Monday, 17 June 2013

You Snooze - You Lose !

“The Dream Diet:  Losing Weight While You Sleep.”

“Burn Fat While You Sleep”

Sounds like lines from a late-night infomercial (yes I have on sleepless nights taken the last resort of watching the snake-oil sales-pitches on late night television)
Oh, be still my pounding heart …

If only it were true.

Well, you know what?  Maybe it is!

Whenever I think of weight loss, dieting and a healthier lifestyle I think of food and exercise but there are so many other factors that play into being healthy and fit.  More and more often I am coming across articles indicating how important sleep is to being healthy AND to losing weight.

I don’t want to sound like I am latching on to every excuse I can find but lately my lack of sleep is definitely a deterrent to losing weight.  I have had trouble getting a good night’s sleep … due mainly to the dreaded menopause.  I find that I can fall asleep no problem but then I am up at 4:30 and cannot get back to sleep.  So … of course I have my breakfast and try to make those morning hours as productive as I can.  The unfortunate part of that whole scenario is that I AM NOT a morning person. 

Being tired and miserable and being productive DO NOT go hand in hand.  The other thing I find is that my brain/body clock measures time in it’s own way … so when I have my “breakfast” at 4:30 in the morning, by the time I get to the office my body is telling me that’s it’s time for lunch.  I mean it’s been five hours since I ate so it sort of makes sense.  But then when I eat something it amounts to an extra meal every day.  That’s certainly not a good thing when I am trying to lose weight!  I’ve had to rethink my meal planning and break breakfast into two installments.

But enough about me … on to the “Dream Diet”.  Can proper sleep really help you lose weight?

Apparently, say all the experts, it certainly can!  When you are sleep deprived, your body craves more food and you will have to eat more of it to feel full.  It is common for people who are tired to reach for food as a way of keeping themselves energized and alert.  If your goal is to lose weight, one of the ways to overcome cravings, reduce calories and have more control over your diet is simply to get enough sleep.  We all know that sleep and sleep disruption can do strange and remarkable things to one’s body and, now, that includes influencing weight.  Doctors have long known that many hormones are affected by sleep and recently appetite has entered that picture as well.  Two hormones that influence appetite are “leptin” and “ghrelin” and studies show that the production of both may be influenced by how much or how little we actually sleep.

Have you ever experiences a sleepless night followed by a day when no matter what you ate you never felt full or satisfied?  That is the leptin and ghrelin at work.  Ghrelin stimulates your appetite and leptin is the hormone produced in fat cells that signal to the brain when you are full.  When you don’t get enough sleep it causes your ghrelin levels to rise which means your appetite is constantly stimulated.  At the same time it drives your leptin levels down and that may mean you don’t feel satisfied even after you eat.  For me, that little piece of information was a definite eye opener!

I don’t want to dwell on the science too much but I thought how researchers came upon the correlation between sleep and weight was intriguing enough to share.  As it turns out they were studying people with sleep apnea, which closes off air passages during the night, causing disruption in sleep and a tendency to snore.  The end result is that although you are “sleeping” eight hours the breathing issues prevent you from getting a deep sleep.  Eight hours of disrupted sleep leaves you feeling like you had only four.  In screening overall health of patients with sleep apnea, researchers noticed that patients were more likely to be overweight.

Interestingly enough, obesity can cause sleep apnea.  So is this a case of which came first – the chicken or the egg?

Can getting the right amount of sleep simply means that you wake up with more energy and therefore you are just naturally more active?  It could just be a vicious circle, but most experts agree that if you are dieting, logging in a few extra hours of sleep a week is not a bad idea, particularly if you get six hours of sleep or less per night.  With the proper amount of sleep you may discover that you aren’t as hungry, or that you have lessened your craving for sugary, calorie-laden foods.

One researcher states “one thing I have seen is that once a person is not as tired, they don’t need to rely on sweet foods and high carbohydrate snacks to keep them awake – and that automatically translates into eating fewer calories”.  Simply put, when you do not sleep enough, you have more hours in the day when calories can be consumed and because you are tired and invariably those calories are the kind that give you a false sense of energy (the “sugar rush”).  They are also the calories that are metabolized the quickest leading to an even greater feeling of no energy (the “sugar crash”) which leads to another grab at a “quick fix”.

Now, what can you do to insure that you get a proper night’s sleep?

Some do’s …

* Establish a regular exercise routine of 3-4 times per week, and do it well before bedtime

* Try pre-bedtime rituals that relax you – warm baths, light reading, listening to calming music or recorded nature sounds

* Create a peaceful sleep environment.  Adjust the darkness to what works best for you.  Make sure the temperature of the room is set to your comfort level.

* Give yourself sleep hours instead of trying to squeeze more activity into one day.  Adequate sleeping hours will increase your productivity during waking hours.

Some don’ts …

* Don’t nap in the daytime if you have sleeping problems at night

* Don’t take in caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol from the late afternoon and beyond

* Don’t lie in bed agitated if you can’t sleep.  After half an hour, move to a different room and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy again

* Don’t go to bed hungry, but don’t eat a big meal right before bedtime.  Eating high protein food close to bedtime makes you body think it should be active and therefore keeps you awake.

Hmmmm … that last point is pretty interesting when you place it under the glaring light of DIETING.  For years and years one of the golden rules of dieting has been DO NOT EAT FOR FOUR TO SIX HOURS BEFORE GOING TO BED.  Yet, every article I read in regards to sleep and weight loss contradicted this advice and indicated that it was better to have a snack before bedtime.  They all agreed that if you struggle with insomnia, a little food in your stomach might help you sleep.  BUT don’t use this as an open invitation to pig out!  A heavy meal will tax your digestive system, making you uncomfortable and unable to get soothing ZZZ’s.  One article went as far as to say that avoiding food completely before sleeping can actually have to opposite effect, as people who wake up feeling hungry are far more likely to binge on food at breakfast.  It was suggested that eating something “light” that breaks down slowly in your system while you sleep will keep your metabolism active throughout the night, and you’ll wake up feeling energetic instead of starving.

As with any research, information, suggestions or the latest diet phenomenon you have to decide what is right for you and what works for you?  If you are going to try having something to eat before bed or if you are just naturally peckish before going to sleep, which foods should you eat and which foods should you definitely steer clear of for a good night’s sleep?

The following are suggestions from and comments in italics are mine.

Reach for Tryptophan-rich foods.  We’ve all heard of warm milk’s magical ability send us off to dreamland.  Do you know why it’s true?  Dairy foods contain tryptophan, which is a sleep-promoting substance.  Other foods that are high in tryptophan include nuts and seeds, bananas, honey and eggs.  There is no doubt in my mind about the tryptophan because it effectively explains why my son-in-law falls asleep on the couch after Thanksgiving dinner!

Indulge in your craving for carbs.  Carbohydrate-rich foods complement dairy foods by increasing the level of sleep-inducing tryptophan in the blood.  So a few perfect late night snacks to get you snoozing might include a bowl of cereal and milk, yogurt and crackers, or some flat bread or pita with cheese.  If you are going to indulge in a pre-bed snack you have to remember that it is not a free food … adjust your daily portions accordingly.

Put down the burger and fries!  As if you needed another reason to avoid high-fat foods, research shows that people who often eat high-fat food not only gain weight, they also experience a disruption of the sleep cycles.  A heavy meal activates digestion, which, which can lead to nighttime trips to the bathroom.

Beware of hidden caffeine.  It’s no surprise that an evening cup of coffee might disrupt your sleep.  Even moderate caffeine can cause sleep disturbances.  But don’t forget about less obvious caffeine sources like chocolate, cola, tea and decaffeinated coffee.  For better sleep, cut all caffeine from your diet four to six hours before bedtime.  And, remember medications may contain caffeine.  Some over-the-counter and prescription drugs contain caffeine, too, such as pain relievers, weight loss pills, diuretics and cold medicines.  These and other medications may have as much or even more caffeine that a cup of coffee.  Check the label of nonprescription drugs or the prescription drug information sheet to see if your medicine interferes with sleep or can cause insomnia.

Skip the nightcap.  Here’s the catch-22 with alcohol:  it may help you fall asleep faster, but you may experience frequent awakenings, less restful sleep, headaches, night sweats and nightmares.  Alcohol sounds a lot like menopause!  If you’re consuming alcohol in the evening, balance each drink with a glass of water to dilute the alcohol’s effects.  For a good night sleep, the better bet is to avoid alcohol for four to six hours before bedtime.

Beware of heavy, spicy foods.  Lying down with a full belly can make you uncomfortable, since the digestive system slows down when you sleep.  It can also lead to heartburn, as can spicy cuisine.  Make sure to finish a heavy meal at least four hours before bedtime.

Keep protein to a minimum at bedtime.  Sorry Atkins.  Protein, an essential part of our daytime fare, is a poor choice for a bedtime snack.  Protein-rich foods are harder to digest.  So skip the high-protein snack before bedtime and opt for a glass of warm milk or some sleep-friendly carbs, like crackers.

Cut the fluids by 8 p.m.  Yes, staying hydrated throughout the day is great for your body, but curtail your fluid intake before bed.  You’re sure to have interrupted sleep if you’re constantly getting up to go to the bathroom. 

Don’t be fooled by a relaxing smoke.  Nicotine is a stimulant, with effects similar to caffeine.  Avoid smoking before bedtime or if you wake up in the middle of the night.

Another point that this article missed entirely ... sometimes having pets can lead to the worst example of why you don't get enough sleep.  That could be the title of another blog post ... Is your dog/cat making you fat?  Sorry ... just a little humour and a personal observation and a case of "been there - done that".

Sounds easy enough, right?  Yeah, but there are two sides to every coin.
Another article on suggested “Your diet and your sleep patterns are related.  When you do not sleep enough, your body’s physiology changes, which may lead to cravings and an over-consumption of calories.  Sleeping too much also has adverse effects on your weight”.

Now just wait a minute … I can’t seem to keep ahead of the game here?  Too little sleep is not good, yet too much is not good either?

Fitday agrees that “sleeping only a few hours each night significantly increases the chances for obesity.  Sleeping only five hours each night increases the chances of weight gain by 50%”.  They sight the same leptin/ghrelin levels research I’ve already discussed at the beginning of this post.

As with eating properly and exercising properly the key when it comes to sleep is balance.  Sleeping more than nine hours each night can also lead to weight gain.  The cause of this is not as clear, however it is possible that if you stay in bed too long, it is a result of not sleeping soundly.  You may be waking up numerous times throughout the night and not getting the deep sleep needed to be alert and healthy.

Okay – got it.  They are saying the same thing but coming at it from a different direction.

The bottom line on snoo-zzzz-ing and lo-zzzzz-ing?  When trying to control your diet, paying attention to your sleep patterns is a good strategy.  Be sure to sleep eight hours each night.  Going to bed at the same time each night makes it easier to fall asleep.  Minimize night-time distractions, wear ear plugs to block out unwanted noise and try some of the tips mentioned here.  Getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis will keep your body in balance, help to reduce cravings and keep your diet healthy and on track.

No comments:

Post a Comment