If you have trouble keeping your weight down, one piece you may be missing in your fight against being overweight could be your sleeping habits. Here are eight ways to get a handle on them.
3 Billion Sufferers Worldwide
Do you get enough sleep to feel truly rested in the morning? Do you use the weekend to catch up on sleep missed during a hectic work week? Or do you experience constant waking up at night, reducing sleep quality and amount even further?
Estimates have it that about 3 billion people worldwide face these problems. You suffer, and half the world suffers with you. Something is really going wrong. Especially for those of us with sleep and weight problems.
I already wrote about the connection two years ago, but back then didn’t mention two large studies that point in the direction:
- The NHANES I study looked at the sleeping habits of about 9,000 people. Its results showed that people who on average slept for six hours per night were 27% more likely to be overweight than those who got 7 to 9 hours. Those who got only 5 hours even had a 73% likelihood of being overweight.
- The Nurses’ Health Study among many other things for 16 years examined the relation between weight and sleep in 68,000 women. At the start of that time span, all of them were healthy and of normal weight. But one and a half decade later, those who slept for 5 hours or less per night had a 15% higher risk of obesity than women who slept for an average of 7 hours.
Why Does It Happen?
Now how exactly can a lack of sleep contribute to being overweight or obese? The research is still ongoing, but a number of possibilities take shape:
- You simply have more time to eat. Waking time has to be filled, and many people do so by eating. Others also mistake being sleepy with being hungry.
- But you could actually really be more hungry, as not getting enough sleep may influence the hormones controlling your appetite.
- You don’t feel like moving when tired, let alone doing exercise, and moving less of course conserves energy.
8 Ways To Improve Your Sleep
So is there any help this side of quitting your job and moving to a remote island? Yes. We can’t change a world going on overdrive, but we can change some aspects of how we handle it:
1. No Stimulating Substances
Caffeine and nicotine are designed to arouse you. It is therefore a no-brainer to avoid these six hours before going to bed.
2. No Alcohol As Sleeping Aid
That other substance, alcohol, is not a good idea either. Alcohol can make you tired, yes, but the sleep usually is of low quality. It also isn’t really bright to go to work with a hangover. Not to mention you run the risk of alcohol dependency.
3. Fitness Is Good, But Check Your Timing
Numerous studies have shown that fitness activities improve people’s sleep, so doing them generally is a good idea. However, the question is when. Some people find it improves their sleep when they do them shortly before bedtime, others that keeps awake. If you find yourself in the latter group, once again leave six hours between fitness and going to bed.
4. Keep A Cool Bedroom
Many people like it cozy in their bedroom, but a too warm bedroom can lead to you being restless during sleep. Because your brain associates a higher core temperature with being physically active. Therefore keep the temperature at about 65°F (18°C). If you feel that is too cold, place a hot-water bottle at your feet.
5. Avoid Bright Lights
Electric light is fairly recent invention and our bodies aren’t yet really used to it. We after all go to bed when it’s dark because that is what our bodies’ biological clocks evolved to do. So for the couple of hours before going to bed, dim the lights a bit to tell your body dusk is approaching.
6. Also Avoid Loud Noises
Loud noises can disturb your sleep, otherwise we wouldn’t have designed alarm clocks. If you need fresh air to sleep but live in a loud environment, five minutes before bed time open the windows wide to ventilate, but then shut them. If possible, you can also leave the bedroom door open, so there is more air exchange with the rest of your place.
7. Keep A Pattern
Remember what we said about that biological clock? It also tremendously helps your body when it knows when to expect what. That means you should keep to a regular sleeping pattern. For example, going to bed at eleven, getting up at six.
8. Don’t Force It
I kept this last, because it will be tough to take. Who hasn’t experienced lying in bed, thinking: I. Have. To. Sleep. Now. Did it ever work? Probably not. Because you simply can’t force yourself to sleep. Sleep is a state of relaxation and force is the direct opposite. Your best bet is instead getting up for fifteen minutes, keeping the lights low and doing something relaxing like yoga or meditation.
Don’t Feel Good About Getting Too Much!
If you are overweight and right now think, hey, I’m on the safe side, because I sleep 10 to 12 hours every day, not so fast. There is a point at which the tide turns – long sleep can be part of your weight problem. Obesity can lead to depression, sleep apnea and obstructive lung disease. All can increase the length of sleep, but reduce its quality.
If that is you, the above tips won’t cut it and you should seek professional help. Sleep apnea, for example, can be life threatening.
The Missing Piece
All that being said, keep in mind that a lack of sleep is just one member of the possibly guilty party of those conspiring against you. One worth looking at, but not the only one. You also have to check your general eating habits and understand the energy in vs. energy out thing.
Picture courtesy of Linda Tanner.