You Snooze, You Lose – Literally
Sleep can assist weight loss. Losing weight and keeping it off involves instituting a whole lot of little habits that you do on a consistent basis. Getting enough sleep is one of those habits. But getting enough sleep involves more than just lying in bed getting your Zs. Sleep in itself requires lots of little habits that lead up to a restful night.
The relationship between sleep and food choices
A number of studies have shown that sleep deprivation, by as little as an hour a night, can result in greater calorie consumption during the day. In one study sleep deprived participants over-ate by between 180 and 560 calories per day. Other studies indicate that the more sleep deprived people are, the more they choose foods high in sugar and fat. In an MRI scanner, the pleasure center of the brains of those with less sleep lit up brighter when given food cues. In several other studies sleep deprivation was associated with losing lean body tissue and replacing it with fat. The evidence is clear, getting enough sleep may be important to your well-being in general. But, if you’re trying manage your food choices and weight, a good night’s sleep is on your side
So how do I get a good night’s sleep?
You’re getting advice here from a chronic insomniac who’s learned how to manage it and get in a decent night – most nights.
It starts with dinner
Try to finish dinner at least 3 hours before bedtime and then don’t eat anything else. Most people know they “shouldn’t” eat in the evening. But almost everyone I’ve talked with has identified evening as their problem time. (After dinner snacking is a topic in and of itself and we’ll tackle that in another blog).
Set the color shift on your electronics
Make sure the color shift on all your devices is set to night mode. The blue light that comes from our screens sends our brains a daylight signal that keeps us awake. I recommend you shift to a warmer light at least 2 hours before your bedtime. If you don’t know how to do it, Google Night shift with your computer’s make and model and the directions should pop right up.
Get to bed at a consistent time
This is critical. If this is something you’re having trouble with I recommend using a bedtime app. You can set it to give you a signal to start your wind-down time. If you have an iPhone there’s one built in. It’s the one I use and I’ve been sleeping better ever since.
Half an hour before bed, wind yourself down. This is where I don’t agree with conventional wisdom. I’m not going to tell you to put your screens down entirely, because you probably won’t anyway. I do suggest that whether you watch TV or a movie or read, that you switch to something light, entertaining, fun, or relaxing. Read an engaging novel or watch a silly sit-com. This isn’t the time to concentrate on War and Peace, watch a Stephen King movie, or read the news. Better yet, listen to some soothing music or take a hot shower or bath.
Make your bedroom as dark, quiet, and cool as possible.
Set limits with your phone
We love our phones. Even those of us of a certain age who spent most of our lives with only a landline, now can’t imagine life without one.
Resist the temptation to use your phone in bed. 1 in 3 people report using their phones in the middle of the night. You don’t need to check email or your Facebook feed. Even with the color shift on, once in bed the light from the screen will only keep you awake. Put it on do not disturb (a bedtime app can do that automatically) or airplane mode. If you still find yourself using it in the middle of the night, put it across the room, or you can use a blocker. These allow you to shut down the apps you’re most likely to use during the times you specify – or you can block your entire internet access. Here’s a list of available blockers. There are lots to choose from. Set it up when your motivation is high and it kicks in when your resolve is lowest. That way you can’t use your phone in the middle of the night.
If you need to keep your phone on because someone might need you, turn off the text and tell them to call you if it’s an emergency.
Stay in bed
Conventional advice says that you should get up if you can’t sleep. Take it from the toss and turn champ who’s tried it all. Getting up only makes the insomnia worse. What do you do when you’re up? More than likely you’re on your computer or reading. Light and mental activity will ensure you’re wide awake. If you can’t sleep, use it as an opportunity to meditate. Sit up if you like, but don’t get out of bed or turn on the light. Will you be sleeping like a baby in no time? Maybe, maybe not. But don’t make things worse by getting out of bed and stimulating your mind in a lighted room. Sorry “experts” bad idea.
Don’t “try” to fall asleep
“I can’t sleep. I NEED to sleep. I need all my wits about me tomorrow. If I don’t get a good night’s sleep I won’t be able to function.” Anxiety only makes things worse. Even if you really do have an big day ahead of you, you’re more likely to fall asleep if you’re not too worked up. Back to the meditation strategy. It’ll keep you calm and manage stress.
Get up when the alarm goes off
Remember, this advice is from a chronic insomniac. Disable your snooze alarm. Put your alarm across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off. If your room is really dark, especially in the winter, put a light on a timer. If you didn’t sleep well there is a tendency to hit the snooze button or sleep-in if you have the time. In my experience, that only compounds the problem. Make-up for lost sleep past your alarm and you won’t be tired at bed time. The cycle will repeat itself.
Getting out of bed is the hardest thing I do all day. I seriously hate it. The best strategy I’ve found is, first start moving your legs, then your arms. Acknowledge how good the weight and warmth of the blanket feels and how crappy you know it will feel when you project yourself into a cold room. Then just grit your teeth and do it.
The bottom line
There’s a body of scientific evidence pointing to the impact of a good night’s sleep on making better food choices. With a few tweaks, even the hardest core insomniac can get to sleep.