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Why Sleep Can Be Your Waistline's Best Friend

One of the top New Year’s Resolutions has to be along the lines of losing weight, getting fit and eating healthier.  We make these resolutions with the very best of intentions but then life gets in the way.  Our bosses need us to stay late at the office.  The kids get sick.  We stress about gathering our tax documents together.  And before you know it, our resolve takes a back seat and we start looking for those easy quick fixes that help us to maintain some shred of sanity.  Yep - been there, done that.

But one thing I didn’t realize until recently is that, aside from taking the time to work out and plan our healthier menus, sleep can really be an ally in our quest to stick to the plan.  If there is one thing I am adamant about in our house NOW, it’s that everybody get a proper night of sleep.  Unless my son is having some buddies sleep over on a weekend night, I insist that lights are out pretty early.

Today, our house is quiet pretty early every night.  The main reason for that is that my husband gets up at 4:00 AM to go to work.  He operates heavy equipment and his job involves a pretty strong element of danger so adequate rest is not just an option, but a necessity.  And because my husband can sometimes snore like a fast moving freight train, I need to be asleep quickly or I won’t get the chance.

Because I heard recently that boys in the 12-16 year old age range especially need adequate sleep, I am adamant that all electronic devices be off and lights out on time.  This is not an easy feat.  But today, we are a pretty well rested family.  However, that was not always the case.

Several years ago when I worked outside the home and I wasn’t tuned into the benefits of sleep, I burned the candle at both ends.  Once the kids were in bed and dear hubby was rattling the rafters, I would use that time to catch up on paperwork, or fold laundry or just enjoy the fact that the house was quiet.  I was so keyed up from working all day and then running around to pick up kids and cooking dinner and cleaning up and helping with homework that sleep wasn’t going to come easily anyway.  So, I might as well do something constructive.

When morning came, I would hit the snooze button several times before I would jump out of bed in a panic because I’d overslept.  There would be a whirlwind of activity as I got 3 kids up and ready to head out the door, hoping that everybody would be where they needed to be on time.  Stress was my breakfast.

I’d grab a quick coffee and head out the door, depositing my kids at their appropriate destinations. Once I arrived at the office, there always seemed to be food in our break room and, because I was in a perpetual hurry, I would grab whatever was quick and easy (bagel, doughnut, pastry).  By lunch, I was famished and would grab some “fast foodie” meal and eat at my desk because I hadn’t had time to make my lunch.  After putting in my day at the office, I would pick up all the kids and head home to figure out “what was for dinner”?  I’m ashamed to say it, but many times our dinner came out of a box or a Styrofoam container.  And working out?  I was just too tired.  Just. Too. Tired.


Lucky for me, I had a pretty good metabolism.  But after a while, your body starts to turn on you when you deprive it of basic necessities – like sleep.  So as I got a little older, and I’d like to think a little wiser, I started adopting a greener lifestyle.  It wasn’t just about getting rid of toxins and preservatives and eating organically.  My family was going to enjoy all aspects of health and wellness and part of that was changing my attitude about sleep.

So, how does sleep keep you on the fitness track?

Ghrelin is a hormone produced in the gastrointestinal tract that basically stimulates your hunger.  The more you sleep (and the better rest you receive), the less ghrelin your body is going to produce.  A study in the journal “PLoS Medicine” showed that shorter durations of sleep were linked to higher levels of ghrelin and obesity.

Leptin, on the other hand, is a hormone produced in the fat cells.  This hormone communicates with your brain and lets it know that your hunger has been satisfied.  The less sleep you get, the less leptin your body produces.  Do the math:  Less sleep = less leptin + more ghrelin = weight gain.  Yikes!

So chances are if you don’t get an adequate amount of sleep, you’re going to wake up hungry or become hungry shortly thereafter.  If you don’t take the time to eat the right kinds of food, in the right combinations, you will likely grab something quick and easy.  That little “quick and easy” breakfast will likely be filled with sugar, preservatives, and empty calories causing you to become hungry a short time later.  And then the cycle begins.

You are so hungry from your “quick and easy” breakfast that you overeat at lunch.  That lunch is probably going to be filled with (you guessed it) fat, preservatives and empty calories.  Your insulin goes up in response to your sugar (from the carbs you ate at lunch) and then comes crashing down.  Because the boss frowns on you taking a nap at your desk, you grab that soda or candy bar for a little “pick me up”.  By the time you crash again, it’s dinner time and you are in no shape to make a healthy decision for dinner.  And so fast food it is.

And working out?  Who has the energy to work out now?  You’re sleep deprived and you filled your body with garbage all day.  There isn’t much fuel in the tank to support a workout.  You figure that your diet is shot for the day anyway, so you drink another soda or maybe a glass of wine (not necessarily bad for you but filled with sugar nonetheless) and by the time you should be getting between the sheets, the combination of stress, poor food choices and caffeine has you wide awake.  Guess what tomorrow will bring?

I live in the real world.  Even though I work from home now, life is busy and filled with responsibilities.  But with a bit of planning, you can stay on track.  Plan out your meals a week at a time and have healthy snacks on hand, just in case.  Make an appointment with yourself to get some form of exercise each day.  Even a brisk walk around the neighborhood after dinner will do you some good.  Get organized so that meal times are a no brainer, especially for the days when you’re tired.  And in the evening, make it a point to relax as a family.

Kitchen closed.  Check.  Lights down low.  Check.  Electronic devices off.  Check.  And then tuck yourself in.  You’ll not only see the results in your attitude and in your face, but in your waistline as well.  Goodnight!

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