Did you know that accruing a massive sleep debt is now considered by many health experts to be a leading cause of diabetes, heart disease and obesity? Not just a contributing factor, but a leading cause. Which means that if you’re doing ‘all the right things’ with nutrition and exercise, but your body is craving rest then you have minimal chance of achieving fat loss success. For real.
And we’re not just the quantity of your sleep here, but also the quality of sleep. The deeper the rest, the greater your physiological ability to release wind-down and recovery hormones such as melatonin and growth hormone.
Melatonin is like your body’s natural off-ramp. A healthy person will produce melatonin throughout the evening so that they drift off easily come nightfall. You can spark melatonin production through exposure to sunlight, but not getting enough sleep in general will make it tough for your body to make enough off the stuff. This is because being well rested allows you to release important day-time ‘energy’ hormones, which in turn aid the release of those night-time hormones.
And believe you me – if your melatonin levels are low, then you won’t be producing adequate growth hormone while asleep. Growth hormone is directly related to your ability to either store or burn off fat stores, and will also dictate how effectively you build lean muscle. It’s really very simple:
No sleep = poor muscle quality, increased risk of injury + a super-slow metabolism. Not to mention, you feel like crap.
I bet you weren’t thinking of it quite in those terms last time you stayed up late watching back to back episodes of Sex and The City, were you?
but you don’t understand how busy I am!
Let’s get real. If you’re anything like me or like the other women reading this blog, then you’re not up late because you just love that burning eye sensation. And you sure as heck don’t get up with (maybe even before) the birds just so as you can greet the new morning with a song. In my experience, the typical high-achieving modern woman suffers some form of insomnia at some point in her adult life almost as a rite of passage.
Sad, but true.
There are a number of reasons for this, but what it so often seems to boil down to is a restless and busy mind topping off a day which is simply way too full. There are a myriad of other details, but it all seems to come back to us not giving ourselves enough ‘awake’ time for proper rest and relaxation.
work, rest, and play
Haven’t you heard the Mars ads?
You do know that we are supposed to work, rest, and play in equal proportions don’t you? It’s true, but what the idea of being ‘able’ to live that way just seems like a cruel joke. I don’t know about you, but personally my breakdown is probably something like 65% work, 25% rest, and 10% play. Given that I’ve had to make a deliberate and concerted effort to take more time out since having my daughter, and have therefore increased my downtime, these are pretty pathetic numbers. I’m guessing I’m not alone here.
The problem, of course, is that we do get by. This is a problem in as much as it means we are never really 100% motivated to do what it takes to improve our sleep. I mean, it’s not as though you are aware of everything that is changing about your physiology when you’re not well rested. And it’s not as though you necessarily link your sweet cravings or poor motivation to exercise and eat as well as you would back to pure fatigue. And you certainly don’t have any direct insight into just how seriously exhaustion is affecting every cell in your body and causing you to be more vulnerable to pretty much every disease or disorder under the sun. Do you?
So you get by. And you hope that one day life will slow down.
You would think that by this stage in our lives we’d have realised that nothing – NOTHING – will ever happen unless we make it happen. Life is not going to get any less crazy until you decide that enough is enough. There will always be tasks on your list, new ones just as time-consuming and cumbersome will rear their ugly little heads in most cases before you can even get through the craziness of this week’s list, let alone think about next week.
You know it, I know it, and yet still we continue to rush from one thing to the next as though we could possibly control time.
Ain’t going to happen girl.
And you know what? That’s not such a bad thing. If you can admit defeat over time, you can also recognise that the only smart thing to do is to set boundaries, and to do so right away. After all, if you’re never going to get everything done anyway, why try? Why not slow down, relax, and start to enjoy each present moment?
Ok, so I know I’m going off on a tangent a little way away from sleep, but it does all come back to the same thing. Press pause now and then, let your life slow down, allow your body to relax during daylight hours, and I guarantee that you’ll start sleeping more soundly come night-fall.
It truly can be that simple.
joining the dots – smart lifestyle choices for sound sleep
A little sleep-savvy can go a long way. Here’s what I’ve found to be most effective.
- Create a regular sleep routine. As a mother, one of the first things I was taught about caring for a baby was the importance of routine to ensure sound sleep. As adults we are no different, it’s just that it’s now up to us. Your nightly ritual could be as simple as spending 10 minutes lying on the couch with the TV off before going to bed and reading for another 10 minutes. I do think it’s important to have the TV off (ideally) at least 30-60 minutes before sleep time.
- If insomnia is an issue for you then avoid food and alcohol for 2 hours before sleep. This is because you don’t want your body focusing on digestion whilst you’re in bed – it will prevent growth hormone release and keep you antsy.
- Create an ideal sleep environment. Use a sleep mask to eliminate all light (even little red dots from electronics will inhibit ideal sleep), and turn off all electronics. Ensure you are a comfortable temperature, and use ear plugs if necessary.
- If you are a busy or stressed person, you absolutely must supplement with magnesium with dinner and also before bed. Magnesium is a mineral crucial to metabolism and a healthy body, and stress (including exercise) robs you of it. Use a topical magnesium behind your knees 20 minutes before bed, and take capsules of a great blend such as this one (which I love because it has 4 different types of magnesium plus tryptophan) in the evening. If you still struggle with anxiety or a crazy mind you may need to consider one or two additional sleep supplements. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like to know more about this – sleep is an issue very close to my heart after 3 years as a full-blown insomniac!
- One of the most effective tips I’ve ever learned for better sleep is to write a grateful list before bed. Simply note down 10 things you are thankful for. Start each sentence with “I am grateful for …”, or “I am thankful that …” I learned this technique from my mentor Charles Poliquin, who also talks of taking time before bed to consider something you learned today, something kind you did for someone else, and something kind that somebody did for you.
- Invest in a good book on the science of sleep. Sometimes it really does help to understand exactly what’s going on with your body, and learn tried and tested methods for dealing with sleep issues. The book Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival is one of my top 5 favourite books on health and nutrition. It’s both entertaining and educational, and will really open your eyes to just how seriously a sleep issue can affect your health and your weight. Another favourite sleep book (more for the science-minded) is The Promise of Sleep.
- Lastly, if that magnesium hasn’t knocked you straight out (it’s SO good!), be practical about your busy mind by keeping a small notebook by your bed. Create the habit of writing anything down that comes into your head – it’s a simple but effective way of preventing racing thoughts.
Work on these tips over the coming days and weeks and I guarantee you’ll be sleeping soundly in no time. And you may just get a very pleasant surprise when it comes to how you’re clothes are fitting a few weeks from now.
Life is Now. Press Play.