How can sleep affect my health and my weight?

Results of a study published in the medical journal The Lancet show that sleep deprivation causes changes in metabolism and hormone functioning, which can effect how the body burns–and stores–fat.

People who feel well rested are more likely to have a positive attitude and are more likely to engage in physical activity. In addition, cravings for high carbohydrate and high fat food increase as the body seeks an immediate source of energy to compensate for the sleep deprivation. To make matters worse, many of us turn to food for “comfort” when we’re feeling poorly, such as when we’re tired.

There are many reasons sleep is essential to your overall health. Sleep is highly productive in restoring and renewing the body for the next day; if you are lacking in hours of sleep, your muscles are not recuperating from the stress of the day, and therefore they cannot function properly. Our muscles are important for keeping the metabolism working at a high level. Sleep is also necessary for the nervous system to function properly. It appears to give the brain an opportunity to develop key connections that cannot be made during waking hours. Sleep requirements vary with age. Most adolescents need 9-10 hours of sleep while adults need 7-9 hours, with elderly needing the least at 6 hours.

Common causes of sleep disturbance include: emotional discomfort caused by work, school, health or family problems; change in environment or work schedule, and poor “sleep hygiene” (habits that promote a routine and an environment conducive to more restful sleep ) caused by smoking, drinking alcohol, consuming caffeine, medications, and changing sleep schedules.

To assess your sleep patterns to determine the degree of your sleep problems, ask yourself the following questions: When did the problem begin? What times do you go to bed and wake up? Do you have difficulty completing work or other activities because you are too tired? Is your sleep environment conducive to restful, restorative sleep?

The following are tips to follow for good “sleep hygiene”:

• Standardize sleep time (our body loves rituals)

• Use the bed for sleep and intimacy only

• Limit day time napping—try to nap for no longer than 20 minutes (napping for longer may leave you feeling groggy and can interfere with nighttime sleep)

• Reduce or eliminate heavy meals

• Avoid exercise within 2-3 hours before bedtime (in contrast, regular exercise in the late afternoon may facilitate and deepen sleep).

• Control your sleep environment by minimizing noise, light and heat

• Eat a light evening snack of foods high in the sedating amino acid L-Tryptophan (eggs, turkey).

• Avoid looking at the clock after going to bed