Not surprisingly, sleep is extremely vital to our health. Our bodies require long periods of rest in order to restore and rejuvenate function – i.e., grow muscle, repair tissue, and detox. Often in our busy lives, however, healthy sleep practices take a back seat to other things, such as working, exercising, cooking, cleaning. In fact, only 1 in 3 Canadians actually get the recommended amount of sleep (7-9 hours) per night1, not to mention that sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea affect nearly 40% of Canadians2.
You may be aware that lack of sleep (both duration and quality) is linked to diseases such as cardiovascular disease and depression, but what I find especially surprising is the strong (and perhaps less talked about) link between poor sleep and obesity. Studies have shown that inadequate sleep can affect one’s weight in numerous ways3. Firstly, when you feel tired, you are less likely to exercise (and this can become a vicious cycle: lack of exercise à lack of sleep à lack of exercise). Secondly, less sleep means you have more time to eat, and I don’t know about you, but I am guilty of snacking during my sleepless nights.
Finally, perhaps the most interesting way to explain the link between lack of sleep and obesity is the disruption of sleep hormones and metabolism caused by sleep deprivation. Individuals who are sleep deprived experience higher levels of both cortisol (a stress hormone linked to weight gain) and ghrelin (a hormone that stimulates appetite and makes you crave food more)4. In addition, lack of sleep causes a reduction in the hormone leptin, which normally tells your brain when you’re full, making it harder to know when to stop eating4. Essentially, your body experiences an “energy imbalance” that can lead to weight gain and overtime, obesity.
Okay, so what can I do to improve my sleep (and reduce the risk of obesity)?
Well, as someone who suffers from parasomnia (a sleep disorder categorized by abnormal sleep movements and nightmares), I have spent countless hours searching for all the best sleep remedies that exist. Based on my own personal experience, along with actual scientific evidence, here is a list of best sleep practices that anyone can benefit from5,6:
– Limit screen use before bed;
– Avoid eating within 2 hours of bedtime (this has really helped me);
– Avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and nicotine before bed;
– Avoid exercising within 3 hours of bedtime (exercise helps to promote restful sleep but only if it’s practiced several hours before bed);
– Keep your bedroom dark and cool (about 18°C) at night;
– Don’t be a nighttime clock watcher (aka avoid looking at your phone a billion times to check the time; simply set an alarm before bed and no more);
– Limit daytime naps (if you have to nap, at least limit it to 30 minutes or less);
– And lastly, regulate your sleep schedule (this has recently been life-changing for me!), meaning go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
My sleep doctor also recommended the book Goodnight Mind by Dr. Colleen Carney. I have yet to read it, but when I do I will be sure to report back. Until then, enough evidence exists out there for me to confidently say that sleep should no longer take a backseat.
By Joyla Furlano
- Hirotsu et al., (2015). Interactions between sleep, stress, and metabolism: From physiological to pathological conditions. Sleep Science, 8(3): 143-152.