With the semester over we are free to restart our ambitious healthy eating intentions and exercise regimes. After living on caffeine and sugar to make it through finals, its time to start up the Kombucha, overnight oats, green juices and reactivating our Class Passes to get in shape or slightly healthier anyway. But between diet and exercise, there’s an essential and often neglected component in this trifecta of health, sleep.
Sleep is not a luxury. It’s as crucial as food and oxygen. Sure, it sounds obvious, but in times of stress it’s common for us to push sleep down to the bottom of our to do lists. It is so common in fact that an estimate one third of adults report that they are getting less than the recommended amount of sleep. Sleep deprivation can negatively influence your appetite and related hormones.
Ever wondered why when you wake up after a bad night of sleep or a big night out, you just instinctively find yourself headed to the doughnut aisle or reaching for a big bag of chips?
Our hunger is regulated by two specific hormones: ghrelin, which stimulates appetite; and leptin, which controls energy balance by controlling hunger.
Sleep deprivation triggers a surge in ghrelin, which causes you to want more food — often causing a craving for carbohydrates. In the meantime, leptin levels decrease, warning your brain that you don’t have enough energy for your needs, initiating your brain to mistakenly tell you you’re hungry.
According to experts, sleep loss also causes cortisol levels, the stress hormone to rise. When teamed up with the ghrelin, they become little voices inside your head telling you you’re still hungry even if you’ve just eaten. And the cravings? Serotonin levels drop when you’re tired, hence feeling grouchy, sluggish, even “hangry,” so the body kicks into replenishment mode, causing us to crave fats and carbs as they lead to a release of serotonin and a quick fix of energy.
Initiating a perfect storm for weight gain sleep deprivation can also increase insulin levels, which urge the body into storing energy as fat, particularly around our waists. The malicious cycle is then finished as this all impacts our general energy levels and mood, dampening our willingness and motivation to get down to the gym and be active.
You may be thinking, “I’m getting seven hours of sleep, so I’m fine,” but have you considered the quality of those hours?
Getting high-quality sleep is equally essential to the quantity of sleep you are getting. A person can be in bed for 10 hours, but if it is not high-quality of sleep isn’t good, then it's basically a waste of time.
Luckily, remedying poor-quality sleep is a lot easier than you’d think. Start by prioritizing sleep and getting your body into a good biorhythm. Maintaining a consistent sleep and wake time will allow your circadian (body clock) to function at its best, which is essential for regulating all aspects of our bodily functions from our appetite, cognition, and mood to our immune systems and metabolism,
Experts suggest not using technology at least an hour before bed to improve sleep. The blue light from the screens adversely impacts your melatonin which controls your sleep/wake cycle. Additionally, the stimulation from these devices or TV perks up your brain as it should be transitioning to sleep and doing the work it does during sleep such as encoding memories.
Turn off Netflix, set your screen time to sleep, and make the most of your pre-bed, technology-free hour with a good book. Then just lie back and reap the benefits of a healthier, more rested you. Sweet dreams!
-Melissa Brand, MS-LS Candidate 2019