Want a great way to powerfully improve your weight and diabetes that has nothing to do with your diet? It is something that all people over the age of 12 LOVE to do! Yep, you got it, good old fashioned sleep! In our hustle and bustle, “get ahead” world, sleep is often relegated to the back burner. Deep down, we all know it plays a role in good health, but we tend to minimize it as a less important factor. It time to change that perception. It’s time to put sleep right up to the top of the list of healthy habits, like diet, exercise, and stress reduction.
Just how does lack of sleep affect weight and diabetes? Lack of sleep has been shown to increase insulin resistance. In other words, it decreases your body’s ability to properly respond to insulin. When cells are resistant to insulin, glucose stays in the bloodstream rather than getting into the cells to be used for energy. This causes the body to want produce more insulin, which in turn, causes more resistance. It becomes a cyclical problem. Insulin is a “storing” hormone. More insulin means more fat storage, in other words weight gain. Insulin resistance is also at the heart of Type 2 diabetes. For more information, click the “Diabetes” tab above.
Lack of sleep affects other hormones as well. Leptin, your body’s “satiety” hormone falls with lack of sleep, while ghrelin, your body’s “hunger” hormone, rises. This increases appetite and cravings, particularly for high carbohydrate foods. These effects can be seen in as little as just a few nights of inadequate sleep.
There are many who claim that they simply don’t need 7-8 hours of sleep. Most often though, this is only because they have become accustomed to less sleep. It does not mean that just because they are used to it, that they are not suffering “silent” damage.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. HOW do we get a good night’s sleep? Many have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or just turning their brain off to even consider sleep. There are several things one can do to improve sleep habits. As a nurse who worked nights for many years, I know the pains of sleep deprivation all to well. As a result, I’ve honed in on many methods to improve quality and length of sleep.
First and foremost, keep a sleep routine by awakening and going to sleep at about the same time each day. If you stay up until 2 a.m. on Friday night and sleep until noon on Saturday, this might interfere with your next night’s sleep. Try to keep a regular sleep schedule. Staying up a little later on your days off, or sleeping a little later might be o.k., but try not to stray from your routine too much if you have difficulty sleeping. In addition, try to avoid daytime napping, as this interferes with evening sleep (kids and senior citizens excluded.)
Try to avoid stimulating activities before bedtime, like exercise, but PARTICULARLY electronic devices. Electronic devices contain “blue light” which triggers your brain to think it is still daytime. This decreases your body’s own production of a sleep hormone (melatonin) that begins to be produced as it gets dark in preparation for sleep. Keep lights in the house to a minimum and no electronic devices within 2 hours of bedtime. This includes TV watching in the bedroom before bed, not a good idea… Reading a paper book is acceptable.
Avoid bedtime snacking. Important biological processes are taking place within the first few hours after sleep which are hampered if your body is digesting and if blood sugar and insulin levels are increased. Avoid snacking within 2 hours of bedtime.
Get enough physical activity throughout the day. Often when we are physically inactive throughout the day, our bodies are just not tired enough at bedtime. If you have a sedentary job, get up and move several times a day. Even 2-5 minutes of strenuous movement a few times a day can be extremely beneficial. I have found that my healthy LCHF lifestyle provides me with about 16 hours of high energy each day so that at bedtime, I am sufficiently tired from my very active day. Keep moving.
Unwind. If you have trouble unwinding, a nice Epsom salts bath may be just what you need. Epsom salts contain magnesium, which relaxes muscles and can help reduce stress. Many also enjoy some aromatherapy with essential oils to further relax them. Adding soft music or nature sounds may help.
“White noise.” For some, it helps to have a source of constant noise to fall asleep to. This actually can help calm the mind. When we sleep in an extremely quiet environment, a small amount of noise may awaken us. But a source of constant noise, such as a fan, can help drown this out and keep the brain from being hyper-vigilant. There are several “apps” that offer many sources of constant noise, such as rainfall or ocean waves. I have used these in the past and found them extremely helpful.
Temperature and darkness. A cool dark place is more conducive to sleep. Try to avoid night lights. If you HAVE to get up in the middle of the night, keep a small flashlight on your bedside table and use that rather than turning on the lights in your room. Do not check your electronic device in the middle of the night.
Spiritual routine. If you are so inclined, spiritual activities before bed can be relaxing and help reduce stress. Activities such as deep reflection, humming spiritual songs, reading or prayer are very beneficial for many.
Get sleep disorders addressed. If you have excessive daytime drowsiness and snore a lot, or sleep propped up on pillows, this may be a sign of sleep apnea. This can be diagnosed with a sleep study (which can be done at home) and treatment with a nighttime breathing assistance device (CPAP). If you have put this off because you have seen the CPAPs of the past, you will be happy to know that much improvement has been made in their design to make them comfortable and quiet. Weight loss can also help improve or eliminate sleep apnea for many.
Avoid sleep aids. The answer to sleep is not cough syrup, antihistamines, or Ambien. If every single one of these above methods fails, I would suggest a complete investigation into your health status before considering sleep aids. A word about melatonin…melatonin is not the answer for the majority of people. Melatonin supplementation may be needed by those who have a decreased production of natural melatonin, such as night workers and the elderly. But taking melatonin will typically only help those with a melatonin deficiency. If that is not the case for you, melatonin generally won’t help. Also, with melatonin, more is not better. It is not a drug, so if it is ineffective, the answer is not to take more. If it doesn’t work, it may be because a melatonin is not your problem.
A special note to night workers. I have a lot of sympathy for night workers. This dedicated bunch of folks are shortening their life spans and increasing their risks of many deadly chronic disease states because, well, someone has got to do it. I think young night workers can compensate better, but as you age, night work becomes more detrimental to the body. If you have a choice, try to stop nighttime work, even if you love doing it. For the sake of your health, switch to daytime work. Even if you don’t FEEL the effects of nighttime work too badly, doesn’t mean you are not experiencing them. If you cannot switch from nighttime work, there are a few things you can do. First, a sleep routine is even more important. DON’T skimp on sleep. Night workers have a tendency to forgo sleep to tend to personal matters during the day. Stop it! Get 7-8 hours of sleep like everyone else. Next, try to have your work nights grouped together so you are not constantly bouncing back and forth between day and night sleeping. Then, after a few days of night work, use one whole day and night to recover. Finally, try all of the methods above to improve quantity and quality of sleep before resorting to sleep aids. If you are having to resort to sleep aids, it really is time to stop the night work if there is any way possible.
Make 7-8 hours sleep a priority in your life. For your health, weight and diabetes management, good sleep habits are a must! Wishing good health to all of you!