7 To-Dos for Your Best Night of Sleep (Ever!)

Article posted in: Lifestyle
sleep

Having trouble sleeping? Daytime tiredness isn’t the only consequence of tossing and turning at night. New research says that not getting enough sleep can make you fat.

Over the last two decades, researchers have been looking at the link between sleep and weight. The evidence is clear: People who don’t get enough sleep weigh more than those who do.

What’s the connection? For one thing, when you wake up sleepy, you may be too tired to exercise. For another, sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on your body, particularly the hormones that affect appetite. Studies have shown that people who don’t sleep well eat more carbohydrates and calories (about 300 more!) than when they’re better rested.

That may be because, as research has shown, lack of sleep throws off the body’s natural clock—its circadian rhythm, which governs the timing of hormone production, among other things. That includes your hunger and satiety hormones. How it works: When you’re sleep deprived, your body tends to produce higher levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and lower levels of leptin, the hormone that tells you to stop eating because you’re full. That’s a recipe for weight gain.

In one study done at the University of Colorado at Boulder, people who got only five hours of sleep a night for a week were two pounds heavier by week’s end. The reason? They were eating more calories in their post-dinner snacks than they’d eaten all day!

How much sleep do you need? Though people vary in the amount of sleep that leaves them refreshed in the morning, after convening a blue ribbon panel of scientific experts to determine the best range for both health and well-being, the National Sleep Foundation settled on a recommendation of seven to nine hours for young adults and adults, and seven to eight hours for older adults.

Improve your chances of successful weight loss by sleeping on it—all through the night, every night, by following these tips:

1. Stick to a schedule.
Keep your body clock constant so you don’t interrupt the steady production of appetite related-hormones. Sleep experts recommend that you go to bed and wake up at the same times most of the time. Yes, that means keeping to your workday schedule on the weekends.

2. Have a restful routine.
You know how kids like to be read or sung to, to help them fall asleep? You need a soothing ritual like that, too, to help your brain start to gear down and get ready to go into dormant mode. Reading or listening to soothing music—in the dark, because bright lights tell your brain it’s still daytime—can help you drift off into dreamland, says the National Sleep Foundation. One study, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, found that listening to soothing music helped older people fall asleep faster and sleep longer than they did without a bedtime soundtrack.

3. Lay off the lattes after noon.
Caffeine can stay in your system longer than you think. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it takes about six hours to eliminate half the caffeine you consume. You don’t have to give up tea, coffee, diet soda or chocolate (it has caffeine too). Just keep your intake to 250 milligrams a day (the equivalent of three, six-ounce cups a day) and have your last cup more than six hours before bedtime. In one study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit found that people who took a caffeine pill six hours before they hit the sack had a hard time getting to sleep and staying asleep. In fact, they lost an average of one hour of sleep as a result, the researchers reported.

4. Drink early, but not often.
Think of alcohol as sneaky caffeine. It won’t keep you from falling asleep like your post-dinner espresso, but a recent study by University of Melbourne researchers found that people who had a nightcap—orange juice and vodka—had sleep patterns that are associated with being awake. The nighttime imbibers got less restorative sleep—that deep sleep your brain needs to refresh itself. Instead, their brain scans showed evidence of what are called alpha waves, which are produced when you’re awake but resting.

5. Turn off and tune out.
If you’re going to read before bed, don’t do it on an e-reader. And get rid of the bedroom TV, too. A number of studies have confirmed that the backlighting on electronic devices is stronger than natural light and can shift your body’s natural clock. Not only can that interfere with your sleep by suppressing the sleep hormone melatonin—it can take longer to fall asleep and you have less dream sleep—it can have wide-ranging effects on your entire metabolic system, leading to obesity, metabolic syndrome (which includes hypertension and high blood fats), and diabetes.

6. Turn down the heat.
Evidence from a number of studies suggests that sleeping in a hot stuffy bedroom can ruin a good night’s sleep. In one large European study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, it was one of two environmental factors that disturbed the restorative sleep in the more than 25,000 people who were surveyed about their sleep habits.

7. Get a comfy bed.
This was the other environmental factor that was significant in preventing or promoting a good night’s sleep in the 25,000 Europeans in the previously mentioned study. What’s a comfy bed? That’s strictly subjective. One person’s firm mattress is another’s morning backache. Try out as many mattresses as you can before buying until you find the one that makes you go, “ahhhhh.”