Rest is a tricky thing when you’re trying to get healthier. We all know that sleep is good for us and that rest is important, but we’re also supposed to have healthy meals and exercise and have meaningful connections with other people and oh yeah, we need to work so that we can pay for things (and because work can also have meaning in our lives). Some times it feels like something has got to give. I’ve always known this intellectually, but lupus really drives it home in a new way for me. Now, if I don’t rest enough, I know it because my elbows get so sore I can’t rest them on table. Good for table manners, bad overall. My hands are just this constant dull ache and oh yeah, ulcers in my mouth that make it hard to eat. Boo. Lupus gives me a more vivid reminder to rest, but even before lupus, I saw signs that rest was important.
Last week in Memphis, I was exhausted from an early flight and that set me up for a long weekend of bad food choices. Looking back, fatigue is often a trigger for me in bad food choices and it turns out, that isn’t just in my head. Certainly, fatigue of any kind makes decision making harder and when I’m traveling outside my normal food comfort zone, there are lots of food choices to make. It’s easy to make a bad choice when I’m choosing over and over again on a tired brain.
There are also two hunger controlling hormones that are thought to be affected by sleep. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells you it is time to eat and when you’re sleep deprived, you make a lot more ghrelin. It isn’t just in your head that you’re hungrier when you’re tired! The balancing hormone, leptin, is one that tells us that we’re full and it is time to stop eating. Guess what? When you’re sleep deprived, you make less leptin. It sets you up for the tired-starving feeling we know all too well.
So how do we make this work in a busy life? I used to say “yeah that sucks” and get up early to do my workouts anyway, figuring that my workout was just as important in my weight loss as sleep was. Now, I’ve decided that since a) I don’t have huge time goals for this half marathon anyway and b) lupus demands rest, I let sleep take priority. That means going to bed at 9 pm if I want to wake early to run (working well so far!) and that if I don’t get to bed early, no early wake up.
Last night, I didn’t get to sleep until 10 pm because I was watching the primary results roll in. It was hard to make myself set the alarm for 6 am, instead of 5, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to work out in the morning with that wake up time. However, it’s more important to get my sleep than to get my workout. I may run after work, I may not – depends on how close I get to my bedtime – but I’m going to put sleep first.
Other than protecting our sleep, what can we do to help?
- Naps can help with blunting that hungry feeling and do seem to help with my lupus symptoms, but be careful about trying to use naps to catch up on sleep debt. A consistent pattern of 7-8 hours sleep a night is better for you than marathon naps on the weekend, no matter how fun those naps might be.
- Minimize choices, if being tired makes it hard to make good choices. If you’re going into a situation where you know you’ll be tired, arm yourself with easy, healthy snacks to tackle that hungry feeling. The less effort we have to put into making a healthy choice, the healthier that choice is going to be.
- Drink! Coffee is an obvious go to for a lot of us when we’re tired, but water is even more important. If you are pounding back coffee (I’m not even going to lie and pretend I don’t do that), be sure it isn’t the over sugared frou frou coffee drinks because those calories will seriously add up!
- Take note of patterns that set you up for failure and rope in support to deal with them. Darrell and I plan our week ahead of time, to be sure I’m not up too late and that we’re streamlining our to-do list as much as possible so we don’t overdo it. Be careful in saying yes to new things on the list so that you can keep the important things in focus (and sleep is an important thing!).
I’ve got another trip coming up to New Orleans at the end of the month and as much as I enjoyed the food in Memphis, New Orleans is my food mecca. I LOVE to eat there and have fond, visceral memories of the fantastic things I’ve enjoyed in that city. It’s also going to be a meeting where I’ve got to network (exhausting for introverted me!) and where I’m sleeping away from home, which never works well for me. My flight times are slightly less crazy (7 am departure and 8 pm back home, as opposed to 5 am departure and midnight back home with this trip) which will help for this trip, but I’m going to do a better job prepping myself with healthy snacks and my water bottle so that I don’t get derailed in the airport. I’m absolutely going to enjoy some fabulous food, don’t worry, but I won’t fall into the trap of the not-worth-it conference food like I did in Memphis.
How do you deal with fatigue and hunger (other than loads of coffee of course)?
Other things to read:
Is too little sleep a cause of weight gain? (Mayo Clinic)
Sleep and weight gain (WebMD)