It struck me today that I have rarely touched on one of the most fundamental aspects of a healthy lifestyle: sleep. Well, actually, it struck me last night at 2am as I lay awake, staring at the ceiling in bed.
Sleep is one of those precious things we don’t realize we love until we can’t have it, isn’t it? We never love sleep so much as when our alarms go off. That’s the exact moment we say, “I’m gonna go to bed early tonight.”
Why is sleep important?
Sleep is crucial for both physical and emotional health. A proper amount of it improves brain function needed for learning, memory, problem solving, and mood. Sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of depression, heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke. Basically, getting enough sleep is the best thing you can do for your body and mind.
Experts tell us that adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night and perhaps especially if you’re trying to lose weight, getting enough sleep could be the difference between success and failure. Not only does adequate sleep help with mood and energy–which will allow you to make better choices about food and exercise, but studies have shown that your body even burns more fat when it gets enough rest. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that people who got under seven hours of sleep per night lost half as much fat as people who got adequate rest. The sleep deprived dieters also felt significantly hungrier, were less satisfied after meals, and lacked the energy to exercise. http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=746184
I have struggled with sleep for most of my life. I can fall asleep; I just can’t stay asleep. If you look at a graph of my sleep (thanks Fitbit for more sleep related anxiety!), the periods of restful versus unrestful sleep look like the jagged up-and-down beat of a rap song. If you’re like me, you arrive at the eleven o’clock hour wishing we could fast-forward to morning. The notion of “going to bed” is never so simple. We’re in our heads, and if there were an OFF switch, we would have pushed that years ago.
Every single thing we do requires energy and when we don’t replenish that energy with restorative sleep, we rely on the cheap stuff, like caffeine or sugar. And where sleep would actually refuel us, sugar doesn’t. It lasts for an hour, two at most, then we want it again. The trouble is we’re so tired we become out of touch with our fullness cues. Dr. Kenneth Wright, Jr., the director of the sleep and chronobiology lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder noted that his sleep-deprived study patients preferred high calorie foods and the kinds they chose when they were sleep deprived added up to about 600 calories more than the foods that they wanted when they were well-rested. “There’s something that changes in our brain when we’re sleepy that’s irrespective of how much energy we need,” says Dr. Wright. “The brain wants more even when the energy need has been fulfilled.”
When I consider the triggers for most of my poor eating choices, my streaks of not exercising, my binge eating episodes, 90% of them come down to: feeling depleted physically and/or emotionally. Which makes me realize how critically important it is to try to maximize healthy sleep which is the biggest influencer on energy and mood.
Tell me: How is your sleep?