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7 Reasons to Go to Bed Now

By Samantha Bielawski, RD

Reality check: when was the last time you were happily drifting off to sleep before 10:00 p.m.?

And when was the last time you were in bed (early or not!) without the presence of television, work email or Facebook updates?

In a society that imposes an often obsessive focus on productivity, achievement and busyness, we have come to see bedtime as fully negotiable. Work, chores, and entertainment continually take precedence over a pinnacle of basic wellness.

Before you throw in that load of late night laundry or start a round of e-retail therapy at 10:00 p.m., consider these seven surprising effects shortchanging sleep can have on your quality of life – and health.

Weight Gain

While there are intricate biochemical pathways that are influenced by poor quality sleep (the impact of which influence weight gain), another simpler truth is clear: if you are awake too late, you’ll eat more.[i]

Whether you find yourself bored on the couch with Doritos or in the library cramming during finals with contraband lattes and muffins, anytime you develop a habit of food consumption without physiological need or hunger, your weight loss – or even weight maintenance – will almost surely be thwarted. These bad habits more easily plague us during those late night hours when we’re more prone to meaningless cravings and “magical thinking.” You’re likely tired, not hungry. Go to sleep.

Diabetes

Research has shown that disturbed sleep – including late night shift work – may directly impact metabolism and blood sugar control.[ii]

Don’t allow the chaotic cravings caused by sleep deprivation to sidetrack your commitment to reducing starchy carbohydrates, increasing quality proteins, skipping dessert and swapping out soda pop for water. When life happens and your sleep schedule is unavoidably disturbed, do allow yourself the time to catch up and get out of sleep debt on weekends. The makeup snooze time may prevent the development of diabetes.

Heart Disease

Many of us are aware that we should exercise, focus on nutrition, and avoid smoking and excess alcohol consumption to protect our cardiac health. Did you know that adequate sleep duration may lower your risk even further?[iii]

Focus on a minimum of seven hours per night to help protect your heart. With heart disease being a leading cause of death, it’s time Americans try to hit the sack a little bit earlier.

Belly Fat

I once heard the phrase “Abs are made in the kitchen.” How about “Abs are made during sleep”? No, this isn’t the latest infomercial gimmick. It might actually be a necessary part of the washboard stomach achievement plan. An imbalance of cortisol, commonly referred to as the “stress hormone” (it is actually one of many), can potentially make the fat in your belly region cling on for dear life.

When poor sleep patterns cause variations in your stress hormones, the deviation from a normal cortisol curve might be the ultimate nemesis to your skinny jeans. Your best bet would be to eliminate the guesswork by checking your cortisol levels and following an action plan to address imbalances. Complement your planks, pilates program and nutrition efforts with an extra hour of quality sleep time.

Cravings

Have you ever noticed yourself reaching for the sugars, starches, and salt after a poor night’s sleep? A key point in fighting cravings is to arm yourself with adequate sleep. Whether a sweet tooth or a salt tooth is your downfall, could it be possible that your sleep patterns are the root cause?

Try keeping a log of your sleep duration (and sleep quality) with your food journal. You might surprise yourself with the realization that your mid-afternoon vending machine raids are invariably linked to the previous night’s sleep schedule. An earlier bedtime might just give you that elusive edge over difficult cravings.

Cancer

Given that cancer causes one out of four deaths, research in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment is an ongoing initiative. Sure, every week seems to present a different news story about what causes or prevents cancer development. It’s no surprise that sleep habits, which play an integral part in our body’s functioning, may also have a role in colon cancer and prostate cancer.[iv]

Even more concerning is the complex web of hormone imbalances – from estrogen to cortisol – that are linked to cancer progression. While it seems that we are surrounded by news of ever-looming cancer risk factors, it makes sense that investing in whole health practices can lower your risk. It’s one more reason to give yourself some extra shut-eye.

Emotional Regulation

While it’s no shocker that we tend to be cranky when we’re tired, did you know that your night owl habits can disrupt how your brain processes both experiences and emotions?

If you feel you could be handling the stressors of day-to-day life in a calmer, more balanced way, take note of your sleep/wake cycle. Our REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep might play a critical role in our moods.[v]

What is perhaps even more interesting than our cranky tendency to overreact when we’re sleepy is what appears to be the amplification of our reaction to positive things.[vi] The ramifications of altered emotional response/overreaction to either good or bad circumstances are obviously situation dependent. It’s safe to say, however, that big decisions are best made with a solid 7-8 hours of sleep.

Those precious evening hours can easily get away from all of us. For many, winding down when we feel like the night is just beginning is a challenging yet rewarding habit change. Start by inching your bedtime back by 15-30 minutes each week, using a “sleep alarm” to prompt you when it’s time to go to bed. Remind yourself that a leaner body composition, lowered disease risk, and better state of mental health are waiting for you!

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[i] Spaeth AM; Dinges DF; Goel N. “Effects of experimental sleep restriction on weight gain, caloric intake, and meal timing in healthy adults.” SLEEP 2013;36(7):981-990.

[ii] O. M. Buxton, S. W. Cain, S. P. O’Connor, J. H. Porter, J. F. Duffy, W. Wang, C. A. Czeisler, S. A. Shea, “Adverse Metabolic Consequences in Humans of Prolonged Sleep Restriction Combined with Circadian Disruption.” Sci. Transl. Med. 4, 129ra43 (2012).

[iii] Hoevenaar-Blom M.P., Spijkerman A.M.W., Kromhout D., Verschuren W.M.M. “Sufficient sleep duration contributes to lower cardiovascular disease risk in addition to four traditional lifestyle factors: The MORGEN study.” (2014)  European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 21  (11) , pp. 1367-1375.

[iv] Sigurdardottir L.G., Valdimarsdottir U.A., Mucci L.A., Fall K., Rider J.R., Schernhammer E., Czeisler C.A., Lockley S.W. “Sleep disruption among older men and risk of prostate cancer.” (2013)  Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, 22 (5), pp. 872-879.

[v] Vandekerckhove M., Cluydts R. “The emotional brain and sleep: An intimate relationship.” (2010) Sleep Medicine Reviews, 14 (4), 219-226.

[vi] Gujar, N., Yoo, S., Hu P., Walker, M. “Sleep Deprivation Amplifies Reactivity of Brain Reward Networks, Biasing the Appraisal of Positive Emotional Experiences.” The Journal of Neuroscience, 31(12): 4466-4474.

The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.
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