Q&A w/Stephanie Solaris: The Benefits of Sleep

Do you have trouble sleeping – getting to sleep OR staying asleep?  Do you feel more wound up at night then in the morning?   Do you toss and turn trying to fall asleep, only to wake up in the middle of the night unable to quiet your mind, so frustrated that you find yourself surfing the web or TV?

Sleep hygiene is one of the many challenges I come across with my clients at Solaris Whole Health.  Believe it or not, sleep or lack thereof affects your ability to lose weight, deal with typical daily stresses effectively, and fight off colds.  Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury.

Sleep and Hunger.

Sleep loss disconnects your brain from your stomach.  There are 2 digestive hormones that control hunger; ghrelin and leptin.    Ghrelin, or the ‘go hormone or green light hormone’ is secreted when your stomach is empty, telling your body to ‘eat’.  Leptin, your  “red light” hormone is secreted when your stomach is full, telling you to ‘stop eating’.

A 2004 University of Chicago study showed that when people were allowed only 4 hours of sleep, two nights in a row, leptin (stop eating hormone) decreased by 20% and the “eating hormone” ghrelin increased!  The people in the study had a 23% increase in hunger and appetite.   Not only did they want to eat more, they craved sweets, salty snacks, and starchy foods.

Bottom Line: Sleep loss tricks your body into believing its hungry.

Sleep and Stress.

Lack of sleep increases cortisol levels in the afternoon and evening.  (Cortisol is one of your stress hormones.)   Increased cortisol levels tells your body to break down muscle and store fat.  This viscious circle also keeps you ‘wound up’ at a time your body needs to be ‘winding down’.  It also inhibits secretion of serotonin – your ‘feel good hormone’.  Not only does this effect how you deal with stress, it also makes you crave ‘feel good foods’ (like cookies for example).

Bottom Line: Sleep loss keeps you in an ever present ‘stress mode’, depleting your ability to cope with daily stresses.

Sleep and Colds.

A JAMA study concluded that those who get less than 7 hours sleep are 3 times more likely to catch a cold.

Bottom Line: Sleep boosts immunity while sleep loss impairs it.

What can you do.

1. Whatever you do, keep to a schedule.  Accept your lifestyle and work with it.  I’ve worked with many people like police officers who work nights.   It doesn’t matter what kind lifestyle you have, your body likes consistency.  Be consistent.  Go to bed at about the same time and get up at the same time no matter what hours you work.

2. Keep distractions to a minimum.  Your bedroom is for two things: sleep and sex.  TV, computers and reading need to be left to other parts of your home.

3. Make sure you have a comfortable mattress.

4. Keep it quiet.  Even if you live in a noisy area, find ear plugs, keep dogs out and use a fan or wave machine for white noise.

5. Keep it dark.  Keep to minimal distractions; dark blinds, eye sleep ware etc.

6. Come up with your own nighttime and wake up ritual.  Whatever it is, make it your own. For example, take out your contacts, wash your face, brush your teeth, comb your hair, get into your sleep clothes etc.  Prepare yourself and your body for a clean, comfortable sleep.

7. If your mind races at night, dump all your thoughts on a piece of paper and tell yourself you’ll deal with it in the morning after a good nights sleep.

8. ”If you find yourself lying in bed for more than 15 minutes unable to sleep, get out of bed and do something that’s not too stimulating until you’re tired enough to try going to sleep again,” suggests Wilfred Pigeon, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Sleep and Neurophysiology Research Laboratory and chairman of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine Behavioral Sleep Medicine Committee.

9. Don’t go to bed hungry or too full.  Maintaining consistent blood sugar is key.  Eat 5-6 small meals per day.  If you don’t eat enough or eat too much right before bed a dip in blood sugar will wake you up.

10. Practice.  Sleeping well does not happen overnight!  If these things don’t work, seek out a health professional you trust to help your body get back into balance.   A good night’s sleep never felt so good.

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