Improving the ZZZs in your life
7 July 2021
Do you have trouble getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night? Do you frequently wake and find it hard to go back to sleep? Do you often feel drowsy during the day? If – like many of us – the answer is yes, then you’re probably not getting enough quality sleep. Here's why sleep is essential for our overall health – and the science behind it!
Why quality sleep is so important
We all know that work, family life and social commitments (not to mention binge-watching a good Netflix series!) can get in the way of an early night, but it’s vitally important to prioritise time for sleep. Good things happen when we get quality sleep – blood supply to your muscles increases, which supports tissue growth and repair, and your immune system and cognitive function are boosted. Sleep’s also crucial for brain health and regulating our hormones.
On the flip side, not getting enough sleep on a regular basis can not only lead to irritability, low mood and decreased brain function, but increase inflammation and reduce pain tolerance. Some studies show it may even increase the risk of cardiovascular disease1 (yikes!). A lack of sleep is also associated with various problems linked to weight and obesity – including hormone irregularities, increased stress and insulin resistance, just to name a few.
In a nutshell, a lack of quality sleep is bad for both your physical and mental health.
The connection between sleep and weight loss – who knew?
Not getting enough sleep impacts the release of hormones that help us manage our appetite. Ghrelin (the hunger hormone) lets your brain know when it’s time to eat, and leptin (the satiety hormone) tells the brain that your energy stores are adequate. But if you haven’t had enough sleep, the body has higher levels of ghrelin and lower levels of leptin, meaning that your brain looks for food.
Too little sleep can also cause a spike in the stress hormone cortisol, which tells your body to conserve energy and slow metabolism. When you’re tired, your brain looks for energy-dense foods which are often high in fat, salt and sugar (ever reached for a fast food fix for an energy boost?).
So a lack of sleep can lead to more food being eaten, choosing the wrong kind of food and using less energy through physical activity.
We’re all different, so it’s important to find a bedtime routine that works for you. If counting sheep isn’t your thing, here are a few other tricks to try:
- Follow a routine – Having regular wake and sleep times will help to regulate the release of hormones that signal your ‘wake’ and ‘sleep’ mode (a sleep diary can help track your habits). Avoid napping during the day and if you really need to, try to keep it short (30 minutes or less).
- Eat early – A full stomach can stop you from falling asleep, so try to finish eating two hours before going to bed. Also avoid caffeine and alcohol in the four hours before bedtime and limit strenuous exercise in the evening.
- Turn off the brain – While unfortunately there’s no ‘off switch’ (wouldn’t that be handy!), meditation and relaxation techniques can really help you unwind. Progressive muscle relaxation or 4-7-8 breathing are just some of the popular ones that can send you off to the Land of Nod. So you’re not overthinking at bedtime, set some time aside earlier in the day to work through any issues or plan for the day ahead.
- Shut off the screen – Turn off any devices at least 1-2 hours before sleep and, if possible, keep them out of the bedroom (as the light they give off causes your brain to stay awake). Avoid violent, scary or overly stimulating TV, movies or games close to bedtime too.
- Have a bath or shower – Taking a warm bath or shower before bed can be a relaxing ritual, and the drop in body temperature after bathing can signal to your body that it’s time to prepare for sleep.
- Get comfortable – Sleep in a dark, quiet and cool room. Choose a mattress and pillow that’s right for your needs and preferred sleep position.
- Try not to stress when you can’t sleep – While staying calm is easier said than done, being anxious about not sleeping can create its own vicious cycle. If you can’t get to sleep within 30 minutes, some experts suggest getting up, going to another darkened room and sitting quietly until you feel tired again. But if you get your relaxation techniques down pat (practice them regularly to calm yourself down so you can call on them when you really need them), you’ll be resting your body and mind even if you’re not actually asleep.
If you think that anxiety or depression might be contributing to your sleep issues, or you’d like help with your diet and weight loss goals, see how we can support you.