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Get to Sleep. Seriously.

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Get to Sleep. Seriously.

Sleep deprivation is a huge problem for Americans, and its consequences on your health are nothing short of brutal.

Learning how to get a good night’s sleep may be the single most important thing you can do to start losing weight and reversing your metabolic problems. If you’re not getting enough sleep, achieving good health is downright impossible.

You’ll also find it almost impossible to lose weight.

According to Ian Robinson of Total Health Breakthroughs:

“Borrowing time from sleep is like taking out a bad loan – it’s a debt you’ll pay for in decreased productivity and higher risk of health problems like diabetes.”

Here are just a few of the ways your body misfires when you don’t get enough quality sleep:

  • The hormone cortisol becomes elevated. Increased cortisol is associated with weight gain, diabetes, heart attack, high blood pressure, depression, brain damage, dementia, osteoporosis and depressed immunity.
  • The hormones leptin and ghrelin, which regulate your appetite, go haywire. Leptin tells your brain when you’ve had enough to eat, and it’s responsible for storing fat. With sleep deprivation, leptin is reduced so you overeat and the overage gets stored. Ghrelin is responsible for triggering hunger. With too much of it you feel hungry even when you really don’t need to eat. It all adds up to piling on the pounds.
  • Too much GABA is released, causing problems with short-term memory and inability to learn new information.
  • You produce less melatonin, an antioxidant that goes after free radicals in your body and helps suppress cancer. Tumor growth is 2 to 3 times faster in lab animals who’ve been deprived of sleep.
  • If you are a pre-menopausal woman, sleep deprivation can affect your sex hormones, mess up your menstrual cycle and interfere with your ability to conceive.
  • Sleep deprived people are more insulin resistant.

How Much Sleep Should You Get?

Before the electric light bulb, adults usually got about 9 hours of sleep per night –- more in the winter months. Today, that average is down to 7 and many of us sleep less than that. I know I spent over 20 years functioning on 5-6 hours sleep every day, with a few extra hours thrown in on the weekends.

Over that time my weight ballooned despite my best efforts to control it, and I developed Type 2 diabetes and a few other symptoms of metabolic problems.

You should sleep 8-9 hours per night, according to most experts.

Quality vs. Quantity

Quality of sleep is as important as quantity. There’s mounting evidence that when we sleep has a big impact on sleep quality.

REM stands for rapid eye movement. When you sleep, your body cycles between non-REM and REM cycles.

Stage 1 is light sleep, usually lasting 5-10 minutes. If you are awoken during this stage, you may feel that you haven’t slept at all. Stage 2 is preparation for deep sleep when your heart rate slows and your body temperature decreases. Stages 3 and 4 are your deep sleep stages. This is when your immune system is strengthened and your body rebuilds and repairs.

REM sleep follows, and this is when you dream. As you age, the amount of time you spend in REM sleep decreases, from about 50% during adolescence to about 20%.
Your body is designed to get its best REM sleep from about 11 PM – 1 AM. After that, REM cycles become shallower and shorter as the night progresses, so the sleep you get from 11-7 is far superior to the sleep you get from 2-10.

The adrenals and other systems recharge and recover between 11 PM – 1 AM. (I’ve often wondered how they know what time it is. . .) During the same time period your gall bladder eliminates toxins. If you’re asleep when this happens, your body can eliminate them. If you’re awake, the toxins back up into your liver. Yuck.

Take the first step on your journey toward restored health. Get a good night’s sleep every night.

If You Have Trouble Sleeping. . .

If you’re one of those lucky few who can sleep whenever you are tired, like my husband, you don’t need to do anything special except set aside enough time for adequate sleep. If you’re like the rest of us, you may need some help.

Once you get past the obvious –- comfortable mattress and pillow, warm enough without being hot –- there are a few other things you should do to improve your quality of sleep.

  1. Make sure your room is really dark. If that’s not possible, invest in a good eye mask to wear at night. The presence of light while you’re sleeping affects your body’s production of the hormones melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin helps to regulate your sleep cycles, and serotonin is the “feel good” hormone. Not enough serotonin and you’ll feel cranky and depressed.
  2. Don’t eat within three hours of bedtime.
  3. Exercise regularly, but don’t exercise too close to bedtime.
  4. Be in bed before 11 PM. Really. This one’s a killer for me as I am a lifelong night person. My ideal time to sleep is from around 2 AM to around 10 AM.
  5. Don’t watch TV or stare at a computer monitor right before bed. It stimulates the brain too much and disrupts the pineal gland. Since the pineal gland stores melatonin and governs your circadian rhythms (sleep/wake cycles), it’s an important part of your good night’s sleep.
  6. Another pineal gland disruptor is EMFs (electro-magnetic fields). EMFs also affect melatonin and serotonin production. Have your bedroom scanned for EMFs if you think this might be a problem.
  7. Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine before bed. Even though alcohol might help make you feel drowsy, you can wake up after a few hours and not be able to get back to sleep.
  8. If you work at home, finish up at least an hour – preferably two hours – before bedtime to give yourself time to unwind and relax.
  9. Is noise a problem? A soothing recording, a small fountain or other white noise might help. If that’s not enough, try ear plugs.
  10. If you sleep with someone who snores or is very restless during the night, you may need to find separate sleeping arrangements for yourself, at least until you overcome your sleep problems.

Once you lick your sleep problems — and to be honest, I’m still working on mine — you’ll feel better, accomplish more, and you’ll be able to lose weight and improve your health.

What are your favorite tricks or strategies for better sleep? Please share them in the comments.

Photo by Sean McGee on Flickr

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