Inadequate and erratic sleep is such an epidemic that it is now an entire branch of study with sleep clinics attending more to lifestyle illnesses related to poor sleep. Sleep doctors are a busy bunch more than ever. Among lifestyle diseases and illnesses, it also adds to body fat and does not let us shed it as quickly as we would if we were getting enough sleep. So how much sleep is enough sleep? And how would you know if it’s right for you?
On a weekend when you really don’t have to get up for anything, in particular, keep all devices out of the bedroom. Phones, smartwatches, clocks, anything that tell time or can buzz or ring. Sleep at your usual time. And wake up only when you feel you are actually done with sleep. Then step outside and check how many hours you slept. Measure this for two nights. That is the actual amount of sleep your body needs.
While babies sleep the most, older people need lesser hours of sleep. Although sleep patterns vary, the average of 6-8 hours of sleep is necessary for the human body. How do you know you are getting enough sleep? If you have these following symptoms often, then you are getting enough sleep.
- You wake up fresh and in a peaceful or happy mood
- You have good energy levels in the mornings and late evenings
- You may or may not need a quick power nap in the afternoon (it is recommended to have one of 20 minutes)
- You are productive
- Your mind is clear and you can comprehend information taken in
- Your body gets hungry at the right time
- You are more present and responsive to your environmen
So how is not getting enough sleep making you fat?
Known as Sleep/Wake Cycle or circadian rhythm. The Circadian clock is what makes you feel hungry and sleepy at around the same time every day. The body’s natural tendency to do something at a certain time. It is influenced both by self-discipline and the body’s biology, which means that it can be corrected and that’s in your hands.
Sleep pattern is now easy to measure. Download any one of the popular apps and track yourself for a week. “Sleep Cycle”, “Pillow” are good ones that I use myself. But what is the connection between sufficient sleep and body fat?
You throw your circadian clock out of whack by sleeping late, sleeping less, too much screen time close to bedtime (the blue light of the screen reaches the brain through the eyes and prevents the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, thereby increasing alertness at sleep time), lack of exercise, poor nutrition and stress. You do this out of your own choices. The body has to work a lot more in less time of sleep creating more stress in the body. Poor sleeping for just one week adds 1 kilo to your body and bring down the metabolism of the body, which is the body’s natural ability to burn calories during rest. Lower metabolism means higher chances of stored fat. Chances of eating at untimely hours like late at night or midnight snacking increase when you sleep late. That is the detox and repair time of your body. Feeding your stomach food when it is in detox and maintenance period is also sheer abuse. Lack of sleep is now linked to Type 2 diabetes due to increased inflammation in the body, poor digestion, brain fog, chronic fatigue, low immunity, low metabolism and of course piling on the pounds.
Simply not sleeping enough sends your body into a crisis. Since you aren’t giving it a chance to regulate, repair, detox and fix itself, it is similar to an overworked car engine where smoke starts emitting from under the hood.
All this drama begins with two hormones. Ghrelin and Leptin. Ghrelin is the hunger hormone that increases and Leptin is the satiety hormone that decreases. To put it simply, you are constantly hungry and don’t feel full up. This leads you to have at least an extra 300-500 calories a day in order to feel like you have eaten fully. These two guys will mess with the brain (it’s anyway fuzzy from all that not sleeping well), and nothing switches on when it’s supposed to and does not switch off when it is supposed to.
Plus you end up eating high fat, high-calorie foods that your body starts to store as fat, especially if you are too tired and exhausted to exercise from sheer lack of sleep. Doesn’t sound too good, does it?
All of this over a period of time can also lead to mental and physical disorders or illnesses.
Too tired to fight cravings
When sleep-deprived, you are too tired to have any self-control. Of course, this does affect other areas where you need to exercise self-control such as addictions and eating balanced meals. But there is so much brain exhaustion that you literally have no will to exercise. Both figuratively and literally.
A bowl of ice cream is extremely tempting and there will be no moderation in sight. Once you inhale that bowl, the next one will feel even more rewarding and the cycle continues. Since Leptin and Ghrelin are not being cooperative either, your hunger levels remain high and there is no feeling of fullness. You are lured by everything possibly fattening with no end in sight.
Sleep deprivation can create a state of lower metabolism. Metabolism is where your body burns calories when you are completely at rest. Various factors come into play here. There can be muscle loss (good muscle repair happens in good sleep only), higher storage of fat, poor exercise ( you are too tired), along with higher calories foods all adds up to fat gain.
In a good sleep scenario, there is no hormone drama, you eat just enough, you reach out to healthier foods, your rested body rebuilds and repairs muscle, stored fat gets used in body activity, proteins get synthesized for repair, metabolism remains high and well, you remain leaner and healthier overall!
How can you change all this?
Here are some healthy pointers for you to start sleeping well and support your body in losing that excess fat and be fitter.
Get to bed an hour earlier than your usual time for the first week. Even if you are wide awake. Stay away from all screens (phones, laptops, TV, tablet, etc)
Change the lighting in the room. Make it softer, just enough to see things. Use a spotlight for reading a book if needed.
Use lavender or sandalwood oil for aroma or light incense sticks of this. They both are relaxing to the senses
Do not undertake any activity that is stimulating in any way to the mind or body an hour before bedtime.
Try breathwork to manage stress, anxiety, panic attacks and emotional well being. Pranayama or Qi Gong both work wonders!
If you require additional support, take natural herbs instead of over the counter sleeping pills like
Ashwagandha – promotes sound sleep and calms the nervous system,
Brahmi – is known as a brain tonic, calms emotional distress, heals digestion
Shankhapushpi – to soothe the nerves and good for anxiety.
Make sure your mattress is firm as it provides a deep restful state to the body. A soft mattress can create a lot of stress on the back, pelvic region and legs.
A good pillow is very essential to a good night’s sleep. Memory foam or any pillow that is the right height for your neck and provides relief is the right one for you.
Invest in soft bed sheets and pillow covers. Cotton with a thread count of over 300 allow the skin to breathe well, provide a comforting softness to snuggle in and feels good to the body and emotions. If you like silk, go ahead and use it. Use natural materials as far as possible.
Body’s natural melatonin secretion (which starts to make you sleepy) is between 9 and 10 pm. Your deepest sleep for body repair is at 2 am. So figure out what is the right time for you to get to dreamland and start to shed that excess fat.
Having a swim a couple of hours before sleep works wonders. Being in water is deeply soothing for the nervous system, it relieves anxiety and post swimming, the body asks for sleep and rest.
Soothing and calming music also helps a great deal. Meditation an hour before can provide release and restfulness. Yoga Nidra is popular as well. Download any one of the popular meditation apps like Insight Timer, Calm, etc. They all have tracks for deep sleep.
Eating foods that are warm and nurturing to the body goes a long way in inducing sleep. In the winter months, hearty soups, stews, broths are comforting and cozy for the body.
A good workout regime during the day time can help regular the circadian clock/rhythm. Be it a run, gym, a sport, any activity for at least 45-60 minutes a day works wonders to restore natural sleep pattern.
Do not watch any entertainment content that is scary, brings emotional turmoil or anguish for at least 2-3 hrs prior to sleep time. Be disciplined. Learn to say no. You getting a good night’s rest has to be priority number one to fix this issue of sleeplessness.
Most of all, start to look forward to a good night’s sleep and being boastful about living life on less sleep isn’t smart. It’s plain dumb. If you have people around you that you need to do this with, maybe stop sharing this information all together so you can have the sound sleep you really need.
Author: Aditi Nirvaan
Aditi Nirvaan is a Therapist, Coach, Facilitator, Energy Intuitive and Artist. She has studied Positive Psychology, Mind-Body-Eating Psychology, Feminine Power Transformative Facilitation, Meaning and Valued Living, Mindfulness and Meditation, and Holistic Nutrition. Practicing and teaching various therapy and healing modalities since 2005, Aditi is known for her clarity, compassion, deeply transformative work, generosity and is a pillar of strength for her clients and participants. She conducts programs online and in live workshops as well as private sessions with her clients from all over the world. From 1998 to 2006, she’s also worked in the corporate world, with companies like Tata-AIG, Star TV, The Oberoi Hotels, Times of India and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines in Marketing.
She is an Artist, Writer, Potter and Paragliding Pilot. She specialises in,
- Mid life Awakening/Crisis
- Unburdening ourselves to move through life with a sense of lightness in mind, body and soul
- Making the unconscious conscious with shadow work
- Authentic relationship with ourselves and others
- Mindful living
- Creating your life from Meaning and Purpose
- Body Image and Self Love
- Dealing with Depression and Addiction
- Relationship Recovery