Sleep is a key pillar of good health
Sleep is becoming more widely recognised as one of the key pillars of good health alongside diet and exercise. Diet and exercise are directly linked to our ability to maintain a healthy body weight, but it may be that sleep also has a role to play.
How well are we sleeping?
The optimum number of hours of sleep is thought to be just under eight, but research carried out by the Royal Society for Public Health has shown that most people manage less than seven (1).
Over the course of a week this deficit equates to a whole night’s sleep, and research by The Sleep Council has shown that 33 per cent of people only manage 5–6 hours, while 7 per cent get less than 5 hours (2).
“Sleep derivation causes fatigue and can impact on our ability to perform daily tasks as we struggle with attention, concentration, creativity, insight, memory and decision making”
How is diet linked to sleep, disease and weight gain?
Research has suggested that poor sleep may increase the risk of diabetes, elevated blood pressure, poor mental health and even our ability to maintain a healthy body weight (3).
“A lack of sleep may increase your energy intake by 300 calories per day”
It has also been shown that if you continually lose sleep at night then this may affect your ability to lose weight.
Studies carried out by Loughborough University found that those who habitually sleep for less than six hours each night tended to have a higher BMI than those who managed to get the recommended eight nightly hours (4).
Sleep deprivation may affect our hormones that regulate appetite
Research has suggested that a lack of sleep may impact on the hormones leptin and ghrelin which control appetite.
Leptin sends signals to the brain to help inhibit hunger while ghrelin is released by the stomach to stimulate appetite. The research, which is not yet definitive, suggests that a lack of sleep reduces leptin and increases ghrelin (5).
This hormonal effect may explain the correlation between obesity and sleep deprivation highlighted by certain studies.
Insulin and sleep
Insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar, may also be affected by sleep. This hormone also promotes the storage of fat and as such it has been suggested that higher levels may impact on weight gain. Research has suggested that sleep deprivation may increase the release of insulin as well as another hormone called cortisol which has also been associated with fat storage in the body (6).
There may also be a simpler explanation
Sleep deprivation causes fatigue and tiredness which can impact on our motivation to exercise and stick to healthy eating habits.
Sleep deprivation can also lower mood and could contribute to depression and anxiety both of which may lead to comfort eating and weight gain.
Adolescents are at particular risk if depression as a result of sleep deprivation which is compounded by the overuse of electrical equipment at night and the psychological effects of social media (7).
“A prolonged lack of sleep can eventually filter into our emotions and relationships”
Avoid quick energy fixes
Trying to overcome the fatigue associated with sleep deprivation may also affect eating patterns as well as the temptation to rely on ‘pick-me-ups’ during the day such as sugar laden energy drinks or sweet snacks. These may not only promote weight gain but could further inhibit your ability to sleep well at night.
How does being overweight affect our ability to sleep?
Being overweight can affect our ability to sleep in a couple of ways. Sleep apnoea is a condition that affects breathing during the night which can disrupt sleep. If this is an issue, then make sure you sleep on your side to help open up the airways.
Indigestion is another problem that interrupts sleep and is more common in people who are overweight. Heartburn is a common symptom of indigestion as stomach acid rises into the oesophagus and throat.
Try eating a light low-fat meal a few hours before bed and include a good source of protein as this help the gall bladder to produce more bile acids that aid digestion.
The power of herbs to help with sleep
If you want to help promote sleep, then try herbal drinks. There are many herbs associated with relaxing the body and easing anxiety, which is a leading cause of sleep deprivation.
Herbs such as chamomile, passionflower and lavender are good but the most potent is valerian root. Look for herbal teas with a high percentage of valerian root for maximum effect.