Getting a good night’s sleep is not always as easy as it sounds. We live in a fast-paced world where we are constantly trying to cram in more of everything; we are working earlier and finishing later than ever before. Mix in the enormous amount of information thrown at us from social media, news and email and our own innate response to want to achieve more things faster and better … then it’s no surprise that our sleep is suffering. But apart from being a little groggy and grouchy first thing, Is your waistline suffering from poor sleep? Short answer…Yes!
We all want to lose a little belly fat right? So we go the gym and train hard, we come home and focus on healthy eating using whole foods and we try our best to avoid takeaways and chocolate but the weight is just not shifting…what’s up with that? Maybe I just have terrible genetics; after all, I keep seeing other people getting great results by doing the same thing. I must not be trying hard enough. [The result: you train more and eat less or you just outright give-up and quit]
Sound familiar? It certainly does to me!
Could improved sleep be the key?
To first understand the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep lets find out what happens when you don’t.
The first major hurdle is stress, a poor night’s sleep puts stress on your body in the same way as a hectic work week does…funny how they often both go in hand in hand for double trouble!
The body’s natural response to stress is known as the fight or flight reaction. This reaction is hardwired into our DNA from our caveman days to help get us out of trouble in times of need. The problem is that your body doesn’t recognise the difference between the stress of poor sleep, a work deadline and the imminent attack of a saber-toothed tiger; instead it just sees stress and responds in the only way it knows how. (though in varying levels).
The first issue is a dramatic increase in the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is what’s known as a catabolic hormone, in other words it’s used to break down body tissues; such as muscle (a key player in upping your metabolism and burning fat). Additionally, high levels of cortisol in your body results in the storage of fat (particularly in the abdominal area). That means less muscle and more fat stored on your waist…so we are already off to a bad start.
Another issue comes when your body gets your liver and muscle tissues to release glycogen to use as a quick energy source to escape (remember the tiger attack). Ever notice how you’re never tired after someone cuts you up on the M25? This stress response leads to an impulse to crave all the wrong type of foods.
Have you ever noticed how after a bad night’s sleep you wake up craving sugar and just about anything with a fast release carbohydrate? This all comes from that stress response of poor sleep. And just for kicks, consistent poor sleep also causes your body to produce more ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger. A combination of high levels of cortisol and ghrelin switches off the parts of your brain that control satiety after a meal, leaving you reaching for larger portion sizes without a second thought.
Further studies have shown that sleep deprivation can decrease glucose and insulin sensitivity, both of which help with the prevention of diabetes.
In summary, if you’re not consistently getting between 7-9 hours of well-rested sleep you could be losing muscle, storing more fat around your waistline whilst craving all the wrong foods and tucking into bigger portions without the ability to make good decisions.
Top tips for getting a better nights sleep:
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening.
- Set a bed-time; I know sounds a little silly but set a reasonable time to be in bed to ensure you get a good night’s sleep.
- Get a bedtime routine. Dim the lights and turn off the TV. I know it’s tempting to stay up and catch up on your favourite TV show – what’s an extra 30-minutes after all? Try and fight the urge and instead relax in bed with a good book.
- Relax with 10-minutes of guided meditation (try great apps like Calm)
- Make your room as dark as possible even the slightest bit of light can affect your quality of sleep.
- Avoid following a bad night’s sleep with another, even if that means missing the gym tomorrow to catch up.