If you are trying to lose weight…sleep is one of your most powerful diet aids.
You might wonder why weight loss and sleeping go together. Well apart from the fact you won’t be putting any calories in during that time; your body will be processing those you ate the day before. If you consistently only have five or six hours of sleep not only has that process not been completed efficiently, but you wake up wanting to dive into carbohydrates and as many sugary coffees you can get your hands on. Over a period of time as your body loses energy it will demand that you top up more frequently and consume sugars to keep it going… Before you know it your weight is going steadily upwards.
Sleep is essential for the recovery of the body and mind. It is the time of day when organs continue to function but calmly enough to be able to carry out diagnostics and repairs ready to face the next active 16 hours. Without this down time every night you will find yourself vulnerable to physical and mental stress and if sleeplessness is a long term issue for you it can lead to a number of health problems.
The Power of Sleep
Sleep is as vital to humans as breathing, drinking water and following a healthy diet. We need exercise and movement throughout the day, to keep us supple and fit, but you cannot run any operating system for 24 hours per day, 7 days per week for 70 or 80 years without carrying out essential maintenance.
If we are doing our bit, we should be providing the body with the raw materials it needs to process, manufacture and rebuild our bodies internally and externally. For many of us, however, the ingredient our bodies are deprived of most is sleep.
During the day, our normal activities help our bodies to excrete toxins but the body also needs time to heal, rejuvenate and rest. Most of the day our body is focusing on keeping you upright and able to accomplish every task you set yourself, including providing you with a functional immune system. At night your body can concentrate on cleansing and restoring all the operating functions, ready for the next day.
For example: the heart normally beats 82 times in a minute.
That is 4,920 times an hour – 118,080 times a day – 826,560 times a week – Almost 43 million heartbeats a year. That is a huge amount of work for the organ that keeps us alive!
However, when we are asleep our hearts beat at around 60 beats per minute, or lower. This means that for 8 hours of the day our heart will beat 28,800 instead of 39,360 times, which is a saving of 10,560 for those down time hours.
If you multiply that over a year you will be saving nearly 4 million heartbeats. Take that in relation to our life-span of an average of 80 years, and your heart will have to work 320 million heartbeats less, saving wear and tear on this vital organ.
With regard to weightloss, your heart will also have to beat less as you lose weight which is one of the reasons that being close to a healthy weight is so important.
The same principal applies to the rest of the body and its operating systems. Your lungs will work less as your breathing slows during the night. Your muscles will rest and recuperate and your brain will undergo diagnostic tests and repairs while you sleep.
Most mental disorders, including depression and Alzheimer’s, are linked to various sleep disorders, some resulting from drugs used to control the disease or from changes in parts of the brain that normally regulate sleep patterns. There are also some concerns that sleep aids, particularly prescribed medication used long term may result in mental impairment. (As always do not stop taking any prescribed medication without consulting your doctor.)
Our dream states are important as it is part of your brain’s downtime function as it sorts information, filing and in some cases deleting unimportant information or spam, much as we do with our computers.
Going without sleep affects hormonal balance, and therefore our mood and stress levels. The glands that produce these hormones, such as the adrenal glands, are on constant alert and have no chance to rest and rejuvenate. As in the case of a rowdy neighbour it is “one up, all up”. The knock-on effect of having all these hormones rampaging around the body is that nobody gets any rest, leading to physical, mental and emotional problems.
Performance levels will decrease without proper sleep and our reactions and internal processes will be impaired. Research has shown that sleep deprivation has the same effect on driving performance as taking alcohol or drugs. People who do not get enough sleep become increasingly less sensitive to certain chemical reactions within the body and in the case of insulin this increases the risk to developing both diabetes and high blood pressure.
If you are tired then your body is trying to tell you something
Taking a nap is actually a way to catch up on your missing sleep. The most natural time for a nap is 8 hours after you have woken up in the morning and 8 hours before you go to bed. This way it is unlikely to affect your ability to fall asleep at night. Even 20 minutes can actually revitalise you and rest your body ready for another 8 hours of activity.
Make yourself comfortable, loosen your clothes and just close your eyes. Even if you do not fall asleep your body will relax and everything from your muscles to your brain will benefit.
Getting to sleep at night
Unless you are Mediterranean, and used to eating late at night from childhood, avoid having dinner just before you go to bed. Leave at least an hour – and if it has been very spicy then leave for at least two hours. I have no idea how anyone can go out for a night drinking, eat a curry and go to bed and not suffer a dreadful night’s sleep.
Alcohol can be a stimulant and whilst excessive amounts may make you sleepy it is going to wake you up four hours later with a raging thirst and a thumping headache. Once in while you may get away with it but if it is the norm you will become seriously sleep deprived.
Sitting up too late, watching an action thriller is not the best way to ensure a good night’s sleep. Those of us who have dogs who need walking benefit from both the physical activity and the fresh air before hitting the pillow and if you can safely take a stroll at night then it is an excellent idea.
I do have some breathing and simple flexibility exercises that anyone can do which help relax the body before sleep and if you would like a copy just let me know.
Make sure that there is plenty of airflow in the bedroom and sleep in comfortable clothes. I have no idea how people manage in button up pyjamas as they must be so restrictive and you will be moving around quite a bit at night and getting tangled up in both bedclothes and your nightie is going to disturb you.
I find that, however late I go to bed, reading a few pages of a book is guaranteed to help me drop off. Many people have discovered their own sleep triggers over the years, including warm baths with Epsom salts, herbal teas such as Kava Kava and Valerian, and gentle music that drowns out the noise of neighbours, or a snoring partner.
Earplugs can be very useful, particularly if you are sharing a bed with a snorer, although you may miss the alarm clock in the morning.
If you are going to bed at more or less the same time every night you will find, within a very short space of time, you will wake at about the same time every morning. In fact, it is a good idea to follow the same sleep patterns all week rather than opt for a lie in at the weekend. It establishes a healthy downtime for the body and does not confuse it for two days every week.
Sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle and research is increasingly showing that it is also vital for the development of our brains. Children who do not get sufficient sleep will develop behavioural and learning difficulties as well as compromise their immune systems and future health.
Keeping your children up with you late at night is not healthy. They need far more sleep than we do during their rapid growth spurts. Make sure that they have a nap during the day about half way through their active hours and get them into the habit of getting at least 10 hours sleep per night. When they are very young you will obviously be waking them for feeds and then for potty training but you must always try and ensure that they are kept calm and are put back down as quickly as possible. This will also be healthier for you as this is the time when most parents are likely to suffer from sleep deprivation. The next crisis for those of you with teenagers is when they fail to return before 2.00 in the morning.
There are a number of different stages of sleep and it is important that you go through the entire cycle to reap all the benefits.
There are two main phases. In phase one you will be going through Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep or NREM. There are different stages within this phase which naturally lead you to phase two or Rapid Eye Movement sleep or REM.
Phase one NREM
Stage One. This is the lightest stage of sleep and although your main senses are turned down they are not off completely and you can be disturbed by certain noises such as snoring, dogs barking or doors slamming.
Stage Two. If you get into this stage you will fall deeper asleep and your heart rate and temperature will begin to level out and drop. This stage represents about half your night’s sleep.
Stage Three and Four are the deepest stages of NREM and represent about 15% of your night’s sleep. Your breathing will slow; your temperature will drop further as will your blood pressure.
Phase two REM
After about 30 minutes in stage four NREM sleep you begin to move back to stage one and two where your brain will become more active and you will begin to dream. If you are woken up at this point in the cycle you are likely to remember the dream you were experiencing at the time. If you have reached one of the NREM stages then you are not as likely to recall anything when you wake up.
This cycle of phase one and two takes approximately 90 minutes and then begins again. To really benefit from this combination of rest and activity you need to complete at least 5 cycles during the night. This adds up to approximately 8 hours of sleep. If you only manage one or two cycles then your brain and body will not have completed its cleansing process and you will feel tired. If this becomes the norm you will begin to notice the symptoms of sleep deprivation.
Sleep is as essential as air, water and food and if you are not currently enjoying a good night’s sleep then you need to work towards finding a solution.
Your body will be dehydrated after 8 hours sleep and whilst I will leave the choice of breakfast to you from the shopping list I gave you at the beginning of the series….. I do suggest that you start the day with a large glass of water or juice of half a lemon in hot water to rehydrate.
You can find all the other posts in the series on Weight Reduction in this directory.
Please feel free to ask any questions in the comment section and if you would like a private word then please email me firstname.lastname@example.org.