Sleep Study Results Explain Link Between Sleep and Weight
There’s nothing new about the theory that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight or obese. The exact reason insomnia or short sleep cycles go hand-in-hand with the battle of the bulge hasn’t been clear until recently. New research that studied the impact of sleep at the cellular level suggests that fat cells become sluggish – just like the brain does – when they are deprived of rest.
For the study, seven healthy, normal weight adults whose average age was just under 24 years were assigned to spend eight nights in a sleep lab. For four nights they slept 8.5 hours. The other four nights they slept only 4.5 hours. The 4.5 hour sleep nights were spaced four weeks apart. Researchers measured how well each person processed glucose, and samples of fat cells were taken from each person’s abdomen.
The results are astounding:
- In the participants that were sleep-deprived, the fat cell’s ability to respond to insulin was reduced by 30%.
- Also in this group, insulin levels were about three times higher than in the well-rested participants.
- Higher levels of insulin are a precursor to diabetes, metabolic syndrome, weight gain, and obesity.
It’s easy to see how, over time, an individual who is getting by on only four to six hours of sleep a night, would have chronically high levels of insulin in their blood stream.
Matthew Brady, senior study author and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center said, “It’s always been thought that the primary function of sleep was for the brain, but in addition to the brain, your fat cells also need sleep. Too little sleep makes you groggy, and the same thing happens on a metabolic level.”
Getting eight hours of shut eye is an important goal. Not just for someone trying to avoid chronic diseases linked to sleep deprivation but for any of us that want to lose or maintain a healthy weight, seek mental clarity so we can stay focused during our waking hours, and achieve a more optimistic outlook on life. Sometimes when darkness comes, sleep doesn’t. If you find that you have trouble falling asleep or wake up sometime during the night and can’t go back to sleep, there are some things that you can do that will help:
Seven Habits To Improve the Quality of Sleep
1. Keep a Schedule – Try to maintain a regular waking and sleeping schedule. By going to bed and getting up at the same time each day you can get your body into a rhythm to establish sleep patterns. Experts agree that you will benefit most by staying with the schedule on the weekends.
2. Turn Down The Noise! – Establish a time in the evening to turn off the cell phone, television and computer and stick with it. Cell phones, iPads, computers, and television are stimulants that can disrupt your body’s natural inclination to want to relax at the end of the day. Constantly checking texts and e-mails throughout the night, can suppress melatonin production and make it harder for you to stay asleep.
3. Keep your room cool. I shared a ride to a conference with the director of a hospital sleep clinic so naturally I wanted to pick his brain about my own sleep issues. He said that keeping the bedroom cool is key to getting a good night’s sleep. A room that’s too warm or too cold will interfere with sleep quality. The ideal temperature? 65⁰ F is the perfect temp.
4. Cut down on caffeine, alcohol and big meals. All three of these can lead to a sleepless night. Some studies show that caffeine can interfere with sleep patterns for up to 12 hours after it’s consumed. And, while alcohol may seem like a good way to relax before bed, you may find that you fall asleep quickly but wake up a couple hours later and not be able to go back to sleep. A heavy meal before bed will keep your system busy with the digestion process making it hard for you to rest.
5. Practice relaxation techniques. We all occasionally wake up at night filled with anxiety about something that’s happening the next day or worrying about someone or something in our life that’s not going as planned. Do you ever think about what it is you’re accomplishing by fretting about it in the middle of the night? Relaxation breathing exercises, meditation, and visualization are ways to get your mind off of your worries so you can fall back to sleep.
6. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Sufficient amounts of physical activity will promote better sleep. If you get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day, you’ll find that you fall asleep faster and your sleep will be of better quality. Keep in mind that exercise too close to bedtime can be similar to a dose of caffeine. Strenuous cardio exercise before bed will increase your heart rate and metabolism making it harder for you to relax.
7. Make your bedroom a space that’s restful and relaxing. Selecting soft colors and lighting, covering the windows with blinds to keep harsh lights out, lit candles, and relaxing music can create a space that sets the tone for rest and relaxation. Look around your sleep area and think about what you might be able to do to make it a more inviting place for sleep.
Melatonin – The Natural Sleep Aid
Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland in the brain. This hormone helps control sleep and wake cycles. Typically, melatonin levels rise in mid-to-late evening and remain high for most of the night. There are some things that interfere with our body’s ability to produce sufficient amounts of melatonin such as age and light. Melatonin production naturally decreases with age. It also declines with reduced hours of exposure to daylight which is something most of us experience during the fall and winter seasons.
People that have chronic insomnia can benefit from Melatonin supplements that can be purchased at the local drug store. According to WebMD, in most cases, supplements are safe in low doses for both short-term and long-term use (with the exception of pregnant and nursing women). Side effects may include sleepiness, lower body temperature, vivid dreams, morning grogginess and small changes in blood pressure. Be sure and tell your doctor if you are taking melatonin or suffer from insomnia as it may be related to a medical problem.
Sleep. It Does A Body Good
We live in a society where being energetic, active, and industrious are seen as favorable qualities that push us to forego sleep for productivity. Checking e-mails and text messages throughout the night, staying up late to watch television, or short-changing our body of sleep to work on a project may put us at risk for weight gain and chronic disease more than we realize.
Dr. Shelby Freedman Harris, director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center in Montefiore Medical Center in New York City believes that “sleep should be considered as important as diet when you’re trying to prevent weight gain and diabetes.”
The good news is that sleep – unlike many of the other things that we feel we have to give up to be healthy – is something we need more of not less.
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