A few years ago, Jim came to my office desperate for help. He’d gained 140 pounds over three years, ballooning up from a slim 186 to a whopping 320.
He wasn’t eating more than most people—some very specific lifestyle changes created his weight gain.
Jim had gotten divorced, remarried, had two children, lost his mother, and almost lost his brother. He used to be in shape. Jim worked out, played football, and ate well.
Then his schedule changed. He started working the night shift at his security job. He worked all night and took care of his daughter during the day while his wife worked. That left Jim no time for exercise and only about four hours for sleep.
Worse, he craved sugar and carbohydrates and ate one huge meal of pasta, rice, and bread before going to work each night to give him energy.
Like so many Americans, Jim was a victim of a culture that prides itself on productivity, where sleep became a nuisance that got in the way of work, family, TV, the internet, email, and exercise. We make up for this lack of sleep by filling our tanks with sugar, refined carbs, caffeine, and other stimulants we hope will give us more energy (yet ultimately zap it).
The main thing in Jim’s life that changed before his weight gain was his sleep schedule. That’s no coincidence. Research links even one partial night’s sleep deprivation to insulin resistance in otherwise healthy folks, paving the way for type 2 diabetes and obesity.
As this and other studies show, hormones underlie these problems. Our bodies have a finely tuned appetite control system governed by certain hormones that sleep can profoundly affect.
Among them include our hunger hormones: ghrelin (that makes us feel hungry), cortisol (that stores fat), and leptin (that makes us feel full). Bad sleep knocks these and other fat-regulating hormones out of balance.
A Gallop poll showed 40 percent of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep. But it isn’t just quantity; our quality of sleep is also suffering.
Numerous issues can interfere with sleep, and some patients require a sleep specialist who can (through trial-and-error) find what might cause sleep disturbances.
Yet for most of my patients, these 12 strategies can help restore 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep. The difference in their energy levels, weight loss, and overall health is night and day (pun fully intended).
- Avoid or minimize substances that affect sleep, like caffeine, sugar, and alcohol.
- Avoid stimulating activities for two hours before bed. This includes watching TV, using the Internet, and answering emails.
- Go to bed (preferably before 10 or 11 p.m.) and wake up at the same time every day.
- Exercise daily for 30 minutes (but not less than three hours before bed, which can affect sleep).
- Use the bed only for sleep and sex.
- Keep the bedroom dark or use eyeshades.
- If we live in a noisy environment, block out the sound with earplugs (soft silicone ones work best).
- Make the room a comfortable temperature for sleep (not too hot or cold).
- Take a hot bath at night for 20 minutes. Add two cups of Epsom salt and 10 drops of lavender essential oil to the bathwater.
- Take 200 to 400 mg of magnesium citrate or glycinate before bed, which relaxes the nervous system and muscles.
- Try taking other supplements and herbs to get sufficient shut-eye, such as calcium, L-theanine (an amino acid from green tea), GABA, 5-HTP, melatonin, valerian, passionflower, and magnolia.
- Still have trouble sleeping? Get checked for other problems that can interfere with sleep, including food sensitivities, thyroid problems, menopause, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, heavy metal toxicity, stress, and depression.
Optimal sleep is so important, and even one night of bad sleep can throw us off in numerous ways. What strategy would you add here to get a good night’s sleep? Share yours below or on my Facebook page.
Author: Dr. Mark Hyman
Image: Flickr; Mislov Marohnić/Flickr
Editor: Emily Bartran
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