How many times have you wished there were more hours in the day? With everything you have going on in your life, it’s tempting to sacrifice sleep in order to fit a few more things into your day. Maybe you even cut back on sleep to fit in an early morning workout. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults ages 26-64 get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. But over 30% of women report that they sleep 6 hours or less each night! Over time, that creates a huge amount of “sleep debt” which can be difficult to repay.
According to the Tufts Medical Center Weight and Wellness Center, sacrificing sleep might be sabotaging your attempts at healthy eating and weight loss.
Anjana Rajan, PsyD, Director of Behavioral Health at the Weight & Wellness Center says, “Sleep really can be seen as a significant piece of any weight loss plan, and since it’s ‘a freebie’ we all need, it’s important that you maximize sleep if possible. That is, sleep is not optional!”
A 2013 study1 found that depriving people of sleep for just ONE night changed the way their brains responded to high-calorie junk foods. When the subjects of the study had not slept enough, fattening foods like candy and potato chips were much more enticing than on days they slept enough. Those high calorie foods elicited a larger response in the part of the brain that affects your motivation to eat. In addition, the frontal cortex – the part of the brain where consequences and rational decision making happens – suffered a significant decrease in activity. Not only did lack of sleep make junk food more enticing, but the subjects were less prepared to counteract the temptation with their frontal cortex.
Dr. Rajan confirms this, “The significant cravings that spike as a result of sleep disturbance can ‘undo’ many of the diligent strides that patients make while on a diet. Don’t let lack of sleep, or an undiagnosed sleep issue undermine your long term weight loss goals!”
So how can you make sure to get enough sleep, and counteract those unfortunate side effects of sleep deprivation? Try these tips from Tufts Medical Center Primary Care Boston’s Dr. Kimberly Schelling.
1. Avoid caffeine after 2pm
It’s hard to get past that 2:30 feeling without a caffeine jolt, but caffeine can affect the hormones in your body that drive sleep, and delay your natural sleep cycle. Relegating caffeine intake to earlier in the day will keep it from affecting your sleep cycle. Try a quick walk around the block to wake you up if you’re struggling.
2. Avoid alcoholic beverages before bedtime
Alcohol is another common substance that can affect your natural sleep cycle, making it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep when you really need the rest. It’s tempting to wind down with a glass of wine before bed, but try switching it up with decaffeinated tea.
3. Avoid strenuous exercise close to bed
Exercise is a catch-22 when it comes to sleep. Regular exercise is great at helping you sleep better, but not if it’s too close to bedtime. Try to finish your workout 1-2 hours before bedtime. If you can only work out later in the evening, be sure to stay hydrated and try to avoid overly strenuous routines.
Some people may find a vigorous workout gives them a burst of energy, which can affect your ability to fall asleep at the normal time. In the end, listen to how your body – and your pillow – react to workouts.
4. Regulate your bedroom
Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature and remove or block any distracting lights (e.g., get blackout curtains if your bedroom window has a lot of street light coming in).
5. Silence or remove the technology
Remove smartphones and tablets from the bedroom or set them to “do not disturb” mode.
6. Make your bed a sacred space
Do not watch TV, listen to music, read, or work in bed. Limit your bed to sleeping only. Going to bed and falling asleep can be a stressful experience for people who have difficulty doing so. Many people who chronically struggle to sleep start getting anxious at bedtime because they fear not being able to sleep. You don’t want to associate your bed with anything but sleep, and should only get into bed when you’re sleepy to cut down on this anxiety. If you enjoy reading or watching TV, try doing it in an easy chair or another room prior to sleep.
7. Consider your medications
Review your medications with your doctor, including over-the-counter medications, supplements, and herbal medications. Your doctor can help you ensure that you aren’t taking anything stimulating prior to bedtime.
1Greer SM, Goldstein AN, Walker MP. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nature Communications 2013; 4:2259
If you have ongoing troubles with sleep, contact your Primary Care Physician to set up an appointment. Your doctor can suggest potential fixes, or refer you to necessary specialists. For information about the doctors accepting new patients at Tufts Medical Center Primary Care Boston, visit our website. If you’re looking for more information about healthy weight loss, or medical weight loss, the Weight & Wellness Center’s website has Tips for Weight Loss and information about their medical and surgical weight loss programs.