Sleep problems? Listen to your body

Whether you’re obese or athletic, everyone could do with better sleep at night. Here’s how to get your body the rest it deserves

Man struggling to sleep

Believe it or not, obesity and sleep are linked. Studies have proven that those who sleep for fewer hours or have irregular sleep patterns, struggle to maintain a healthy weight. In fact, when you sleep less, your metabolism falls, and in turn, your body struggles to burn calories through the day. Sleep problems can lead to hormone imbalance and that can have a dramatic effect on weight loss or fat gain. Our body is designed to perform certain functions during our sleep, so if you cut down on that, you upset a natural process. The body’s ability to process glucose [sugar] also decreases with fewer hours of sleep.

Sleep experts say there are a number of things you can do to lose weight and improve your sleep:

  • Make healthy choices for your meals. Avoid fast foods. Eat more fish, fruits and vegetables; avoid foods high in carbohydrates or fats.
  • Start getting consistent exercise, which will improve the quality of your sleep. Most experts, however, advise us to avoid exercising less than three hours before bedtime, because exercise is arousing and can make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Examine your sleep schedule. Are you getting at least seven hours of sleep each night?

Do you wake up feeling refreshed or lethargic? Do you wake up frequently during the night? Are you underweight, overweight, or just right?

Workouts and Sleep

A productive workout is just not measured on how many minutes or hours you exercised. It goes further. What are the results of your workout? Your body burns calories even when you sleep. When you exercise, your muscles get broken down [not literally] and they get repaired, which means that they develop in size or strength when your body is at rest. So if you have less sleep or rest, your muscles don’t recover completely and there are chances that you may get injured during your next workout.

Several people I know pump iron or run every single day of the week, and these people struggle to achieve their fitness goals and end up getting frustrated, or trying even harder. The key is to rest. Let your body and muscles recover and you will find your next workout all the more productive. A great workout will promote a good night’s sleep. Sometimes you will find that your body requires more sleep. It usually depends on the amount of physical activity you have had during the day and also the amount of mental stress.

In order to sleep better at night and reduce daytime sleepiness, try practising the following
sleep tips:

  • Maintain regular times at which you go to bed and wake up, including on weekends
  • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as taking a bath or listening to music
  • Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows
  • Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex
  • Finish eating at least 2 – 3 hours before your bedtime
  • Exercise regularly but avoid it a few hours before you go to sleep
  • Avoid caffeine [e.g. coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate] at night
  • Don’t smoke—not only is it a major health risk, it can lead to poor sleep
  • Stay away from alcohol at night; it can lead to disrupted sleep later

Sleep therapists today suggest that you listen to your body. It’s the best indicator for how much sleep you require, though you must draw the line between sleeping out of laziness and out of requirement. These two elements should not be confused. The same way some people eat when they are bored or depressed, some people sleep.

Aim for deep and undisturbed sleep. Seven hours of irregular sleep may not be the best solution.

Relax! You’ve been sleeping enough

An interesting study has pointed out that up to 30 per cent of us who believe that we do not sleep well, in reality actually do. So why is there this disparity?

This is due to a rather queer condition, known as paradoxical insomnia, where we think it’s more difficult for us go to sleep than what our reality suggests. Someone who has a tendency to worry is more likely to get affected than someone who can move on.

Also, if we have a partner whose sleep habits do not match ours or if the sleep schedule expected of us does not match our body rhythms, we may start believing we just cannot sleep.

Paradoxical insomnia occurs in three ways:

  • We overestimate the time it takes for us to fall asleep
    Sleep latency studies have found out that often we may be lying in bed only for five minutes before falling asleep. But we estimate it to be 10 – 45 minutes.
  • We underestimate how long we sleep
    It is possible that we may actually sleep 30 – 45 minutes longer that we think we have slept.
  • We underestimate how well we sleep
    Here we overestimate the number of times we wake up at night and we doubt whether we slept soundly.

If you doubt your own judgement of how well you are sleeping, maintain a sleep diary. Sharing the diary with a sleep specialist will help understand your particular sleep patterns. The sleep specialist may conduct a test polysomnogram that will measure how much you sleep.

Adapted with permission from Eat Smart Move More Sleep Right by Luke Coutinho, published by Body & Soul Books, an imprint of Leadstart Publishing. Price INR 195

This was first published in the August 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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