A Little More Each Day

One working mama learning to run & to maintain my 100+ pound weight loss!

Sleep, glorious sleep!

on April 9, 2015

Last night, Darrell took on bedtime with Oliver and while it took two hours, he finally successfully convinced O that he could go to sleep alone in his room without Mommy on the floor. It was sort of funny to listen to O negotiate. Even better, O slept quietly until 6:15!! That’s the best night of sleep with he or I have gotten since his accident. If I weren’t still in sleep debt, I’d do backflips to celebrate (also, I’m too clumsy for backflips).

Finally sleeping!

Finally sleeping!

Sleep is so crucial for sanity and for happy, healthy brain function but it’s also important maintaining healthy weight and exercise habits. We all know that when we don’t get enough sleep, everything just starts to feel harder, right? I don’t know about you guys, but I feel like eating all the time and specifically eating carbs all the time. I don’t feel like exercising, I don’t have the energy to do anything but SIT all day and I find it really hard to find the energy to resist things like the pastry cabinet at Starbucks this morning:

For a few moments while I waited in line, that brownie seemed totally worth 350 calories. Happily, I resisted.

For a few moments while I waited in line, that brownie seemed totally worth 350 calories. Happily, I resisted.

Over the last several years, there have been a lot of research studies done showing that in fact, losing sleep does screw up our bodies in ways that leads to weight gain. Specifically, lack of sleep messes with the hormones that control our appetites and control how we process what we eat. Several studies now have shown that lack of sleep leads to a decrease in leptin, the hormone that makes us feel full, and an increase in ghrelin, the hormone that makes us feel hungry. It turns out, it isn’t my fault I want to eat everything when I’m tired. This has been demonstrated in several experiments where they control the sleep of the subjects and then do bloodwork to measure hormone levels. They also do surveys of the subjects and find that people do report increased hunger, just like the blood work suggests they would, and specifically that they crave carbohydrates.

Decreased sleep also leads to increases in cortisol, the “stress hormone” that tells our bodies to store fat for energy for the on-coming crisis. Coupled with the increased cortisol, we also see a decrease in insulin sensitivity so we aren’t able to efficiently process sugars. I definitely saw this when I was pregnant and had gestational diabetes. If I had a bad night of sleep, my fasting blood sugar in the morning was 10-20 points higher than usual (usually putting me in the “bad” range). All of these things together lead to an increase in fat no matter what happens with our calorie intake plus a hormonal storm that makes us want to EAT ALL THE THINGS.

So what we can do about all of this? The first and best answer is to get more sleep, obviously. This can be a problem because poor sleep becomes this self-perpetuating cycle of fatigue: I’m tired, so I drink gallons of coffee, which means it’s hard to go to sleep at night. I’m tired, so I can’t focus enough to settle my mind and get to sleep. I’m tired, so I want that last late night snack that will keep me up with a combination of reflux and guilt for hours.

To combat this, and the other things like zero desire to exercise and the overwhelming desire to eat it all and sit, sit, sit, this is my action plan:

  • Focus on veggies. I can eat ALL THE THINGS if it’s something good for me like broccoli, right? It doesn’t have the emotional satisfaction of the toast I’m craving (toast is a major comfort food for me) but it’ll do. Because I know I’m personally more susceptible to carb cravings when I’m tired, I’m trying to focus even more than usual of veggies and healthy proteins until my sleep gets back on track.
  • Set an alarm to get up and move every hour. Now that I’m back at work, I’ve set an alarm on my phone so that I get up and walk around the floor every hour. It helps my energy, gets more steps in my day and every little bit of movement counts.
  • No caffeine after 2. This one is brutal, but necessary. I’m only brave enough to make this cut back now that I’ve got my first decent night of sleep behind me. We don’t want to talk about how much caffeine I was getting from Saturday through this morning. Not only is the caffeine throwing off my sleep, it’s keeping me from getting enough water during the day, which I know would help me feel better too.
  • Establish a bedtime ritual to get to bed early. Like a lot of us, I find it even harder to get to sleep at night when life is extra busy. Last night, I got to sleep at 9 pm which was awesome! I set a timer to limit the amount of time I could play around on my phone, had a cup of tea and ONE healthy nighttime snack. If I can do that a few more nights, I think I’ll be feeling human again soon.

I’m also not even going to pretend to be waking up early to work out for the next couple of days. Now that O is back at daycare, I’ll go to the gym to run before I pick him up in the afternoon. There’s no way I’d drag myself out of bed at 5 am if Oliver is letting me sleep that late (until today, he’s been calling for me at 4:30 am), so why set myself up for failure by having that expectation?

Do you find that sleep affects your food and activity choices? What about the number on the scale?

Here are some articles on sleep & weight if you want to read more:

Sleep More, Weigh Less

Sleep and Weight Gain

Role of Sleep and Sleep Loss in Hormonal Release and Metabolism

The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Hormones and Metabolism



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