Making healthy habits in your sleep

BeeZee Bodies are all about habit and behaviour change as part of getting closer to a healthier lifestyle. Setting up good habits in all areas of our lives (not just around food!) can help us feel more in control and able to make change. Plus, it offers improved health in all sorts of ways.

Today is World Sleep Day, a celebration of all things sleepy. So, in BeeZee Bodies style, we are taking a look at how sleep can help us achieve better habits for a healthier lifestyle.

How much sleep should a sleeper get, if a sleeper could get sleep?

We might be aware of the 8 hour mantra but is that true for everyone?

The NHS website recommends:

  • Adults – 7 to 9 hours
  • Children – 9 to 13 hours
  • Toddlers and babies – 12 to 17 hours

This might seem like a lot, especially with all our faced paced lives and busy schedules. How important can those extra couple of hours really be? Well, to be honest, very… This length of time is required for you to go through the familiar with the ‘sleep cycle’, where your body goes through different stages of sleep. We need all stages to be fully rested and for our body to carry out all the process it needs to (which we will come to later). The thick line in the image below shows the ideal sleep cycle, and the dotted line shows how this is disrupted when sleep is shortened.

Image from: https://blog.gethapi.me/day-01-sleeping-like-a-champ-b29ff66250c2

Bad habits

Here are some signs that your sleep might not be ideal:

  • Sleeping more on your days off – indicates that you’re not getting enough (or the right sort) of sleep on your working days
  • Needing to nap – naps do not give you the benefit that a long sleep does – it wouldn’t even scratch the surface of the cycle above!
  • Ignoring when you are sleepy
  • Spending too much time in bed on those lazy mornings!
  • Not getting enough activity or daylight exposure in the day
  • Exercising or eating heavy meals late at night

 

Why sleep?

We might all know some of the reasons we should sleep – regain focus and concentration, help your body and brain recover etc. But there are some other health benefits, which especially might be of interest if you are concerned about weight. For example, UK toddlers who had less than 10 and a half hours of sleep a night where at a greater risk of obesity by the age of 7.  Again and again, increasing amounts of sleep has been associated with lower risk of obesity, and improved food choice. So why…?

Energy

A lack of sleep can disrupt neuroendocrine signals that regulate appetite. It has been shown that restricting sleep causes a reduction in the ‘satiety’ (feeling full) hormone called leptin, and an increase in the hunger hormone, ghrelin. It is thought that his happens because the body is active longer which keeps other signals going (orexins), associated with being awake and eating. It has also been shown that people who were restricted to only 5 and a half hours of sleep a night compared to 8 and a half had an increased energy intake in the day due to snacking, which equated to over 200 extra calories a day. Those people ranked not just a higher amount of actual hunger, but also rated a higher ‘food desirability’, meaning they craved higher calorie and sugar foods more than those who got more sleep. So, it looks like getting enough sleep has both physiological and behavioural mechanisms that lead to healthier food choices.

Blood sugar

It’s not just hunger and energy intake that can be messed up by lack of sleep, but the more intricate and on-topic area of blood glucose. Experiments in sleep deprivation (roughly 4 hours of sleep a night) showed that those people had higher overall blood glucose levels, poorer clearing of blood glucose, and higher insulin resistance. All of these things are markers for increased type 2 diabetes risks. In fact, when 20 year-old, healthy males were deprived of sleep they had similar glucose tolerances to 60+ year olds with known glucose and insulin problems. Furthermore, there were higher levels of inflammatory markers, called cytokines, which are known to predispose to type 2 diabetes as well.

Only 4 hours of sleep is really deprived. The reality for most of us might be more like 5 or 6 hours a night. So is this better? Well, not really. Although no long term studies on recurrent restriction have been done (who would sign up to that!) similar patterns have been seen in small scale experiments. The good news is that when those people who were sleep deprived returned to their normal sleep levels, their glucose levels and tolerances improved. However, the levels did not return completely to normal in the time the experiment was run. This seems to indicate that the effects of having days with less sleep are not completed corrected by ‘catching up’. Although it hasn’t been confirmed, if you follow this pattern, it suggests that the more consistent sleep restriction there is, the more it disrupts the body’s healthy glucose and insulin levels which can’t always be undone.

Good habits

Now we know what good sleep is, and why, let’s talk about how to get it. Here are some ideas if you are struggling to get the right amount and kind of sleep:-

  • The classic: ‘regular, moderate exercise’. Seemingly the miracle cure for a lot of things! Exercise has been shown to improve quality of life and total sleep time for people with sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome
  • Regular daily social activities can improve sleep
  • Matching the time spent in bed to the time sleeping – take your lazy Sunday morning somewhere else!
  • Something called ‘stimulus control’ – which means making sure that distractions or things that could engage your brain stay away from the where you sleep. Think books, TV, or a heated discussion about the latest episode of Game of Thrones.
  • Avoid exercise at least 2 hours before bed.
  • Introduce a 30 minutes sleep relaxation period to wind down
  • Only sleep when you are actually sleepy. If you can’t sleep, don’t feel bad about leaving the bedroom rather than tossing and turning.
  • Avoid napping if you can, but if not keep it to 30 minutes or less and only before 2pm
  • Ever tried mindfulness? It’s causing quite a stir and for good reason. There are plenty of apps to listen to to help calm that racing mind.
  • If you have tried all these things and are still struggling, do not be afraid to seek support from your GP. From what we have seen sleep is clearly an important health concern and it’s not a waste of your doctor’s time to get some help!

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