Sleep More, Weigh Less

By Lisa Rhea

Image courtesy of Feelart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Feelart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Most days I’m over here encouraging you to get up and move, but today, I want you to improve your health by by doing the exact opposite. Sit back, relax and get some rest, all in the name of fitness. That’s right – one of the most important things you need to factor into your health and wellness is getting enough sleep.

It’s amazing how much a good night’s sleep improves your mood, your energy and all other elements of your day. It’s easier to eat healthy, workout and just feel a whole heck of a lot better when you’re well-rested.

This became abundantly clear when I worked nights on the police force and for the first time in my life, wasn’t sleeping a solid 7-8 hours a night. I felt horrible. And I didn’t even realize how horrible I felt until I was able to switch back to a more normal sleep cycle. I look back now and realize that I was in a sleep-deprived haze for years, and it was certainly harder to stay healthy during that time.

This recently came to mind again as I have been dealing with the joys of pregnancy. After my belly got big, I struggled to sleep, having always been a belly or back sleeper – which are no-gos during pregnancy – and finding it nearly impossible to sleep on my side. As soon as I found a way to sleep well (thanks to a ridiculously overpriced, but worth-every-penny, pregnancy body pillow), it was like night and day. And it reminded me that sleep is just as important as diet and exercise for your health, and not to mention your mood.

Side Effects of Sleep Deficiency

Not only does sleep deprivation cause your oh-so-lovely crankiness and coffee-dependancy, not getting enough sleep can:

  • leave you feeling tired all day,
  • interfere with work, driving and social functioning,
  • make it difficult to learn, focus and react,
  • impair ability to judge other people’s emotions and reactions, and
  • leave you feeling paranoid and frustrated.

And those are just the mood issues. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, lack of sleep is also “linked to many chronic health problems, including heart disease, kidney disase, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity and depression.”

It’s also associated with human errors – accidents, car crashes, falls, broken bones, etc. and adequate sleep is important for growth, fertility and a properly functioning immune system.

When it comes to fitness, sleep plays a key role in keeping a healthy balance of the hormones associated with hunger and feeling full, as well as those affecting your blood sugar levels, and a good night’s sleep is essential to repair muscles.

So How Much Do You Need?

Sleep needs vary based on your age and activity level. For the average adult, it’s 7-8 hours a day. For teens, it’s 9-10 hours and children need at least 10 hours. Athletes should try to get no less than 8 hours and up to 10 hours has been shown to increase performance.

Strategies for Getting More Sleep

I’m guessing that if you’re not sleeping enough, there’s probably a good reason, beyond just staying up late to watch your favorite show on  TV. But if you’re struggling to stay awake in the afternoons or find yourself dozing off during the day, you need to start making some changes to feel better and improve your health.

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute recommends not only making sleep a priority, but also using these tips for improving your sleep habits:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day and try to keep this same schedule on the weekends.
  • Use the hour before bed for quiet time, such as reading.
  • Avoid large meals within a couple hours before bed.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed.
  • Don’t have nicotine and caffeine later in the day, as it can keep you up.
  • Spend time outside every day and being physically active.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, cool and dark.
  • Consider a hot bath or relaxation techniques before bed.

While napping has been shown to be beneficial, and can help supplement if you’re unable to get enough sleep at night, it doesn’t give the same benefits of night-time sleep, so make that the priority first. You should limit naps to 20 minutes and avoid them later in the day.

And if you’re getting the recommended amount of sleep – 8 hours a night – and don’t feel well-rested, you should see your doctor to rule out a sleep disorder or other health concern.

Life gets busy and it’s easy to want to skim from our sleep to make more room for other activities, but clearly this comes at a cost. If you’re not sleeping well, it’s time to look at it seriously and figure out what steps you need to take to make improvements.

So take a load off this evening, relax and put your efforts into getting a solid night’s sleep and evaluate how you feel tomorrow. Be conscientious about your sleep habits and work towards a solid sleep schedule.

With this baby coming soon, I know my nights of uninterrupted sleep are waning. Trust me, I’m going to enjoy them as much as possible until then!

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