Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why Your Sleep Habits are Sabotaging Your Diet

I have been having trouble getting out of bed on time--not just your normal "I don't wanna go to school, mom" and hitting snooze once or twice, but literally feeling incapable of forcing myself out of bed and then hitting the snooze button for an hour, always arriving to work a few minutes late, which then made me feel some shame for the rest of the morning, not to mention feeling rushed, groggy, and unprepared.

Desperate for some help to make it stop, I purchased an app for my iPhone called Sleep Cycle, which tracks your sleep cycle based on movement in your bed (so if you sleep with a partner or pets it may not be as effective) and then very gradually and soothingly wakes you up during a half-hour interval that you set when it senses you are in the waking stages of sleep.

According to a quick Google search, waking up during deep sleep or REM sleep, can cause your body to release the hormone cortisol, which is a stress induced hormone that can cause increased appetite, fatigue and weight gain specifically around the belly area.

After reading that information, I realized that had to be my problem--my alarm was going off during the wrong time in my sleep cycle and that's why I couldn't get out of bed; however, that was probably only part of the problem.  After the first night of using the Sleep Cycle app, I checked the graph that tracks your sleep cycles through the night.  I was getting only 5 hours of sleep and not nearly enough deep sleep!  I headed back to Google to find out how I could remedy this problem.  I was also sold on the Sleep Cycle app and intend to use it every night from now on.  Here's what I learned:

Adequate Sleep is Important because it enhances your:

  • mental sharpness
  • creativity
  • productivity
  • emotional balance
  • physical vitality
  • maintenance of a healthy weight
Adults need 7.5-9 hours of proper sleep a night.

Proper sleep has four stages:
  • Stage N1 (Transition to sleep): Lasting about 5 minutes, your muscle activity slows down, eyes move slowly under closed eyelids, and you are easily wakened.
  • Stage N2 (Light Sleep): As the first stage of true sleep, it lasts about 10-25 minutes.  Eye movement stops, heart rate slows, and body temperature decreases.
  • Stage N3 (Deep Sleep): You are difficult to awaken, and when you do, you do not adjust immediately and feel groggy/disoriented.  In this stage, brain waves are extremely low.  Blood flow is directed away from the brain and toward the muscles to restore physical energy.
  • REM Sleep (Dream Sleep): About 70-90 minutes after you fall asleep, you begin to dream.  Eyes move rapidly, breathing is shallow, heart rate and blood pressure increase, and arm and leg muscles are paralyzed.
This is a typical sleep cycle in one night:

Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation:
  • Needing an alarm clock to get up on time
  • Relying heavily on the snooze button
  • Having a hard time getting out of bed
  • Feeling sluggish in the afternoon
  • Getting sleepy after sitting for long periods of time or in warm rooms
  • Getting drowsy after heavy meals or driving
  • Needing to nap to get through the day
  • Falling asleep while watching TV or relaxing in the evening
  • Feeling the need to sleep in on the weekends
  • Falling asleep within 5 minutes of going to bed

Negative Effects of Sleep Deprivation:
  • Fatigue, lethargy, low motivation
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Reduced creativity/problem solving skills
  • Inability to cope with stress
  • Reduced immunity; frequent colds/infections
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Weight gain
  • Impaired motor skills or increased risk of accidents
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems
Tips for Getting Better Sleep:
  • Set a regular bedtime and don't break it on weekends.  If you need to change your bedtime, do it in 15 minute increments
  • Wake up at the same time every day and don't break it on weekends.  You should wake up naturally without an alarm clock if you are getting enough sleep.
  • Nap to make up for lost sleep rather than sleeping late.  Limit your nap to 30 minutes.  Don't take naps if you have insomnia.
  • Fight after-dinner drowsiness.  If you feel sleepy after dinner, do something mildly stimulating so you don't fall asleep.  Do the dishes or laundry, call a friend, walk the dog, etc.  Falling asleep too close to bedtime could cause you to wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to fall back asleep
  • Increase light-exposure during the day.  Open the curtains in the morning and turn on the lights.  I find it really helps me get out of bed if I open my eyes right away and keep them open even before it's actually time to get out of bed.
  • Boost melatonin production in the evening.  Melatonin is naturally produced when your body senses it's getting dark outside and will soon be time to go to sleep.  Turn off your television or computer before going to sleep; it's tempting to wind down with a TV show, but the light from the TV can throw off your body's interpretation of time.  Try reading or listening to music instead.  Don't read from a backlit device at night (such as an iPad).  When it is time to sleep, make sure your bedroom is completely dark.  If you get up to go the bathroom, use a flashlight or nightlight to guide your way rather than turning lights on.
  • Keep your bedroom/house quiet.  If you live near a busy highway (like me), turn on a fan or white noise machine.  Don't sleep with the TV or music on--even if you think it is soothing, it is hurting your sleep.  
  • Keep your room cool--around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.  
  • Make sure you have a comfortable bed.  You should have enough room to stretch and move.  
  • Reserve your bed for sleeping (okay, and sex).  If your mind associates your bed with working on your laptop, it will assume you are meant to stay awake there.  This is why I find it's best if I nap on the couch and not my bed.  If I nap in bed, my body seems to think I should take a nap that is WAY too long.
  • Stay away from big meals and alcohol before bed.  Avoid heavy, rich foods before bed, as it takes more energy for your body to digest those foods.  Although alcohol seems like a good way to make you drowsy and tired, it reduces your sleep quality.
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon (or altogether).  
  • Avoid drinking too much liquid before bed.  Getting up to use the bathroom frequently throughout the night disturbs your sleep.
  • Quit smoking.  There are hundreds of reasons you should quit smoking, but nicotine is a stimulant that disrupts sleep.  And people who smoke throughout the day will experience nicotine withdrawal while asleep, also disturbing their sleep.
Hope this helps!  Nighty night!

Information courtesy of Help Guide

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