Getting your zzz’s is like receiving the golden ticket to weight loss. Unfortunately, nearly two-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep in a typical week. Sleep deprivation takes a serious toll on your overall health and sets you up for a vicious cycle of take-out, energy shots, poor workouts, eventually ending the day too wound up to sleep.
How your brain reacts to a lack of sleep
When you skimp on sleep, your brain is pretty much set up for poor decision making. The frontal lobe (the part of your brain responsible for impulse control and decision making) is dulled, meaning you literally do not posses the mental clarity to make wise decisions. In addition, when you’re extremely tired, your brain craves even more so, something to make it “feel good”.
After being awake for 16 hours, your brain actually needs to reset (ideally getting about 8 hours of sleep). When we sleep, the metabolic byproduct adenosine is cleared from our system. Adenosine disrupts neural function promoting sleepiness. Sleep is like an automatic reboot button to flush toxins our brains. If you think caffeine is all you need to run on all-nighters, it does block adenosine, which will make you feel more awake – though caffeine does not actually rid it from the brain. When the brain reaches this point of exhaustion, it seeks more energy (calories) than our body actually needs. This craving for calorie dense food, combined with your lack of control is just a recipe for disaster.
How your hormones react to a lack of sleep
In addition to adenosine, other hormones fluctuate in ways leading to negative impacts on our bodies. As we briefly discussed, we will be more hungry and wanting calorie dense foods. This is because of the hormones ghrelin and leptin. When you are sleep deprived, your body produces more ghrelin; the hormone responsible for telling your brain it is time to eat. Leptin levels decrease when sleep deprived. Leptin is the hormone responsible for signaling you are satisfied and to stop eating. Combining the two really makes sense of why you may tend to binge-eat when overtired.
In addition, when you are over-tired, your cortisol levels spike. This hormone tells your body to conserve energy in order to stay awake longer. If you are conserving energy, you are more likely to hold onto that extra fat.
Connecting diabetes to lack of sleep
This will not happen in one night, but constant sleep deprivation, can mimic insulin resistance; a predecessor to diabetes. The purpose of insulin is to aid in the use of glucose for energy. When the body is in a state of insulin resistance, the cells can not use the hormone correctly. The result of this is higher blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels alone can harm the eyes, heart nerves and kidneys.
Lack of sleep equals lack of performance
Even if you do tend to run on very little sleep, still hitting the gym and stick to your diet, you are still sabotaging yourself. In just a reduction of one half hour of sleep from your average sleep pattern, reduces your alertness for the day by 32%. Maybe you can get by with a good pre-workout to still get a good gym session in, but when it wears off, you are left deflated for the rest of the day.
How to improve your sleep
First and foremost, if you are not getting enough sleep, even when you are in bed for a full 8 hours, figure out if you have a sleep disorder or not. There are over 85 sleep disorders recognized by The American Sleep Disorder Association, which affect over 70 million Americans. Issues such as chronic snoring are present in about 45% of Americans and nearly half of this percentage suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a main risk factor for high blood pressure. Sleep apnea patients also perform as badly as drunk divers – again showing the vicious cycles of sleep deprivation.
If an actual illness does not affect you, small changes can be made throughout your day to help you sleep more soundly at night. First off, try to avoid the late afternoon cup of coffee. Having caffeine later on in the day will keep you in the lighter stages of sleep, reducing your ability to have a deep sleep. Also, watch what you eat close to bedtime. Rich, dense foods before bed are not the greatest for weight loss, and can often give you heartburn in bed, which will definitely not aid in your sleep. If you are going to eat near bedtime, aim for healthy snacks or a light, not-so-greasy meal.
In addition, exercise! The time is not so important, exercise whenever works best for you, just make sure to get moving during the day. Exercise will not only make you physically tired, but will help you sleep more soundly. It has even been known to reduce chronic insomnia.
Try and keep to a schedule whenever possible, and create a relaxing bedroom. Shut down electronic devices a full hour before bed if you can. The light of the devises mimics the sun light. This sends signals to your brain saying to stay awake. Instead, to do something calming for yourself. Try something like meditation, reading or a bath.