If you’re looking to lose weight, make sure you get enough sleep. Sleeping badly not only raises stress levels, but it makes us feel hungry and promotes weight gain. The latest research confirms what many of us have known all along – a poor night’s sleep seems to result in a case of the uncontrollable munchies the next day.
A recent study at the University of Colombia showed that people eat on average about 300 calories more the day after a poor night’s sleep. Women seem worse affected than men - consuming about 329 extra calories compared to 263 for men. If we consider that women need fewer calories daily (1,800 – 2,200) than men (2,500 – 3,500 for a man) it’s easy to see why 329 extra calories can quickly add up (after all, 329 calories is more than half the average meal).
Good calories, bad calories
But let’s not get too hung up on calorie counting. It’s good to have a general idea of what we need and what we consume, but becoming obsessed leads to feelings of deprivation which is ultimately counterproductive. Better to concentrate on consuming ‘good’ calories, rather than ‘bad’ ones. ‘Good’ calories are those that are nutrient dense and high in fibre. Those are the ones that keep us feeling fuller longer and less susceptible to food cravings. ‘Good’ calories come from natural whole foods – whole grains (oats, barley, quinoa), fruits (just avoid the sweet ones – grapes, bananas, mango, dried fruit), all vegetables, legumes (beans, lentils, chick peas) and nuts (almonds, walnuts). ‘Bad’ calories, on the other hand, are all those from refined processed foods – white bread, pizza, biscuits, cakes, processed cereal, chips, crisps and sweets. Of course, these are precisely the kinds of foods that we tend to crave when sleep deprived – with ice cream heading the list as the number one food temptation in the afore-mentioned study. Unfortunately, these are precisely the kinds of foods that perpetuate the negative cycle by causing blood sugar imbalances that result in cravings for yet more fattening foods.
Simply put – its hormonal. Lack of sleep causes an increase in our levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, while simultaneously decreasing our levels of in leptin, a hormone that suppresses it (and helps boost our metabolism). Trying not to succumb to the urge to overeat (or snack compulsively) in these conditions is an uphill battle because we’re fighting against very strong chemical messengers.
So just sleep more!
Easy to say - but another thing to put into practice. Times have changed. It’s not that we necessarily work harder or longer than our parents or grandparents, it’s just that there is less opportunity to completely switch off. We live in an era of 24 hour a day Internet access, the TV is always blaring and our mobile phones are our constant companions. All this means that many of us live in a state of constant stimulation that negatively impacts the quality of our sleep.
What to do?
Apart from weight gain, poor sleep quality also has an adverse effect on our immune system. But living in the 21st century doesn’t mean we must resign ourselves to the unhealthy effects of lack of sleep. Here are a few effective ways to help ensure a night of uninterrupted, restorative sleep.
- Ban the TV from the bedroom and don’t eat or talk about emotional issues in bed. The bedroom is for sleep and sex only!
- If you must watch TV after dinner, choose carefully. Let’s face it - much of what’s on is violent and disturbing (including the news). A good book is much more conducive to a good night’s sleep.
- Fight off the temptation to check up on your Facebook friends or spend time surfing the Internet after dinner. Computer screens give off a light that interferes with our body’s natural ability to release melatonin – the sleep-inducing hormone.
- Avoid caffeine – a no brainer. Caffeine is a stimulant and should be avoided for at least 6 hours before bed or it may stop you falling asleep. Obviously this goes for coffee and tea (green tea too), but pay attention to other sources – like sodas and some medications.
- Go easy on the alcohol. Yes, it may make you fall asleep quicker, but it also causes dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar as our system tries to clear it. Waking up in a sweat, nightmares and a generally rotten night’s sleep often result.
- Establishing a routine and sticking to it helps support healthy circadian rhythms. Eat dinner at a reasonable time and try to go to bed no later than 10:30.
- Take steps to combat psychological stress! Yoga, meditation, visualization and any form of exercise (although not right before sleep) are all excellent stress busters.
- Certain nutritional deficiencies can also interfere with proper sleep. Your Nutritionist may recommend supplements such as magnesium and tryptophan - which often help.
Sweet dreams and may tomorrow bring more healthy habits!