stress, just that the stress is there and that means it’s an emergency situation. This means your body spends more time in fat storage than in fat burning. Getting enough sleep regularly lets your body burn more fat. (FYI: chronic stress will do the same thing to your body, so it’s important to have good stress management skills!)
Cravings: I hear about cravings almost every day. People are afraid of cravings because it makes it so hard to stick to what you know you need to do. You know that the chips, the noodles, the candy, etc isn’t good for you; it’s not good for your weight loss or your blood sugar, but you’re craving it! As you walk through the break room, there’s that plate of cookies someone is sharing and before you can stop yourself, you’ve munched down two of them- dang it!! I’m going to make a guess and say you were probably a little low energy when those cookies were devoured. Remember the last time you had a really bad craving for something? Again, it was probably something sweet or crunchy, like chocolate, cookies, pasta or chips. It was most likely because you were tired and low energy. Your body sent out the signal for fast fuel- something full of sugar or simple carbs which can be quickly converted to glucose! You probably know people who are really perky and peppy and full of energy all the time (I really hate those people!! J/k!!) Those are usually the people who go to bed early or at a regular time every night. They get plenty of sleep and they are probably the people who usually pass on the cookies and candy passed around the office, because their body has plenty of energy. It doesn’t need the fast fuel and if they do have a cookie, it’s because they want the cookie, not the quick sugar rush. Getting enough sleep won’t derail all cravings, but it will derail the low energy gotta-make-it-to-the-end-of-the-day slump that hits a lot of people. When you are well rested, your body knows how to take care of itself, and when you aren’t giving it what it needs, it will make you want what it needs- like the energy from the quick sugar rush of the crummy office cookies!
Poor Food Choices: This is another complaint I hear almost every day: “I was doing great until I got home and all there was to eat was the leftover pizza, so I scarfed all there was!” Or something similar. I know this one way too well! This was the one that derailed me so many times when I was working the job from hell: There’s nothing quick for dinner and it’s late and I’m tired so I swing by Jack in the Box, say hi to Dennis at the drive thru and go home with a sourdough jack, fries, diet Dr. Pepper and possibly some jalapeno poppers to boot. Really. Not making that up. That was my dinner more nights than I can count (and sometimes there was cheesecake/ chocolate cake along with it). My biggest clue should have been that my dog wouldn’t eat the cheesecake or the burger, but hey, he’s not only smarter, fitter and more active than I am– he also gets more sleep than me!! This pitfall is kind of a cross between poor planning and lack of sleep, but they contribute to each other. When you are tired, you are not as alert (obviously) and you are more likely to go with the easy choice. This is why so many people have trouble with poor food choices early in the day but especially late in the day/ evening. It’s been a long day and they go home to nothing ready or available, so they give in to the poor choices, whether it’s the not so healthy leftovers from other family members or the fast food options I chose. One strategy is plan ahead: now when I go home, I usually have something fast I can throw in a bowl like salad or heat quickly like veggies (microwave 3 minutes!) and something I can cook on the stove while I’m eating the veggies. That way, even if it’s late, I’ve got a healthy choice so sayonara, Jack! The other strategy is to get more sleep- since this doesn’t only happen at the end of the day! People give in to ‘easy’ whenever they are tired because they don’t have the energy to resist or to think up better options. How many times have you found yourself staring at fast food menu because you’re on a road trip, you’ve been driving for three hours and you just want something to eat fast? Just pull over to the first food option you see and even it’s some place you don’t like, there you are ordering something (they can’t mess up a burger, can they? They can!) Next time you find yourself eating something less than optimal, ask yourself what your energy level was when you made that choice and I’m going to bet you were tired.
Lack of sleep is sabotaging your weight loss! It’s the plain simple truth: you want to lose more weight? Get more sleep! It seems counter-intuitive: if I want to lose weight, I need to be more active! I should exercise more instead of sleeping more! Exercise is good, but healthy activity followed by healthy sleep is a two-punch combo that’s guaranteed not only to make you feel better and have more energy, it’ll help you lose weight! Next time you step on the scale and find the number is still higher than you like, sleep on it!!