Sleep and your weight

By Charlyn Fargo

Sleep may be the last thing we think of when it comes to managing our weight. And while you may not snooze and lose (like the headlines in various magazines may proclaim), sleep can help keep extra pounds away.

And poor sleep quality and diet may contribute to the early accumulation of plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research. Part of the reason may involve cortisol, a hormone manufactured by the body that plays a role in regulating many core functions, including sleep. Cortisol levels naturally rise and fall with day and night. But diets characterized by high intakes of refined sugars, salt, animal fats and animal proteins and by low intakes of fruits and vegetables can perturb the circadian levels of cortisol, leading to poor sleep quality. Improving your diet and sleep might reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia.

Plenty of research links not getting enough sleep to having higher weight or body mass index. Here’s why – when you cheat sleep, your body misses an opportunity to do important work. Certain functions work better when we’re not multi-tasking, according to Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona. When things get out of balance, food intake changes, metabolism changes, energy use changes and the results affect weight. In addition, poor sleep interferes with insulin production and hunger hormones, making a person more likely to crave junk food. Sleep deprivation can also hinder decision-making, making it easier to give into that bag of potato chips or super-sized burger.

We need seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Most of us underestimate how much we get by 30 to 60 minutes a night. We can be so used to being sleep deprived that we actually think we’re getting enough rest when we’re not.

Here are some healthy sleep habits to try from the National Sleep Foundation.

  1. Maintain a regular schedule – Sleeping in on weekends may leave you feeling jet-lagged when you readjust to your regular weekday routine. Aim for a consistent routine every day.
  2. Work out – Exercise is probably the No. 1 thing you can do for your sleep. Any type of workout helps, at any time of day.
  3. Go light at dinner – Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. Avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re hungry.
  4. Go easy on caffeine – If you’re having trouble sleeping, skip coffee and caffeinated soda after lunch. Caffeine can linger in your system for hours.
  5. Go easy on alcohol and cigarettes – Alcohol may make you nod off more quickly, but it interferes with deep, restorative slumber.
  6. Go dark – Exposure to even a little light on the blue-green end of the spectrum, which mimics daylight, stimulates the brain. That includes streetlights and the TV.
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