Feeling tired and irritable aren’t the only consequences of poor sleep. Getting too little sleep can also sabotage your efforts to shed excess weight. Even a single night of poor sleep can wreak havoc on weight control by slowing metabolism and increasing hunger.
Research shows that compared with normal sleep (8 hours), the body’s resting metabolic rate – the speed at which it burns calories to keep your body functioning at rest – is significantly reduced after a just one night of sleep deprivation. Study participants also report greater hunger and have higher blood levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite and eating.
Sleep loss also leads to higher levels of a stress hormone called cortisol that, when elevated for a prolonged period of time, leads to impaired blood sugar control, high blood pressure, lowered immunity and abdominal obesity.
It’s estimated that one in seven Canadians has difficulty sleeping. Causes of poor sleep (insomnia) include stress, anxiety, depression, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea. (Sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway gets completely or partially blocked during sleep reducing the amount of oxygen that gets to the lungs, causing you to wake up to breath properly. These breathing pauses, or apneas, can last up to 30 seconds and can happen many times throughout the night.)
Your diet can also prevent you from getting a good night’s rest. Eating the right foods in the evening – and knowing what ones to avoid – can help you get the 7 to 8 hours of sleep you need each night. (Children and teenagers need 9 to 10 hours.)
Cut caffeine. While one or two cups of coffee can boost mental alertness, drinking more can overstimulate your central nervous system and cause insomnia. Yet studies have also found that drinking as few as two small cups of coffee can affect the quality of sleep. Caffeine blocks the action of adenosine, a sleep-inducing brain chemical.
If you have insomnia, cut caffeine eight hours before bedtime. Consume no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day. If you think you are sensitive to caffeine, avoid caffeinated beverages. One 8-ounce cup of regular coffee has 80 to 175 milligrams of caffeine; the same amount of tea has 45 milligrams. Other sources of caffeine include cola, energy drinks, dark chocolate and certain over-the-counter pain relievers (e.g. Midol, Excedrin, Anacin).
Avoid alcohol. There’s no question that alcohol can disrupt sleep, causing you to wake up in the middle of the night. It also dehydrates you, which can worsen fatigue the next day.
If you have sleep apnea, drinking alcohol can make your throat muscles relax more than normal, increasing the chance that airways get blocked.
If you suffer from insomnia, avoid alcohol for a few weeks to see if your sleep improves. If you do drink, limit your intake to 1 alcoholic drink per day (e.g. 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of sprits, 12 ounces of beer). Drink alcohol with a meal rather than on an empty stomach.
Avoid late night, heavy meals. Eat your evening meal at least three hours before bedtime to prevent digestive upset that can keep you awake.
Keep your evening meal light. The more fat you eat at your evening meal, the more likely you are to experience sleep disruptions. If you have heartburn, avoid spicy meals, which can trigger symptoms and prevent a good night’s sleep.
Curb fluids. Stop drinking fluids 2 hours before bed to reduce the likelihood of getting up in the night to go to the bathroom.
Eat a bedtime snack. A small carbohydrate-rich snack, like a glass of skim milk, a small bowl of cereal, a slice of toast, or a piece of fruit provides the brain with tryptophan, an amino acid used to manufacture serotonin. Among its many effects, serotonin helps facilitate sleep.
Lose excess weight. Fat deposits around the upper airway can obstruct breathing during sleep. Losing 10 percent of your body weight –22 pounds for a 220-pound man – cangreatly reduce the number of sleep apnea episodes each night.
Get moving. Regular exercise helps you fall asleep faster, promotes weight loss and relieves stress. If you workout in the evening, do so at least three hours before bedtime. Working out right before bed can make falling asleep more difficult.
Consider supplements. Valerian is one of the most popular and widely studied herbal remedies for insomnia. It’s thought to promote sleep by interacting with certain brain receptors. The recommended dose of valerian is 400-900 milligrams per day taken 2 hours before bedtime for up to 28 days. Several nights to a few weeks may be needed for it to work.
Short-term use of melatonin may also be effective for improving sleep, especially in older adults. The recommended dose is 0.3 to 5 milligrams at bedtime.
Speak to your pharmacist or health care provider to see if either supplement is right for you.