Feeling a little stressed, short-tempered or on edge? Putting on a few pounds around the middle? Having trouble maintaining your edge at work?
Here’s something that’s going to shock you a bit. For some of you, it’s even going to be a bit of good news. Your stress-inducing job, French-cruller breakfast-smoothies and increasingly sedentary lifestyle might not be entirely to blame.
In fact, a good chunk of your weight gain, moodiness and brain-fog may be due to your sleep habits.
For more than 60-million Americans, there is a relentlessly powerful evil force at work in their lives. Something that, altered just a bit, could help you drop weight, improve your mood, be healthier, live-longer and excel at work…and there’s nothing to buy. Only something to do.
Lack of sleep and your weight
Over the last few decades, people all over the developed world have been getting fatter, pointing fingers at a variety of causes, from longer work-weeks to stress to fast-food and inactivity. But, there may be another far more pervasive contributor. Sleep.
During the same time that rates of overweight and obesity have more than doubled in the U.S., the average amount of daily sleep for Americans has decreased significantly. And, while lack of sleep has often been viewed as the by-product of a high-stress inactive, unhappy, sedentary lifestyle, that may be a bit of the tail wagging the dog.
Lack of sleep conspires to make you heavier in a number of distinct ways:
- Lack of sleep makes you ravenous: According to a December 2004 University of Chicago study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, partial sleep deprivation alters your level of hunger hormones, making you not only hungrier all day, but seriously jonesing for calorie-dense, high-carbohydrate fare.
- Lack of sleep makes it harder to exercise: When you wake up tired, it is increasingly more difficult to find the motivation and energy to exercise, which, as you progress through life, is mission critical in your ability to not only lose weight, but maintain weight loss. This sets up a vicious cycle of lack of energy that leads to lack of exercise that fosters a poorer sleep that leads to lack of energy. At some point, you need to just dive in and make an exercise intervention.
- Lack of sleep dramatically increases your risk of obesity: Research by the University of Warwick linked sleep deprivation with an near doubling in the chance of becoming obese. More recently, a 2007 University of Michigan study revealed a strong correlation between childhood obesity and lack of adequate sleep (9-hours). Every additional hour of sleep in 6th-grade decreased a child’s likely of being overweight by 20%, while every additional hour of sleep in 3rd-grade decreased the risk of being overweight in 6th-grade by a whopping 40%. A University of Texas at Houston study similarly showed the odds of obesity in adolescents increased 80-percent for each hour of lost sleep. And, things don’t get better any as we get older, more stressed, less active and sleep even less.
So, how much sleep does it take to go from buff to puff?
As we’ve seen, not a lot. And, the effects can be cumulative, so if you don’t sleep well for a week, then sleep late one Saturday to try to make up for it, you’re still going to be at a net loss. So, it seems pretty clear that sleep plays a role in weight. That would be enough to motivate many people to work on their sleep habits. But, wait, there’s more!
Lack of sleep melts your brain.
Adding insult to injury, it seems lack of sleep not only makes you fat, it may also may you dumb…or at least temporarily dopey! In fact, a growing body of research reveals a serious drop in cognitive function with even small amounts of sleeplessness.
- Lack of sleep make you less discerning: A 2007 study presented at the21st Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies revealed a serious drop in the ability of airport screeners to detect high-risk items. And, that problem worsened at the participated slept less.
- Lack of sleep decreases cognitive function & memory: Much of what we learn during the day is processed and integrated while we sleep. So, when we disrupt our sleep, we mess with not only our ability to form memories, but to understand and utilize new information. This leads to poorer performance both at work and in school. Dr. Avi Sadeh of Tel Aviv University recently studied the effects of a slightly shortened sleep period in 4th and 6th graders. After three days getting just 30-minutes less sleep, the average 6th grader had the cognitive function of a 4th-grader. A second study from the University of Minnesota revealed the Average A-student got 36-more minutes of sleep than the average D-student. Moved by this and other evidence, the high school in Edina, Minnesota pushed its start-time from 7:30am to 8:25am and saw a jump in SAT scores from the top 10% of students from 1288 to 1500. Yes, you read that right!
So, we’ve seen the impact of even modest loss of sleep on weight and brain function, but what about mood?
Lack of sleep brings out your inner-ass.
By, now, this should come as no surprise. When you don’t get enough sleep, it can make you downright nasty. Yes, sleep can effect your mood big time! I could roll out the studies here, too. But, honestly, this is the effect that most people can easily validate through their own experience. I know when I find myself getting angry or having a shorter fuse, less likely to laugh or just not upbeat, I can pretty much always tie it to a lack of adequate sleep.
Top 5 tips to help you sleep better.
The evidence is pretty powerful. Lack of sleep can, indeed, make you fat, nasty and dumb. The question is, what do you do about it? And, while the best option is absolutely to see a sleep-professional (yes, they have them), here are a few other options you might want to explore and put into action today:
- Exercise: Exercising 3-6 hours before going to sleep increases your body temperature and there is some evidence to suggest that the gradual decrease in temperature that follows help lull you into sleep. A Stanford University School of Medicine study of 55 to 75 year old sedentary individuals who struggled with insomnia revealed that adding 20-30 minutes of exercise every other day cut the time needed to fall asleep in half and increased sleep time by nearly one hour. Plus, it’ll help discharge a lot of daytime stress and anxiety and we all know how important it is to overall health.
- Alcohol & caffeine Simple. It takes about 2-hours to metabolize an ounce of alcohol, so try to limit intake to no more than one drink at least 2-hours before bedtime. Caffeine metabolizes far more slowly. a large cup of coffee could take up to 15 hours to fully metabolize, so the general rule is no caffeine after lunch.
- Go to sleep at a consistent time. Establish a consistent sleep time and make it a strong priority to keep to that time, even on weekends. Over time, this helps train your system to expect and accept sleep more readily.
- Develop a routine. Along the same lines, create a specific bedtime routine that you can repeat every night before retiring. This helps program your mind the ease into sleep more readily.
- Use the bedroom only for sleep and nookie. We tend to anchor certain psychological and emotional states with people and places. If you use your bedroom for work, entertainment and a wide variety of other activities, then you associate being in the bedroom with being awake and, potentially, with stress. But, if you only use your bedroom for sleep and “pre-sleep” enjoyment that almost always leads to sleep (at least for men), over time, you will begin to link a state of calm with simply being in the room. This will help you drift off more readily.
While each of these techniques can yield some serious improvement in sleep, the cumulative effect can be quite dramatic. For further reading on the topic, check out:
On a personal note, getting a good night’s sleep is something I’ve danced with, on and off, for a number of years. In fact, I’ll be writing a lot more about my personal experience and what I am doing about it i the very near future.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and insights in he comments below.
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