Sleep – the thing you hate as a child, and the thing you crave as an adult! Well, in most cases anyway. Sleep is something we know instinctively how to do, yet we choose to deny on many occasions.
It is also one of those important daily activities that can greatly impact your health. In case you didn’t know that, let me share with you why sleep is so important.
Whilst the term “beauty sleep” speaks volumes about the importance of sleep on the aging process, and – you will know from the times you pulled all-nighters to get work done – your ability to focus, function and remember, sleep also has important functions in terms of regulating and optimising bodily functions. Basically, sleep is responsible for helping your body decide on how to store and use calories (read, how your body loses, stores or uses fat).
In this regard, there are two major role players in your body: enter hormones leptin and ghrelin. The first hormone, leptin, is responsible for the regulation of energy levels and in appetite control. The second hormone, ghrelin, stimulates hunger (and thus the need to eat) at the right time when more energy is required. Think about it this way – if you have too little leptin, you will have a distorted appetite and wonky energy levels. If you have too much ghrelin, you will have the need to eat almost all the time. Now comes the kicker – sleep increases the amount of leptin produced, and decreases the amount of ghrelin, ultimately helping you to have a balanced sense of appetite control, better energy levels and less of a drive to eat unnecessarily.
It stands to reason that ensuring you get enough sleep is vital for your health. Here are some great tips on how to improve your sleeping patterns.
- Don’t count sheep, eat them! You heard right. Meat contains an amino-acid called Tryptophan. Tryptophan has some serious sleep-inducing effects, which is why you usually feel like taking a nap after a big Sunday lunch roast. Tryptophan not only induces sleep, but also improves the quality of sleep by significantly increasing the hours of deep sleep that you have. This can help your reach your weight loss goals as well, because as your sleep increases, the average calorie consumption during waking hours can be reduced by as much as 6%! So, aim for between 7 and 8 hours of sleep every night to maximise this.
- Don’t go to bed hungry. So many times, we hear, “don’t eat after 6 or 7 at night (even 8, or 9 in the evening) because all that food will turn into fat while you sleep”. I cannot tell you any more clearly that this is a myth. This is a lie! Going to bed hungry can make it so much more difficult to fall asleep and sleep soundly (in between your partner’s snoring and your growling tummy, you can bet you won’t sleep much at all). Also, it stands to reason that if you go to bed hungry, you will wake up hungry and want to pig out on a huge breakfast in the morning. So rather have a small, healthy, protein-based snack before bed if you need to. Some cottage cheese or a whey-protein shake are excellent suggestions.
- Get into routine. By following the same, comfortable routine before going to bed each night, you are programming your brain to identify your pre-sleep activities as sleep triggers. You thus start associating these activities with winding down, literally prompting your body to get ready to rest, and ultimately falling asleep much more easily.
- Make a list. Often, I hear that my clients struggle to fall asleep because they are busy mentally preparing for the following day. If you are feeling anxious about the next day and all that you need to do (which is typical of my Sunday evening), the best thing to do is make a list of what you need to do, remember or follow up on. By planning the day ahead, you will be able to relax because you feel more in control, and get some proper rest.
- Sleep in the dark. This may sound silly, or it may sound ridiculously The truth is that people who sleep in darker rooms report a higher quality of sleep as well as a longer duration of natural sleep time. Generally, lying in a dark room allows you to fall asleep faster than people who sleep in rooms where light filters in. It also seems to function as a visual clue that your body can power down, and help you “switch off” from stimuli around you. It may be time to invest in some black-out curtains…
- Power down. This is an ambivalent tip, because as much as it refers to your ability to actually switch off your own thoughts before bed, it also refers to electronic devices and other distractions that we tend to bring to bed with us. Recent research suggests that the more electronic devices we allow to distract us before bed, the more fat we store. This is especially important for kids and adolescents, who are affected by the flow from the devices which inhibit deep sleep and promotes insomnia. This leads to tiredness, decreased concentration and even poor lifestyle habits during waking hours. Resist the temptation to lie in bed and surf the web, scroll through social media accounts and chat to others. Save our blog for the following morning, and instead, cuddle down for some proper, deep sleep!