Feeling tired and irritable aren’t the only consequences of poor sleep. Getting too little sleep can also sabotage efforts to shed excess weight. Even a single night of poor sleep can wreak havoc on weight control by slowing metabolism and increasing hunger.
Research shows that compared with normal sleep (8 hours), the body’s resting metabolic rate – the speed at which it burns calories to keep the body functioning at rest – is significantly reduced after a just one night of sleep deprivation.
Study participants also report greater hunger and have higher blood levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite and eating. Sleep loss also leads to higher levels of a stress hormone called cortisol that, when elevated for a prolonged period of time, leads to impaired blood sugar control, high blood pressure, lowered immunity and abdominal obesity.
It’s estimated that one in seven Canadians has difficulty sleeping. Causes of poor sleep (insomnia) include stress, anxiety, depression, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea. (Sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway gets completely or partially blocked during sleep reducing the amount of oxygen that gets to the lungs, causing you to wake up to breath properly. These breathing pauses, or apneas, can last up to 30 seconds and can happen many times throughout the night.)
A bad diet can prevent a good night’s rest.
Eating the right foods in the evening – and knowing what ones to avoid – can help achieve the 7 to 8 hours of sleep needed each night. Try those 8 healthy tips to improve sleep:
1. Cut caffeine.
While one or two cups of coffee can boost mental alertness, drinking more can overstimulate the central nervous system and cause insomnia. Yet studies have also found that drinking as few as two small cups of coffee can affect the quality of sleep. Caffeine blocks the action of adenosine, a sleep-inducing brain chemical.
Those suffering from insomnia should cut caffeine eight hours before bedtime, and consume no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day. One 8-ounce cup of regular coffee has 80 to 175 milligrams of caffeine; the same amount of tea has 45 milligrams. Other sources of caffeine include cola, energy drinks, dark chocolate and certain over-the-counter pain relievers (e.g. Midol, Excedrin, Anacin).
2. Avoid alcohol.
There’s no question that alcohol can disrupt sleep. It’s also dehydrating, which can worsen fatigue the next day. Drinking alcohol can cause throat muscles to relax more than normal, increasing the chance that airways get blocked, thus inducing sleep apnea.
Those suffering from insomnia should avoid alcohol for a few weeks to see if sleep improves. If you do drink, limit intake to 1 alcoholic drink per day (e.g. 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of sprits, 12 ounces of beer). Drink alcohol with a meal rather than on an empty stomach.
3. Avoid late night, heavy meals.
Eat evening meals at least three hours before bedtime to prevent digestive upset that can keep you awake. Keep evening meals light. The more fat consumed in an evening meal, the more chances of experiencing sleep disruptions increase. If you have heartburn, avoid spicy meals, which can trigger symptoms and prevent a good night’s sleep. Need healthy recipe ideas? Download our recipe booklet!
4. Curb fluids.
Stop drinking fluids 2 hours before bed to reduce the likelihood of getting up in the night to go to the bathroom.
5. Eat a bedtime snack.
A small carbohydrate-rich snack, like a glass of skim milk, a small bowl of cereal, a slice of toast, or a piece of fruit provides the brain with tryptophan, an amino acid used to manufacture serotonin. Among its many effects, serotonin helps facilitate sleep.
6. Lose excess weight.
Fat deposits around the upper airway can obstruct breathing during sleep. Losing 10% body weight – 22 pounds for a 220-pound man – can greatly reduce the number of sleep apnea episodes each night.
7. Get moving.
Regular exercise helps falling asleep faster, promotes weight loss and relieves stress. Working out in the evening should be done three hours prior to sleeping. Working out right before bed can make falling asleep more difficult.
8. Consider supplements.
Valerian is one of the most popular and widely studied herbal remedies for insomnia. It’s thought to promote sleep by interacting with certain brain receptors. The recommended dose of valerian is 400- 900 milligrams per day taken 2 hours before bedtime for up to 28 days. Several nights to a few weeks may be needed for it to work. Short-term use of melatonin may also be effective for improving sleep, especially in older adults. The recommended dose is 0.3 to 5 milligrams at bedtime. Speaking to a pharmacist or health provider will help in identifying the appropriate supplement.