How often do you pull an “all-nighter” for exams and assignments? Do you find yourself exhausted the next day and reaching for the first item of fattening food that you see? Sleep deprivation not only affects your ability to function throughout the day, but it can also pack on the extra pounds. According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep-related problems affect 50 to 70 million Americans every year, and the health effects of these issues are staggering.
Most adults need a recommended 7-8 hours of sleep every night, and these hours spent sleeping improve your energy levels, concentration, and mood for the next day. In terms of health, a lack of regular sleep increases the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, infection, and heart disease. Hormones released during sleep help control the body’s use of energy during the day, so the less sleep you get at night, the more likely you are to be overweight from eating high-caloric foods in order to boost your energy levels. Another reason for this overeating is due to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, which rises with sleep deprivation and thus causes hunger. Essentially, a person will compensate for the energy they did not receive from sleep by eating more…and it usually won’t be anything healthy!
Fortunately, there are many ways to sustain (and improve) your sleep health:
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule, even on the weekends.
- Avoid caffeine for 8-12 hours before bedtime in order for it to fully leave your system. The same goes for alcohol, which might assist you in falling asleep, but it won’t help you to stay asleep as its sedative effects wear off.
- Don’t exercise 2-3 hours before your bedtime. You need time to “cool down” and relax your body in order to sleep.
- Avoid naps after 3:00pm and keep them under an hour. Late and long naptimes will only keep you up at night.
- Take time to relax before bedtime – read a good book, listen to calm music, or soak in a hot bath.
- Make sure you have a sleep-friendly environment – this includes a dark room, cool temperatures, little noise, and a comfortable bed.
- Maintain your usual healthy eating and exercise routine, and don’t forget to start your day with a balanced breakfast to keep the hunger away!
- Avoid big meals before sleeping to decrease stomach discomfort and acid reflux.
- If you feel your sleep troubles are not alleviated by the above suggestions, contact your doctor right away. You might have a sleep disorder.
Sleep is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle, and it is closely tied with nutrition, emotional well-being, and productivity. To learn more about this topic, go to the National Sleep Foundation website at http://www.sleepfoundation.org/ . Sweet dreams!
- Bell, Vaughan. Don’t Neglect the Obvious: Sleep, Nutrition, and Exercise. (2006). Accessed at http://mindfull.spc.org/vaughan/Vaughan_MPH_SleepNutritionExercise.pdf on March 25, 2012.
- Berkowitz, Myra. The Sleep and Nutrition Connection. (2008). Accessed at http://www.gannett.cornell.edu/cms/pdf/sleep/upload/sleep_nutrition_connection.pdf on March 25, 2012.
- Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Sleep and Health. (2008). Accessed at http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/health on March 25, 2012.
- NHLBI Health Information Center. In Brief: Your Guild to Healthy Sleep. (2011). Accessed at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep/healthysleepfs.pdf on March 25, 2012.
By: Julia Canfield
Editor: Kate Sweeney