Do you eat more when you’re tired? Are you craving junk food and sweets? It not all in your head and yes there is a reason! Thank God because this is a huge break through in not giving up on your weight loss goals. It may not be in you head but it is in your brain. An overwhelming amount of research has found a links between lack of sleep and weight gain. Many studies show that a lack of sleep makes us more likely to put on weight over time. Lack of sleep has been linked to both increased calorie consumption and to reduced energy expenditure – that means more calories in, and fewer calories out. Sleep deprivation is also decreases the hormones (Leptin) in the body that regulate appetite. In the past several decades, we’ve seen and increased rate of obesity in America. A third of working adults are sleeping no more than six hours or less a night. As a society, we sleep less – all while gaining massive amounts of weight.
New research shines some light on the underlying connection between lack of sleep and weight gain – specifically, how sleep deprivation can alter brain behavior in ways that cause weight gain and the munchies. Research at the University of California Berkeley study how sleep affects brain functions that are related to food choices and desire. They found sleep deprivation led to important changes to activity in two very different areas of the brain, both of which affect eating. The result? After a single night of poor sleep, the brains responds with increased desire for unhealthy foods. At the same time a diminished capacity to make thoughtful decisions that could override the impulse to eat what the body it craving. Researchers studied 23 healthy adults under different sleep conditions in a sleep laboratory. On one night, they slept approximately 8 hours and woke to have a light breakfast. After a week, the participants returned to the laboratory for another overnight session. This time, instead of getting a full night’s sleep, participants were kept awake for the whole night. They were given snacks throughout the night to compensate for any extra calories they might burn by staying awake. After each night, participants were shown a series of images of a wide variety of foods, from healthy choices like fruits and vegetables to high-calorie foods like potato chips, pizza and dessert. They were asked to rate their desire for each food. As an incentive, researchers told participants they could have the food they rated the highest. While participants were viewing and rating food images, researchers observed their brain function using MRI technology. When they compared the well-rested sessions to the sleep-deprived sessions, they found significant differences in levels of desire for certain foods – and corresponding differences in brain activity:
- When sleep deprived, people showed greater desire for unhealthy, high-calorie foods, rating these foods more highly than when they were rested.
- Their desire for unhealthy food increased along with the perceived severity of their sleep deprivation. The more sleep-deprived people felt, the more they wanted unhealthy food.
- MRI scans showed that when sleep deprived, the “reward center” of the brain responded more strongly to images of high-calorie foods. Specifically, activity increased in the amygdala, a cluster of cells within the brain’s temporal lobe that helps control the appetite and desire for food.
- MRI scans also showed significant decrease in activity in parts of the brain’s frontal lobe after a night of sleep deprivation. This area of the brain includes mechanisms that govern complex decision-making and behavioral control. When functioning at normal levels, these regions can exert a restraining influence to counterbalance the reward-seeking areas of the brain. Diminished activity results in a brain less able to extend that thoughtful, moderating influence over food decisions.
These results show that the impact of sleep on the brain: A single night of sleep deprivation makes fattening, high-calorie foods more attractive and at the same time interferes with the brain’s ability to override desire with rational decision making. Which can affect more than just your food choices. In reality it can affect every aspect of your life. This isn’t the the only research that backs up the affects due to lack of sleep interferes with normal brain behavior regarding appetite, desire, and decision-making about food. Researchers at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center and Columbia University in New York also used MRI to investigate the impact of sleep on the brain’s response to food. Twenty-five men and women were shown images of healthy and unhealthy foods after five nights of normal sleep. Then again after five nights of sleeping no more than four hours of sleep. Brain scans revealed a spike in activity in the reward center of the brain when participants viewed unhealthy foods after less sleep. No such similar spike occurred when the subjects viewed healthful foods. These studies give a clearer picture of just how significant an impact sleep can have on the brain and how those neurological changes may contribute to weight gain and thought processes. We know that sleep is an important tool in weight management. These results indicate that getting enough sleep can help prime your brain to help you win the battle against weight gain. Many people have issues in getting to sleep and/or staying asleep. Studies show that there are ways to naturally help you get a good nights sleep. Sleep hygiene is not something people talk about all that much but it is so important and helpful. Basically it is a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.
How can I improve my sleep hygiene?
One of the most important sleep hygiene practices is to spend an appropriate amount of time asleep in bed, not too little or too excessive. Sleep needs vary across ages and are especially impacted by lifestyle and health. However, there are recommendations that can provide guidance on how much sleep you need generally. Other good sleep hygiene practices include:
- Limiting naps to 30 minutes . Napping does not make up for the lack of nighttime sleep. However, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance.
- Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine for 4 hours or more before bedtime.
- Use alcohol in moderation. While alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, excess amount close to bedtime can disrupt sleep in the second half of the night as the body begins to breakdown the alcohol.
- Exercising for good quality sleep. As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can drastically improve sleep. The American Heart Association recommends 5000 steps a day for healthy heart, this is roughly 30 to 45 mins of walking at a fast paces. It's best exercise 3 to 4 hours before bed since it can increase your energy level. However, the effect of intense nighttime exercise on sleep differs from person to person, so find out what works best for you.
- What you eat right before sleep can affect your night. Heavy or rich foods, fatty or fried meals, spicy dishes, citrus fruits, and carbonated drinks can trigger indigestion for some people. When this occurs close to bedtime, it can lead to painful heartburn that disrupts sleep. These food can also trigger your digestive system and keep you out of REM sleep. If you are not getting your daily nutritional intake of the proper vitamins, minerals, amino acids and omegas then your body will have a harder time making the melatonin that helps regulate your sleep. This is the most common reason for poor sleep and energy. A complete body and mind supplement, such as Kryptonite or Nitro-Vi can help you achieve the daily recommended nutritional intake.
- Ensuring adequate exposure to natural light. Exposure to sunlight during the day, as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. In other words your brain will start to know that when it is dark it is time to sleep. Or when it is light it is time to wake up and be alert. This can also help with those sluggish feelings that seem to sneak up on you in the middle of the day.
- Establishing a regular relaxing bedtime routine. A regular nightly routine helps the body prepare for bedtime. Such as taking warm shower or bath, reading a book, or light stretches, brushing your teeth or whatever relaxes you. When possible, try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before attempting to sleep. One more thing to look at is what are you watching on TV before bed. We all love those action packed shows but have you noticed the way your energy level spikes when things explode or the the hero saves the day by catching the bad guy? these show are great but they could be affecting your energy levels by releasing adrenaline in to the body...they can also affect your dreams. So if you are prone to vivid dreams or nightmares that wake you up, you may want to watch something that is less action packed or emotionally charged.
- Making sure that the sleep environment is relaxing! OK it should go without saying but sometimes it the easiest things that trip us up. Your mattress and pillows should be comfortable. The bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees – for optimal sleep. Bright light from lamps, cell phone and TV screens can make it difficult to fall asleep. So turn those light off or adjust them when possible. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, relaxing aroma therapies oils, ear plugs, "white noise" machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices that can make the bedroom more relaxing.