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Struggling to Lose lbs? Get some Zzz!

Remember your first sleepover as a kid? I do. It was supposed to be a sleepover, but it turned into a wakeover. I was about ten years old and one of my classmates had a birthday party. There were two of us invited; me and a loud, obnoxious girl named Tammy who was twice my size, ate jumbo grape Lipsmackers lip gloss like they were candy and I’m pretty sure was well into puberty by the age of ten. There’s no way I was letting my guard down to sleep when she was around.  I went home the next morning exhausted out of my mind, cried for an hour and then slept for ten.

We used to have all night lock-ins at my church. You know, pure, joy-filled all-night-long loud teen games and showings of movies like The Fog and Friday the 13th. Maybe they were meant to inspire the desire to pray, but they left me desperately afraid of the dark and in need of sleep!

In college, my friends and I endured multiple all-night end of the quarter cram sessions to complete projects and study for critical finals. Again, I’d stay awake for two days at a time, and then sleep for two more.

As babies came along, true sleep deprivation set in. There were often and sometimes lengthy nightly hours of changing, feeding, burping, soothing, soothing and soothing some more until they would finally go to sleep just when it was time for me to get up.

Going without sleep sucks.

But do you ever talk to people who say, “I only slept four hours last night!” and act like it’s a badge of honor? Or run into someone at 5 am boot camp who said they just went to bed at midnight and here they are! Ready to roll! Nothing is gonna slow me down! Sure, some people can function that way, I guess, but I don’t think they are meant to. Most of us can’t. And shouldn’t. But one in three of us do it anyway.

What’s the magic number of hours you need to sleep “well” anyway? Everybody is different, of course. But as a rule, about 8 hours is good, but 7 is acceptable. Anything under 5 is health threatening. Yikes!

When you lose sleep, you lose your mind. Literally. Not getting enough sleep can have a dangerous outcome on your brain and cognitive function. Not sleeping alters the way your brain works, dulling activity in the frontal lobe of your brain which is in charge of decision-making and self-control making it harder to make healthy choices and resist temptation (read: chocolate chip ice cream at 9 pm). It also wakes up a little hunger hormone named ghrelin and once he’s awake, you want to eat, and you usually do. So, not sleeping makes you lose your mind and gain your gut at the same time. Double whammy.

When you lose sleep, you may lose your long-term ability to combat anxiety and stress too. That makes me anxious just thinking about it. Lost sleep can lead to fatigue and daytime sleepiness (duh!) but can cause you to be sick, clumsy and even make your weight fluctuate which stinks if the reason you’re not sleeping is because you’re pushing yourself to get to a 5 am bootcamp to improve your number on the scale, not make it worse.

On top of that, going without good, restorative sleep for a long period of time can push you into the realm of high blood pressure, low sex drive, heart disease, diabetes, risk for cancer, and obesity. Even your propensity to get into a car accident goes up if you are tired behind the wheel.

On the flip side, good sleep can help you exercise better, eat less and be healthier. It’s amazing that something we are born to do so simply and naturally, and that’s so good for us, becomes such a lost skill and an unappreciated gift. In this world of high expectations and knowing that we need sleep to meet those expectations, how do we still not put our “I don’t have time to sleep” excuses to bed?

OK obviously people don’t sleep for a bunch of reasons; work, stress, homework, babies, health issues. Some of those things are out of our control and temporary. But some of us don’t sleep well because our circadian rhythm is out of whack and that can be a long-term problem. But it’s one that we can fix naturally.

Simple solutions like exposure to bright light or natural sunlight during the daytime can help correct your circadian rhythm. Consequently, bright light, AND blue light from our phones and computer screens, should be avoided within two hours of bedtime. You can get blue light blockers OR you can just not use these devices at night. So, don’t bring your phone to bed to check Facebook and Instagram before you try to go to sleep! Also, don’t sleep during the day unless it’s a power nap of 30 minutes or less and try to establish and keep a regular sleep/wake cycle even on the weekends.

Steer clear of stimulants such as caffeine and snacks at night. These things work to wake up your brain, not let it wind down to go to sleep. No caffeine for six to eight hours before bed and no snacks after a low-carb dinner, which should be around 5 or 6 pm if you’re planning on a 10 pm bedtime. Snacking spikes your insulin so if you want your body to wake you up at 1 am wanting a snack, go ahead and give it a carb at about 9 pm and that’s exactly what will happen.  Same thing goes for alcohol. Think it’s going to help you sleep? Think again. Booze messes with your natural melatonin and can cause snoring and sleep apnea. So skip the schnapps before you hit the sheets.

Speaking of melatonin, you can supplement this natural sleep hormone in a capsule form to safely and effectively enhance sleeping. Here are some others to try; the natural herbs ginko biloba and lavender, the amino acids glycine or L-theanine, Valerian root, and the mineral magnesium. Sleep in a cool, dark, quiet room and don’t watch movies or TV in your room.

And if you just signed up for 5 am boot camp, that’s awesome. We’ll see you on the turf! Don’t skip your sleep though, GO TO BED EARLIER.

So here’s to some sweet shuteye! Good night everyone!

 Want to learn more about the link between poor sleep and failing fitness efforts? Tune back in later this week for my interview with Jake Hutt, the Director of Rejuv Medical’s Fitness Center, to hear what he has to say.

Written by:
Kirsten Freeman, Integration Specialist