It’s not an exaggeration to say there is no area of health, fitness & well-being so fundamentally important, yet so consistently overlooked as proper rest and sufficient sleep.
You know that feeling where your eyelids sting, and they feel so heavy you’re afraid to close your eyes for a second, in case you can’t open them again?
Alternatively perhaps, more subtly. Out of the blue, you feel your motivation fizzle? Or big health plans you made yesterday, today suddenly seem unrealistic?
What if on top of all of this there was a chemical imbalance taking place in your body that made you more hungry than normal?
It would be pretty tough to stick to a health plan.
This is the situation we put ourselves in when our sleep and recovery habits are less than appropriate.
The effects of sleep on weight management
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation affects you in two ways, increasing your hunger and decreasing your motivation.
The quality and quantity of sleep we get has a significant impact on the hormone balance within our body. Two of these hormones have a direct effect on our hunger levels.
The first of these is leptin which is made by fat cells within the body. Leptin is responsible for letting us know when we are full and suppressing hunger.
The second of these is ghrelin which is secreted when the stomach is empty and signals to us it is time to eat.
When we deprive ourselves of even a few hours sleep ghrelin – the hunger hormone – increases, and leptin – the fullness hormone – decreases. This actively makes us more hungry, according to this study by the Department of Endocrinology, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam.
Sleep deprivation has a well-documented effect on all areas of cognitive performance including reasoning, emotional resilience and motivation. These effects are subtle but powerful and have an impact even before you are necessarily aware that tiredness is having an impact.
Putting it all together
The cumulative effect of all of these factors is that fatigue makes you hungrier while removing your ability to deal with that hunger constructively. This is a recipe for disaster.
How much sleep do I need?
The recommendation is that adults need between six and nine hours of sleep per night. While that recommendation is helpful to a degree, there is a huge gap between the upper and lower limits.
For instance, if someone who naturally needs nine hours of sleep per night is only getting six, they will have missed out on a full 21 hours of sleep by the end of the week. Despite being within the recommended range. That individual would almost certainly be experiencing some adverse side effects resulting from a lack of sleep.
Sleep requirements also vary significantly with other factors such as age, weight, activity and stress levels. Because of this, the amount of sleep you need can also change dramatically over time, especially if you are losing weight and getting in shape.
What all this tells us is when considering how much sleep you need there is no single answer for everyone. To get a feel for the amount of hours per night that suits you best you can, however, explore your sleep patterns.
Identifying your sleep patterns involves getting yourself into a well-rested state, and then tracking how many hours of sleep you need to maintain that state.
There are two common methods people use to track their sleep.
The first is wearable fitness trackers which have functions that automatically record your sleep patterns.
The second is good old pen and paper. If you are using this method just record your nightly sleep hours for a week, and then divide by the number of nights recorded to get an average. If you prefer this method why not let us email you a Free Sleep Log.
How do you improve your sleep
If you want to improve your sleep, improve your routine. Here are some things you can try:
- Keep caffeine to a minimum – Cutting it out completely would be the best option. However, as a self-confessed coffee addict, I appreciate how difficult that can be. If you can keep it to no caffeine after 1.00 pm that should be adequate.
- Late night screen usage – Studies have shown that using screens such as those on TVs and Smart phones late at night can have a negative impact on the amount of time it takes us to go to sleep. Replacing the screen with a book can help as the book isn’t back-lit in the same way.
- Adopt a calm bedtime routine – Try to make sure that your room is clear and tidy and the bed is made a couple of hours before you attempt to go to sleep.
- Avoid alcohol – You may think it helps you sleep, it doesn’t. While you may find it slightly easier to nod off after alcohol, the quality of sleep you are getting is nowhere near what it could be. You could always consider quitting drinking altogether.
- Avoid large meals – Eating a significant amount before bedtime particularly of rich food has been shown to lead to an unsettled night and reduce the quality of sleep you ultimately get.
Herbal sleep remedies
There are some over the counter herbal sleep remedies that anecdotally, have had some good reviews. For instance, I’ve used Nytol from time to time, and I’ve also heard good things about Dormeasan and Valerian.
It’s worth noting, herbal sleep remedies should not be thought of as a permanent solution and should only be taken sporadically. In fact, it has been shown that tolerance develops incredibly quickly if taken on a nightly basis, potentially making any sleep issues you have worse.
— James (@OurFitnessFlaws) September 3, 2017
A successful day starts the night before
Our self-improvement efforts are built on the quality of the rest we get. Get that wrong, and everything else we try to do for ourselves in our lives will be twice as difficult to achieve, and none more so than weight loss.
As a result, when starting out on any road to self-improvement the first thing to get right is our sleeping patterns and rest routines.
So before questioning our diet, before questioning our exercise and certainly before questioning our ability we should all take a look at our quality of sleep.
We should work on getting this foundation in place. So that when we choose to tackle our health issues or engage in any other lifestyle change we can be sure we are giving ourselves the best chance of success.
If you are interested in exploring this, and other basic health habits, you can sign up for our Healthy Habits For Beginners e-course where we cover additional fundamental habits in more depth.
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