Do you struggle to maintain a healthy weight but can’t figure out why? An imbalanced diet and lack of exercise could be contributing, but did you know that not enough sleep could also be playing a part? Experts recommend seven to nine hours sleep per night but, according to a study by Harvard Medical School, few of us are getting that amount on a regular basis. As a result, our health in general, and in particular our metabolism is suffering.
“We all lead busy lives these days and if we’re overly stressed it can lead to lack of sleep,” says dietician Sarah Keogh. “This increases the risk of putting on weight because it affects the production of hormones.”
How sleep affects our hormones
While too little sleep can affect all of our hormones, it mainly impacts on levels of leptin and ghrelin. Leptin helps to regulate energy levels by inhibiting hunger, while ghrelin is known as the ‘hunger hormone’ because it controls feelings of hunger.
“When we don’t get enough sleep we can find ourselves excessively hungry and unable to identify when we’re full,” says Sarah. “This can cause people to over eat and leads to weight gain.”
She stresses however that sleep is just one factor involved in excess weight and that there are usually other reasons too. These include a poor diet, stress or fluctuating sugar levels.
“It’s a vicious circle because when we’re lacking in sleep and therefore stressed we tend to reach for sugary snacks and caffeinated drinks to keep us awake,” says Sarah.
Do you experience a post-lunch slump?
“What’s more, we’re designed to sleep between the hours of 2pm and 4pm each day, but in modern life few of us have this luxury. It’s natural to experience a slump post lunch. Most people think it’s because they’re digesting their food, but in fact it’s just the way we are built.”
A balanced diet combined with exercising daily is essential for regulating sleep patterns she says. But be aware that exercising late at night can increase your heart rate and make it difficult to fall asleep.
It’s also important to stay hydrated throughout the day. And while alcohol at night can make you sleepy it also interferes with your sleeping pattern.
Drinking alcohol affects your sleep
“Even one glass of wine a night can impact on the quality of your sleep,” says Sarah. “This is because it affects the brain and makes you sleep less deeply than you would otherwise. You’re also more likely to wake up in the middle of the night and overall feel less rested the following day.”
Sarah stresses that sleep needs to be taken seriously. “Adequate sleep is essential to our physical and mental well-being and for people who are lacking it’s a serious problem which needs to be addressed.”
So what foods should you eat in order to sleep better? “There is some evidence to suggest that milk can make you sleepy, but generally a balanced diet with plenty of protein is recommended,” says Sarah. “It’s important too to give yourself time to wind down at night and ease yourself into a deep relaxing slumber. Life is better when you sleep well at night.”
For more information or to contact Sarah Keogh visit: https://eatwell.ie/
Did you know that with Irish Life Health’s new BeneFit Plan, you can claim €50 back on dietician or nutritionist visits? Find out more here http://www.irishlifehealth.ie/benefit-plan-get-250-back-on-healthy-benefits/