Lack of sleep = Stress on the body = weight gain, premature aging, hair loss, hormone imbalances, infertility, and lowered immune function.
Losing out on sleep creates a viscous cycle in your body, making you more prone to various factors contributing to weight gain.
The more sleep-deprived you are, the higher your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which increases your appetite, and it’s not like you’re going to be suddenly ravenous for kale salads, either. It takes a bit of willpower to choose the salad over the sandwich. When you’re tired, you tend to go for whatever is going to be easy and make you feel better in the moment.
When you’re stressed, your body tries to produce serotonin to calm you down. The easiest way to do that is by eating high-fat, high-carb foods that produce a neurochemical reaction.
A lack of sleep also hinders your body’s ability to process the sweet stuff. When you’re sleep deprived, the mitochondria in your cells that digest fuel start to shut down. Sugar remains in your blood, and you end up with high blood sugar. Losing out on sleep can make fat cells 30 percent less able to deal with insulin, according to a study in Annals of Internal Medicine.
The relationship between sleep loss and weight gain is a strong one, borne out in a variety of studies over the years. Large population studies show that both adults and children are more likely to be overweight and obese the less they sleep at night. In smaller, controlled studies, scientists find that when people are allowed to sleep eight hours one night and then half that amount on another, they end up eating more on the days when they’ve had less sleep. One pivotal study at the University of Colorado showed that losing just a few hours of sleep a few nights in a row caused people to pack on an average of about two pounds.
Other studies have found that the underlying effects of sleep deprivation on the body can in many ways be pronounced. The stress hormone cortisol climbs and markers of inflammation rise. Hormones that stimulate appetite increase, while hormones that blunt it drop. People become less sensitive to insulin, raising their risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Exactly how lack of sleep affects our ability to control weight has a lot to do with our hormones:
Two key hormones involved are ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is a “go” hormone. It tells us to GO EAT. When we are sleep-deprived, research has discovered, our bodies produce more ghrelin.
Another hormone, leptin, is a “stop” hormone. It tells us that we’re full and satisfied, and that we can STOP EATING. When we’re sleep-deprived, we make less leptin.
Summing up: More ghrelin and less leptin equals weight gain.
And weight gain, unfortunately, can lead to another sleep disorder, called sleep apnea, which robs us of even more sleep, which can lead to even more weight gain.
Another hormone affected by sleep disorders is insulin, research is learning. When we don’t sleep well, our cells resist, or block, insulin’s efforts to ferry glucose into our cells. Yes, it’s as if sleep deprivation is making us diabetic.
There’s more bad news. Insulin promotes the release of leptin, the “stop eating” hormone, so when we’re sleep deprived and our cells are rejecting insulin, our bodies make less leptin, which means more eating, and more weight gain.
Ways to Improve Your Sleep
To optimize sleep during the night, one must also optimize factors during waking hours including food, supplements and exposure to light/outdoors.
Getting a quality night of sleep actually begins when you wake at the beginning of the day and there are many factors that can have a dramatic impact on sleep length and quality.
Foods to Improve Sleep Naturally
Just as foods can impact health in other areas, foods can contribute to good or bad sleep. To help improve your chances of quality sleep, these are the best foods to consume:
- Healthy Fats– such as olive & coconut oil, organic and pasture raised meats, eggs, avocado and butter all help provide your body with the necessary building blocks to manufacture sleep hormones.
- High Antioxidant Foods– Also important for hormone production and removal of toxins that can impede sleep. Focus on low-glycemic vegetables and herbal or green teas (green tea early in the day only).
- Quality Proteins, especially at dinner: For best sleep, it is better to stop eating at least 4 hours before bedtime, and preferably by 7pm every night. Your evening meal should include proteins, vegetables and healthy fats. Eating enough protein at this meal will help prepare the body to enter the sleep cycle.
- Sugars: Sugars and refined carbohydrates, especially at night, can cause a blood sugar spike and crash that will lead to difficulty falling or staying asleep. Many people crave carbohydrates (chocolate, anyone?) in the evening, which is a sign of an underlying hormone problem to begin with but eating carbohydrates late at night can cause problems falling asleep or lead to waking in the middle of the night when blood sugar levels drop.
- Grains– Grains can have an effect on health, and if you have an intolerance to grains, this can cause physical stress in your body, which alters the hormone cycle and can impede sleep.
- Vegetable Oils– These artificial fats can cause problems in new skin formation (skin cancer) they can cause problems in the hormone cycle, as hormones need (saturated) fats for production and giving the body the wrong building blocks for hormones can wreak havoc with hormone production.
Supplements to Improve Sleep Naturally
Sadly, it is often difficult to get enough nutrients from foods as our soil is depleted and foods are picked before ripe so they can be shipped around the world. Especially if you struggle from a health challenge or sleep problem, it is often helpful to supplement some key nutrients, at least in the short term, as you build your body back up.
- Fermented Cod Liver Oil/High Vitamin Butter Oil Blend – Take it in the morning and at night (about 1/2 tsp each time). The presence of fat soluble vitamins A, D and K plus Omega-3s can explain why this particular supplement is great for promoting hormone production and improving sleep. For this reason, it also helps balance other hormones (in cases of infertility, etc) and is great for growing children.
- Magnesium- Many people are deficient in Magnesium and this particular deficiency can have a big impact on sleep quality. Some people find that just adding a product like Natural Calm about 30 minutes before bedtime can really improve sleep.
- Gelatin– Many of us eat a disproportionate amount of animal muscle meat compared to bone broths, organ meats and marrow. If you aren’t a fan of consuming liver daily, drinking natural gelatin (from grass-fed sources) can help balance your intake. Consumption of only muscle meats, which are higher in stress hormones, can cause problems in the sleep cycle. You could drink a cup of chamomile or herbal tea with a tablespoon of gelatin dissolved in it each night a couple hours before bed.
- If you have a solid diet and are already taking the things above, specific sleep related herbs might help your fall asleep. Try my some chamomile or catnip to help you relax.
- 5-HTP is a supplement that may help you fall asleep and improve symptoms of insomnia. It is a natural compound that gets converted by the brain into Serotonin and Melatonin – two neurotransmitters that are responsible for regulating sleep patterns. Take 50 to 100 mg 30 minutes before bedtime.
A Healthy Daily Routine = Restful Sleep
A daily (and nightly) routine can make a big difference in how easily you fall and stay asleep. You’ll have to experiment to find out what works best for you but here are some helpful suggestions:
- Wake up and go to bed at the same time, even on weekends to keep your hormone cycle regular.
- Eat a high protein/high fat snack a few hours before bed (7pm or earlier) or consume a lot at dinner.
- Avoid caffeine.
- Install F.lux (it is free) on all computers and devices to reduce blue light and help you sleep better (it is also easier on the eyes!)
- Drink 8 – 12 glasses of water during the day and stop drinking about 2 hours before bed so you don’t have to wake up to use the bathroom.
- Take a soothing salt bath about an hour before bed with some relaxing music or a great book.
- Get at least 30 minutes of sunlight each day (even if you aren’t trying to get your vitamin D). The exposure to the wide-spectrum light during the day boosts serotonin levels, which will help improve melatonin levels at night
- Avoid artificial light as much as possible after the sun goes down.
- Pray, meditate or find a way to reduce stress.
- Give yourself a massage before bed to release stress and help relax
- Stretch before bed to relax muscles.
Good sleep habits and sleep routines are a must for anyone who wants to improve their sleep. By following the sleep guidelines presented above, you can greatly improve how fast you fall asleep each night. Honoring your nightly sleep routine can greatly impact the overall quality and quantity of your sleep. Remember, consistency and self-discipline are the keys to implementing and sustaining good sleep habits that support a good night’s rest.