Have you ever noticed that when you lose sleep, especially for a few days in a row that not only does your face look haggard and your mental acuity is down, but no matter how much you exercise or fewer calories you take in, your weight goes up or doesn’t budge a pound?
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Lack of sleep has many negative consequences other than just causing you to feel more tired. It can wreak havoc on your immune system, hormones, muscle and bone mass, brain function, your heart and even weight. According to a 2004 study, people who slept less than six hours a day were almost 30 percent more likely to become obese than those who slept seven to nine hours.
When you sleep, your brain, your nervous system and the rest of your body, including your muscles, get to rest. While you sleep, your stress system is turned down, your cortisol levels drop, your immune system gets stronger, and your body releases hormones like growth hormone and testosterone.
Growth hormone is a protein hormone that has a major role in growth and in protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Less sleep is associated with lower levels of growth hormone (GH), which may translate into a slower metabolism.
In addition to a slower metabolism, sleep deprivation may stimulate more food cravings and an increased appetite. This is likely due to increased levels of grehlin–the hormone that sends messages to your brain that you should eat more and that you are hungry—and lower levels of leptin–the hormone that signals your brain that you are full and to lower your appetite.
In my clinical experience, I have found that when I help patients improve their sleep quality and quantity, they note an improved metabolism and often weight loss.
What does this mean? It means that they try to get more than 7.5 hours of sleep, even if they need to accumulate it by taking naps. We also look for an underlying issue like sleep apnea or a blockage of their nasal passages if they are still awakening feeling tired, despite getting the right amount of hours of sleep.
The good news is that there are a variety of methods to improve your sleep including:
- Meditation prior to sleep or other relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation: Tense each muscle group for five seconds and then allow those muscle to relax for 30 seconds starting from the soles of your feet to the top of your head.
- Stimulus control: Go to bed only when you are sleepy, awakening at the same time every morning, and avoid napping. Use your bed only for sleep or sex. Keep the bedroom atmosphere quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature, and avoiding fluids after 8 p.m.
- Avoid large or heavy meals prior to bedtime. Eat a light meal or healthy snacks consisting of vegetables and small amounts of protein.
- Avoid foods and drinks containing caffeine, sugar, or alcohol.
- Add supplements like magnesium to naturally promote relaxation.
- Exercise regularly during the earlier hours of the day as this will also help regulate cortisol and other hormone levels.
You may also need to let your pet sleep in another room or on the floor, and your partner who snores may need to move to a different room. If you continue to feel tired when you awaken in the morning despite getting more than 7 or 8 hours of sleep, consider seeing your doctor for a sleep study to make sure you do not have some underlying condition like sleep apnea that can be taken care of.