When we think of sleep, we often think of its effects on the brain and emotions, helping us look younger and feel more energetic. However, did you know that there is research to prove that even moderate sleep deprivation in healthy subjects can alter the person’s metabolic state and thus their weight? Scientists are starting to believe that there may be a connection between a lack of sleep and the obesity crisis that the United States and other parts of the world are currently facing.
Adults require 7-9 hours of sleep, with the sleep needs increasing the younger a person is. In the United States in the 1960s, the rate of obesity stood at 13% for adults and 5 to 7% for children. The average hours of sleep per night was 8.5 hours for adults. However in 2021, the average hours of sleep has fallen to 6.8 hours. 45% of adults between 18-49 report getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night. The obesity rate now stands at 42.4%.
Sleep and metabolism are controlled by the same area of the brain. Sleep releases hormones that control appetite. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that dieters who were well rested lost more fat. The changes in metabolism as a result of a lack of sleep are significant because it literally mimics the glucose metabolism of diabetics. Going for extended periods of time without sufficient sleep can raise cortisol levels and decrease a person’s insulin sensitivity. Another study showed that after four hours of sleep for six nights, healthy young men experienced a thirty percent decrease in their body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates.
This challenge is compounded by the fact that this crisis is affecting our future generations. Obesity affects 14.4 million children and adolescents between the ages of 2-19. 85% of people with type two diabetes are overweight or obese. In addition to this, the rates of insomnia and individuals reporting a lack of satisfaction with the quality of their sleep is on the rise. We live in a culture engrossed with technology and one that praises working long hours and being on the go at all times. All of these things affect our sleep, our health, and potentially, weight control. Here are some ways you can ensure you are getting good quality rest which can then help you reach your healthy weight goals.
8 Tips for getting rest:
- A Day of Rest: Take a day each week to rest from your usual hectic schedule. Spend time with family, read a book, go to church, or choose an activity that enables you to celebrate the gifts that life has to offer.
- Schedule it: Guard carefully your scheduled 7-9 hours of rest each night. If your bedtime is scheduled to be at 10 pm, it should be respected just as much as if you had a meeting scheduled at 10 am for work. Make sure you are there in bed and on time for your appointment with yourself.
- Write it down: Challenge yourself to keep a log of the time you go to sleep, what time you wake up, and any improvement you may feel. Try this for a month. Many smart watches also have this feature which you can track on an app on your phone if you so desire.
- Make your room a sleep oasis: Darkness is the body’s main cue to sleep, so extra thick curtains or wearing eyeshades is necessary for good quality sleep especially if your room doesn’t get very dark at bedtime. The room should also be well ventilated, and comfortable. The temperature of the room should not be too hot or too cold. Keep the room quiet i.e install soundproofing, wear earplugs, or use a fan to create white noise. Utilize an isolated room from other activity areas in the house if necessary to avoid interruptions. Turn off the phone and doorbell.
- Physical activity: This may sound counterproductive but physical activity is also a great way to improve night time sleep and this is true whether you choose to exercise in the morning or evening. For those who prefer to exercise in the evening, it may be beneficial not to exercise too close to bedtime as it may leave you too energized. Listen to your body and see what works for you.
- Have a bedtime ritual: Turn off all stimulation at least one hour before bedtime. This means putting away cell phones, turning off the television and all devices before bedtime. This helps your mind wind down and cue your body for sleep. Use the hour before bedtime as a time for self care. For example you could have a ritual of lighting candles, taking a shower, meditating etc before bedtime.
- Say “NO” to stress: Find a way to release stress and tension as part of your nighttime routine. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and stretching or thought dumping into a journal are great ways to quiet the mind and body in preparation for sleep.
- Eat earlier: Avoid having large meals or fluids before bedtime. This affects your body’s ability to truly rest and rejuvenate by diverting your body’s energy to digestion. Fluid will interrupt your sleep by causing you to wake up during the night. Complete eating 3 hours or more before bedtime.
If you need help establishing healthy habits, The Cooper Wellness & Disease Prevention Center is here to support you. Feel free to contact us at 956-627-3106 or go to www.cooperwellnesscenter.com to find out more about our wellness coaching programs.
To your health,
Dona Cooper-Dockery, MD