Get Your Zzzzz’s Please: Tips for Getting the Right Amount of Sleep

By Betty Murray

If losing weight is on your list of goals for 2015, a healthy diet and regular exercise can help you reach your ideal weight, but here’s another suggestion: get enough sleep.

Eating healthy and exercising will only go so far in helping you drop those extra pounds. Good sleep is the third component of weight loss, but it’s one piece of a healthy life that is easily forgotten.

What is the right amount of sleep?

Poor sleep habits can lead to weight gain and make it more difficult to lose weight. Researchers have found that adults under 40 experience significant gain in belly fat when they log fewer than five hours of sleep each night. Getting too much sleep can also increase weight. The same study shows that those who slept more than eight hours of sleep also saw higher weight gain than those who slept six to seven hours each night. The right amount of sleep for adults should fall between six and eight hours of sleep per night.

What does sleep have to do with your weight?

When the body is sleep deprived, the levels of important hormones related to appetite are altered. Production of leptin, which tells the body there is no need for more food, is decreased while ghrelin, which triggers hunger is increased.  Lack of sleep can also increase cravings for foods that are sweet and high in carbohydrates. The body craves carbs when it’s tired because carbs contain glucose, which fuels the brain.

Can naps help lose weight?

Napping during the day will not make up for inadequate sleep at night, and in some cases, napping may be detrimental, especially if taking a nap during the day will keep you up longer at night.

However, for some, taking short (20 minute) naps may help with weight loss. Sleep longer than 20 minutes during the day and your body will fall into the natural circadian cycle of sleep, which can make you even more groggy during the day. But taking a 20 minute nap during the day m ay help you fight cravings in the afternoon, according to Joyce Walsleben, PhD, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at New York University School of Medicine.

Tips for getting better sleep

If sleep is hard to come by, try these tips to help you get better sleep each night.

Practice yoga and meditation. Researchers from Harvard have found that participating in daily yoga for eight weeks can improve quality of sleep for people suffering from insomnia.

• Keep your bedroom dark. The darker the room at night, the more melatonin the body produces.  Melatonin will help you sleep.

Turn off your phone. It may be tough to disconnect at night, but your sleep depends on it. Even the slightest bit of light from an alarm clock or cell phone can interfere with melatonin production. Even if you have to get up during the night, use “low blue” lights, which do not interfere with melatonin production.

Take a melatonin supplement. If you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, talk with your doctor about adding melatonin to your daily supplements to help you achieve a normal and healthy sleep cycle. Keep in mind that long-term use of melatonin can interrupt the integral relationship between melatonin production and the body’s adrenal glands.

Eat healthy. Fatty foods, caffeine, and alcohol can inhibit your sleep, so be sure to maintain a healthy diet. Some foods will even help promote sleep, such as: bananas, protein, almonds, calcium, cherries, oatmeal, and hot green tea.

• Use sleep-tracking apps. If you want to learn more about your sleep habits and patterns, try a sleep-tracking app, which can help you sleep better by identifying your sleep/wake cycles, providing meditation tips, and even playing white noise to help you sleep better. Check out this Washington Post article for a rundown of some sleep-tracking apps available.

Betty Murray, CN, HHC, RYT is a Certified Nutritionist & Holistic Health Counselor, founder of the Dallas-based integrative medical center, Wellness and founder of the Metabolic Blueprint wellness program. Betty’s nutrition counseling practice specializes in metabolic and digestive disorders and weight loss resistance. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutritional interventions to improve their health. Betty is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.

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