Sleep. Bloody important stuff. We know that. But so many people still take it for granted and don’t get enough of it. It influences so many things – both biological and non- but I speak to people all the time who, somehow, are operating from just a few hours per night.
Whether it’s having to rely on caffeine (which is never good), training with less intensity (if at all), or making weird food choices, my body lets me know about it if I don’t get at least 7 hours. Thankfully I’m an old man so I’m always in bed by 10pm before my 6am alarm.
Of course getting that amount of sleep just isn’t possible for everybody, I know that. Life can get in the way of that in all kinds of ways from becoming new parents, general stress, to shift work.
I was contacted by Tuck.com who offered to do a guest post all about sleep. Tuck aims to improve sleep hygiene, health, and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free resources. They have the largest collection of aggregated data on sleep surfaces on the web (over 95,000 customer experiences from nearly 1,000 individual sources).
So who better to tell us about how important sleep really is?!
Sleep, Diet, and Weight Gain
Good sleep is part of a healthy lifestyle. Sleep can help control weight, maintain your energy, keep your hormones and metabolism properly regulated, and help you maintain self control.
When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re at greater risk of obesity, have less self control, and are at a greater risk of metabolic syndrome.
Weight Gain, Hormones, and Sleep Deprivation
When you’re sleep deprived, hormones related to weight gain are affected. Production of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, increases, and leptin, the satiety hormone, decreases. That means your brain thinks you’re hungry more often and you become less able to realise when you’re full.
Your ability to properly metabolise carbohydrates is affected when you’re sleep deprived, and you experience higher blood sugar levels. This leads to increased production of insulin and cortisol. When your body becomes more resistant to insulin, it is less able to process fat and sugars, storing more fat and resulting in weight gain.
Sleep Deprivation and Self Control
Sleep deprivation has a negative effect on self control, which can make it more difficult to avoid overeating or indulging in the foods you know you should avoid. People who are sleep deprived are more likely to eat high carb snacks and snack late at night.
When you sleep less than five hours per night, you are more likely to consume more calories, more carbohydrates, and less water, all of which make it difficult to maintain a healthy diet.
Sleep deprivation also makes you more fatigued. That means while you’ve likely overeaten during sleep deprivation, you’re less likely to have the energy to exercise and work off the extra calories and poor food choices.
Sleep Deprivation and Metabolic Syndrome
People who get six to seven hours of sleep per night are twice as likely to develop metabolic syndrome than people who sleep for seven to eight hours each night.
Metabolic syndrome is common among middle aged Americans and can include hypertension, insulin resistance, and obesity. Untreated sleep disorders can be a risk factor for the onset of metabolic syndrome, including loud snoring and difficulty falling asleep.
Weight Loss and Sleep
While sleep can help you maintain a healthy weight, losing weight can help you sleep better. Losing weight can help you reduce sleep problems including snoring, sleep apnea, daytime sleepiness and poor sleep quality. In fact, weight loss is often prescribed as a treatment for sleep apnea. With less weight, there is less pressure on the airways and it is easier to breathe at night.
How Dieting Can Affect Sleep
Weight loss is often good for sleep, but your diet may interfere with your ability to sleep. On a paleo or low carb diet, you may suffer from insomnia for a few nights while your body adjusts.
Carbohydrate rich foods can help you sleep by supporting the production of tryptophan and serotonin, which release melatonin and reduce anxiety. A low carb diet can help you lose weight and stabilize energy and blood sugar levels, but they can be a shock to your system and make it difficult to sleep.
If diet-related insomnia persists, you may need to reintroduce some carbs into your diet. Or, if you can have some carbohydrates in your diet, move them to dinner or a night-time snack when the carbs can help you get to sleep.
Hunger and increased drinking can interfere with sleeping as well. Drinking more water or maintaining a liquid diet can increase trips to the bathroom at night. It’s a good idea to slow down and reduce how much you’re drinking right before bed. You should plan to have a small, healthy snack before bedtime so you’re not going to bed hungry or waking up at night from hunger.
How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?
The average adult needs seven to seven and a half hours of uninterrupted sleep each night to maintain a healthy weight. While your actual sleep needs will vary depending on your age, physical activity, and even genetics, it’s a good idea to shoot for this figure. And be sure to keep in mind that it’s uninterrupted hours of sleep, so if your sleep is often disturbed for any reason, you’ll need to give yourself more time to rest at night.
Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.