For many of us hard-driving New Yorkers, the longer days of summer give us the perfect chance to fit more in on any given day. In addition to our usual work time, down time and training time, somehow it seems there’s “found time” – to finish projects we’ve put off, read books we haven’t read, binge watch show’s we’ve missed.
There’s time to take vacation, time to kick back a little, and even time to catch up on some sleep.
Ok, truth be told, we can’t really (medically or scientifically) catch up on sleep, since we can never recoup lost time. But we can implement healthier sleep habits, and for most of us, that probably means adding a few more hours to the amount of time we’re sleeping now. Everyone is different, but most adults need – and function best – with 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
Why is this important? Numerous studies have demonstrated the important role of sleep in the health/wellness equation (along with proper diet and exercise). People who sleep less typically weigh more -- and are more likely to gain additional weight over time. And we know carrying around those extra pounds can lead to numerous other health problems.
The connection between sleep and weight works something like this: when we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies experience hormonal changes that increase our appetite and affect our perception around feeling full after a meal. So if we’re tired, we feel hungrier and eat more. As well, when we sleep less, we have more waking hours -- that in turn translates into more time in the day to consume food.
In addition, when we’re tired, we tend to make regrettable decisions in the food-selection department. We’re less likely to say “no” to unhealthy foods, and more likely to make high-calorie, high-in-fat choices. And to top it all off, when we haven’t had enough sleep, we’re potentially less likely to exercise, because we don’t have the energy.
The bottom line is, without proper sleep, we feel hungry, tired and cranky, and we’ll probably gain weight, too. Sleep deprivation can lead to some very unhealthy behaviors, so maybe this summer is the time to re-vamp your sleep habits?
You might be thinking, “I’m a night owl, I don’t need a lot of sleep,” or “I’m just not tired at night,” or “I have too much on my mind, I can’t sleep.” We have a few suggestions for you:
Exercise has many well-documented health benefits, including improved sleep. According to one of many reports issued by the National Sleep Foundation, “150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week, which is the national guideline, provided a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality” (among the 2600 participants in this particular study).
Change the time of day of your workout. There is some evidence that morning workouts are better for restful nights, but there is no clear consensus on this. Everyone’s internal body clock is unique, so some people might actually sleep better if they train later. Sleep experts suggest experimenting with different workout times to find the timing that best suits your body’s rhythms.
Unplug. In terms of winding down at night, the best advice: unplug your device. Melatonin is a hormone that helps to regulate our sleep cycles. Typically, melatonin levels rise in the night (when it’s dark), and when that happens, we begin to feel drowsy. Melatonin levels dip in the daytime (when it’s bright), and so we feel awake and alert. The “blue light” emitted from laptops, smartphones and other electronics suppresses the release of melatonin into the body, and that makes restfulness more elusive. Try to shut things down about 2 hours before bedtime.
In addition, watch the caffeine and alcohol intake, and consider learning more about mindfulness meditation. When practiced properly, mindfulness meditation has shown to be particularly helpful in improving sleep.
Harvard Health Publications
- “Blue Light Has a Dark Side,” originally published: May 2012
- “What’s the Difference Between Mindfulness, Mindfulness Meditation and Basic Meditation?”: May 2013
- “How Many Hours of Sleep Are Enough”
- “Ways Technology Affects Sleep”
“Annual Sleep in America Poll Exploring Connections with Communications Technology Use and Sleep,” March 7 2011
“National Sleep Foundation Poll: Exercise Key to Good Sleep” (Sleep in America Poll), March 4, 2013
Sleep, A joint publication of the Sleep Research Society and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “Sleep Restriction Enhances the Daily Rhythm of Circulating Levels of Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol,” Volume 39, Issue 3