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Sleep is As Important As Exercise…Sometimes Even More So.

Sometimes sleep trumps exercise

Sometimes sleep trumps exercise

I overheard a conversation the other day while I was at Target.  Two women were in line behind me and one of them was telling the other that she recently had gained about 4-5 pounds and she was contributing it to lack of sleep.   The other woman was surprised to hear her friend blame lack of sleep on her weight gain, but the eves-dropper (me) wasn’t.  Many people know that sleep is important for things like cognitive functioning, moods, and general health, but there are many who don’t realize that a lack of it can also contribute to weight gain.

It isn’t very hard to imagine why this happens.  When we are tired, we often skip exercise.  Or we do exercise, but crave sweets and unhealthy food to make up for lost energy. We might reach for a mid-afternoon cup of coffee and a sweet for a pick-me-up. We are sluggish and might be more apt to make a quick decision about what we eat, grabbing a candy bar instead of making time to create a healthy snack. When I was younger I would rarely miss a workout because I was tired.  Even if I went to bed very late, I would usually still set my alarm for an early morning wake up to exercise.  That has changed as I have gotten older.  I regularly skip a workout if I am too tired.  I realize that I am no good when I am exhausted and the poor decisions I make are counter-productive to any benefits a workout may bring.

There are scientific reasons for the sleep/weight gain connection. According to WebMd, ” The hormones leptin and ghrelin work in a kind of “checks and balances” system to control feelings of hunger and fullness, explains Michael Breus, PhD, a faculty member of the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine and director of The Sleep Disorders Centers of Southeastern Lung Care in Atlanta. Ghrelin, which is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, stimulates appetite, while leptin, produced in fat cells, sends a signal to the brain when you are full.  So what’s the connection to sleep? “When you don’t get enough sleep, it drives leptin levels down, which means you don’t feel as satisfied after you eat. Lack of sleep also causes ghrelin levels to rise, which means your appetite is stimulated, so you want more food,” Breus tells WebMD.  The two combined, he says, can set the stage for overeating, which in turn may lead to weight gain.

The following is an article from Quality Care Monthly  about ways to get more sleep.  I share it here in its entirety:

  1. Reduce the level of stimulation before bedtime.
    • Start by decreasing the noise level in your bedroom and any room you are in during the evening. Whether you are watching television or listening to music, start to lower the volume and slightly dim the lights at least one hour before retiring. This may help decrease the amount of simulation your senses and body are exposed to. It is also a good idea to avoid using a computer in your bedroom.
  2. Establish a regular bedtime routine and adjust bedroom temperature.
    • Go to bed and get up in the morning at the same time each day, even on the weekends. In addition, if a bedroom is too hot or too cold, it may affect your ability to get to sleep. For some peri-menopausal and menopausal woman, a good night’s sleep is dependent on adjusting the thermostat or number of blankets to achieve different temperatures throughout the night.
  3. Avoid foods and beverages that negatively affect sleep.
    • Any food that is spicy, hot or has the potential to cause gastrointestinal upset should be avoided at dinner.
    • Avoid beverages with caffeine, such as tea, coffee, cola or chocolate at least eight hours prior to bedtime.
    • Contrary to what you might think, alcohol can interfere with sleep. While you may drop off quickly, you can wake up in the middle of the night dehydrated and restless. Stop drinking alcohol at least two hours prior to bedtime.
    • The body works hard to metabolize protein foods like meat and cheese. This can interfere with the body’s ability to relax and induce sleep.
    • Limit the amount of fluids you drink before retiring. If you have an overactive bladder, you may want to limit fluids two to three hours prior to bedtime.
    • A light evening snack that contains tryptophan may assist in relaxation and falling asleep. Tryptophan is in cheese, eggs, cottage cheese, milk, nuts, brown rice, bananas and turkey.
  4. Avoid medications that interfere with sleep.
    • Check with your pharmacists to see if the prescription or non-prescription medications you take could be affecting your sleep. Some non-prescription medications contain caffeine, which can interfere with sleep. Some drug categories that negatively affect sleep quality are corticosteroids, diuretics, antidepressants, beta blockers, nicotine and alcohol.
  5. Develop an effective exercise program.
    • Although a routine exercise program may reduce or help prevent insomnia, don’t engage in aerobic activity later than three hours before bedtime. Some individuals feel that gentle stretching exercises prior to bedtime help their bodies to relax.
  6. Take a bath.
    • Many people find a bath relaxing prior to bedtime. However, some women find that a very hot bath can trigger hot flashes, which can interfere with sleep. Plan your bath time accordingly.
  7. Learn to Relax.
    • Educate yourself about various relaxation techniques and try progressive relaxation, meditation, or imagery one to two hours prior to bedtime. Remember to use your bedroom only for sleep, relaxation and sex. All work or study activities should be done elsewhere.
  8. Happy thoughts only, do not concentrate on mental or emotional problems.
    • Your thoughts and images prior to bedtime will also affect your sleep. Along with trying relaxation techniques, try to establish a habit of not focusing on or ruminating about problematic or painful emotional issues at least on hour prior to bedtime.
  9. Bed and pillows should be comfortable.
    • Check your mattress, box spring and pillows to make sure they are not worn out or have lost their supportive qualities. You may want to flip your mattress every few months. If you have developed any new neck, back or hip pain over the past few months you may need a new bed.
  10. Keep a sleep diary.
    • A sleep diary can be very helpful in working your health care provider on your sleep problems and overall health. Bring it to your appointments for the health care professionals to review. With a sleep diary, you keep a record – for one to four weeks – of your daytime and evening activities, revealing activities that are thwarting your ability to sleep well. For each day, list the time you went to bed, how long it took to fall asleep, how many times you woke up during the night and behavior that occurred as a result of waking up, total hours of sleep, quality of sleep and any other pertinent data. Include your general mood and stress levels during the day and night as well as thoughts that awaken you in the middle of the night.

About the author:

Linda Garvin, RN, MSN is a Nurse Health Advocate with 30+ years of experience. She is the founder of Patient Advocate Bay Area, Inc. in Alameda, California and works with individuals across the country exploring what health care options are right for them. Learn more at email: phone: 510-520-0186


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