Five Easy Strategies for Better Sleep

pexels-photo-57686Last week I talked about the relationship between sleep and weight, but sleep doesn’t just impact weight. Sleep affects our thinking, our efforts to perform, our health, our memory, and even our ability to be happy. Studies suggest that adults should strive to spend seven to nine hours between the sheets each night.

The simple take-away? Sleep is important. Unfortunately, sleep is, at times, elusive; even when we have the best intentions. Here are five easy strategies for better sleep you can implement tonight.

Routine. Sounds boring, but going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even on weekends, has benefit. It gets us back in touch with our circadian rhythm, or our natural body clock. If we are used to going to bed at 10:00 p.m. our body will let us know when it is 10:00 p.m., and if we stay up late one night, our body will account for that lost sleep with a well-placed yawn or two at 9:00 p.m. the next night.

Relax. Chilling out an hour or two before bedtime helps encourage a restful night. But how? It’s actually quite easy: limit your screen time and spend the first few minutes in bed actively relaxing the body and mind. For the later, meditation and deep-breathing promote rest. Give it a try: simply close your eyes, relax the jaw and draw attention to your breath – both the inhale and the exhale. Take a slow, deep, smooth breath in and let it go with an exhale that is equally long and slow. Repeat this five to 10 times.

Exercise. Vigorous exercise during the day helps in the fight against sleepless nights. Because working out raises body temperature, revs up metabolism and stimulates the release of hormones (such as our feel-good hormones Endorphins and Dopamine), we feel tired. But the key is scheduling your work out far enough in advance of bedtime so these benefits aren’t disruptive.

Light. Get outside and into the light. Why? Exposure to sunlight boosts natural Melatonin production, the hormone that regulates sleep. Consider enjoying your morning cup o‘Joe on the front porch or taking a walk at lunch or incorporating a mid-day stroll around the office building to replace that trip to the candy machine.

Cool & Dark. Ensure your bedroom is cool and dark. Cooler because as body temperature drops it becomes easier to dose off and dark because Melatonin secretion, which is sensitive to light, is not interrupted. In fact, light (even the low light emitted from cell phones, digital clocks and TVs) can stunt production of Melatonin and signal the body to wake up. Whereas darkness increases the release of Melatonin, which urges the body to rest.


The Relationship between Sleep and Weight

Sleep imageHave you ever heard that sleep affects weight? It’s true; studies show lack of sleep can lead to weight gain. But how?

While not getting enough sleep may cause us to feel too tired to exercise or inspire high-calorie, pick-me-up snacking, like lattes, potato chips and candy, there is another reason why being groggy causes weight gain. It’s our hormones.

In simple terms, lack of adequate sleep influences how hormones perform, like leptin, the hormone responsible for signaling fullness. When we don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels fall; this cues our brain to send out messages to eat more even if we just finished eating a large meal. We can feel forever hungry when we are sleep deprived and that false hunger will likely cause us to fill that void by reaching for high-calorie, nutrient-deficient foods.

To make matters worse, too little sleep spikes the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, and interferes with how the body responds to insulin. Higher levels of cortisol cause the body to conserve energy, which tricks it into hanging on to fat. Similarly, insulin–the hormone that transforms certain foods into energy–doesn’t work properly; prompting more of it than is necessary. This results in the body choosing to store more fat. Not good news when we consider we tend to eat more when we are sleep deprived.

The bottom line: Lack of sufficient sleep can derail an otherwise perfect diet and exercise program. Next week I’ll share simple strategies to make getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night a priority and easy to attain.