I am the mother of two girls – ages two and four. I’m sure I speak for every mother in the world when I say that sleep is a hot, hot, hot commodity. When you’re sleep deprived, nothing is more important. Nothing. I would say that I really started sleeping through the night over the last few months. Now that sleep is getting back to where it should be, I’m trying to focus on creating a relaxing environment in the morning, too. As I can count on a full night of sleep, I can afford to wake up 45 minutes before my kids to get things organized.
I recently bought a new alarm clock that can 1) simulate a slow sunrise, 2) project the time on my wall and 3) gently wake me to the soft sounds of a tropical rain forest. The whole goal with the new alarm clock was to wake up “easy” with no loud, annoying sound from my alarm, or the chatter of talk radio from my husband’s side of the bed. I ordered this alarm clock online, and waited weeks for its arrival. This alarm clock would be the silver bullet to starting the day in the most amazing way.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when things didn’t exactly work out the way I saw them in my mind’s eye. The alarm clock illuminated my entire side of the room, the make-shift sunrise didn’t happen because the lamp on my nightstand isn’t compatible with the clock, and the sounds of the rain forest waking me in the morning would have happened if my husband wouldn’t have heard it before me. “Traci!!” he scolded in the loudest whisper he could muster, “What is that? Turn it off!!” Not quite what I wanted to hear. At least I still had my sleep, which is more important that most of us realize.
Sleep and Weight Gain In a perfect world we all go to sleep and wake eight hours later with no disturbance in between. Somewhere along the line, our professions, children or over-active social lives prevent this from happening. Missing an hour here and there will probably not tax us too much, but constant sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on our bodies, largely due to the release of cortisol (stress hormone) from our adrenal glands. Too little sleep results in too much cortisol released into our system which ultimately results in weight gain, mostly through the midsection. The adrenals become overworked and eventually slow down, affecting our metabolism, skin quality, bone density – and everything else that makes us look and feel old.
Lack of sleep does affect us all, but not in the same way. There are a lot of people out there who might say they’re “fine on just five hours a night…” as if they’re super-human. They might feel fine, and in fact, operate well throughout the day, but the bottom line is we’re all human beings who are nocturnal and live on a sleep/wake cycle requiring about eight hours of sleep.
Not all of us can get “normal” sleep, but we should all make sleep a priority when we can.
Sleep More for Fat Loss
A recent study conducted at the University of Chicago looked at two groups of people, both on a low-calorie diet. One group slept 5.5 hours a night, and another group slept 8.5 hours a night. Interestingly enough, both groups lost the same amount of weight (7 pounds), but the sleep-deprived group lost mostly muscle in comparison to the rested group that lost mostly fat.
This study was only conducted over a two week period! Now, the participants were indeed overweight to begin with, so the fact that they lost weight on a low-calorie diet is not a shocker. It’s the huge disparity between muscle and fat loss that’s the real eye-opener.
Cortisol helps us sustain life by reacting to “fight or flight” situations when needed – an attack, a car accident, etc. By any evolutionary standard, sleep deprivation probably would not have made our predecessor’s need-to-survive list, but our modern-day bodies perceive it as stress nonetheless. Back in the day, one of the ways our lives were sustained was by adding fat closer to the internal organs – through the midsection – thanks, in part, to cortisol.
Tips to Sleeping Well Here are a few steps to help get a better night of zzzzzz’s.
* Create a bedtime ritual
* Go to bed at the same time every night
* Wake at the same time every morning
* Exercise most days of the week
* Avoid caffeine eight hours before bed (tea, coffee, chocolate)
* Sleep in a quiet, dark environment
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