Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sleep - The Solution for Weight Loss and Overall Health

Remember when an all-nighter used to mean a wild night of partying?  Now that I'm a mom, an all-nighter refers to Jordan sleeping through the night.  Fortunately, she's been a solid 12-hour a night sleeper since she was about six weeks old.  Any parent knows a good night's sleep is important and it continues to prove to be vital to overall health.

Study after study cites the importance of sleep in weight loss.  The sleep sweet spot seems to be between seven and nine hours a night.  A new study publish Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicates that not getting enough sleep seriously affects metabolism by damaging the body's cells and causing insulin resistance which is a precursor to diabetes.  This disease runs rampant in my family.  I've seen it's devastation firsthand and it's beyond ugly.

CNN.com does a good job of putting this study in layman's terms: 

After the four nights of sleep deprivation, blood tests revealed that the participants' overall insulin sensitivity was 16% lower, on average, than after the nights of normal sleep. Moreover, their fat cells' sensitivity to insulin dropped by 30%, to levels typically seen in people who are obese or who have diabetes.

"This is the equivalent of metabolically aging someone 10 to 20 years just from four nights of partial sleep restriction," says Matthew Brady, the senior author of the study and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. "Fat cells need sleep, and when they don't get enough sleep, they become metabolically groggy."

If insulin resistance of this sort becomes persistent, excess sugar and cholesterol can accumulate in the blood, increasing the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

From my own personal experience, I can attest to sleep-deprivation's effects on weight loss from my sleep-starved days working in Knoxville as a weekend morning anchor/producer/reporter/photographer.  I would shoot sporting events late into the evenings on Fridays and Saturdays, wake up at 4am to anchor an 8am morning show on Saturdays and Sundays and produce a Sunday night sports show late in Sunday evening.  A brutal schedule that had me sleeping about four hours a night and consuming M&M's, diet Mountain Dew and Taco Bell's Mexican pizzas.  I was close to 200 pounds.

Something about the lack of sleep wreaks havoc on your energy level and alertness while affecting your food judgement.  It's as if your body calls for grease, sugar, fat and caffeine, a lethal combination.

As I've put a premium on sleep, I've found a few things that really help:
  • If possible, don't eat two hours before bedtime.  A belly full of gastric juices trying to digest food doesn't help you snooze. 
  • Limit your digital light in the room: Ipads, cell phones, tv's.  Turn them off!  Turn over your cell phones if they, like mine, emit light even when not in use. 
  • Expert suggest keeping a tv out of your bedroom.  If that's not possible, be vigilant about the sleep button so that your tv turns off after an hour or so.
  • Avoid drugs. Those Ambiens and other sleep-aids are brutal.  I took half an Ambien once while on a Baltic cruise.  I had the most bizarre dreams and required six cups of coffee to come back to life. 
  • If you must, try herbal sleep aids.  Deep Sleep has worked well for me in the past.  It contains valerian and chamomile flower both known herbal relaxers. 
  • Spray lavender or vanilla on your pillow.  I'm not sure I fully believe in aromatherapy but these scents are lovely and offer a nice whiff of soothing calm as you try to sleep.  Bonus: dust mites hate lavender.