At the 2012 meeting of the American Heart Association, researchers presented the findings of a study about the relationship between sleep deprivation and obesity. In their controlled study, people who were sleep deprived ate more than 500 additional calories per day than those who slept normally. Despite spending more time awake they did not burn more calories than those who slept normally.
In a separate study published in 2016, researchers tried to determine whether various foods might affect the quality of sleep. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, showed associations between sleep quality and the amount of fat, sugar, and fiber consumed. When tired, participants tended to overeat and many times they reached for fatty and/or sugary foods. Researchers determined that the consumption of more saturated fat resulted in less deep sleep. High sugar intake resulted in participants waking up more times during the night. On the positive side, high fiber intake resulted in more deep sleep.
These two studies (and many more) show an association between sleep and our waistlines. If you are aiming for a healthy weight it therefore makes sense to focus on getting enough quality sleep. Here are some suggestions from the National Sleep Foundation about improving your sleep hygiene:
• Limited naps – Napping does not make up for inadequate nighttime sleep, but a 20- to 30-minute nap can help improve your mood, alertness, and performance.
•Stimulants – Avoid caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime.
• Alcohol – Moderation is key. Alcohol might help you fall asleep but too much can disrupt sleep in the second half of the night.
• Exercise – As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can drastically improve nighttime sleep quality. While most people should avoid strenuous workouts close to bedtime the effect differs from person to person. Find out what works best for you.
• Foods – Heavy or rich foods, fatty or fried meals, spicy dishes, citrus fruits, and carbonated drinks can trigger indigestion for some people that disrupts sleep.
• Natural light – Exposure to sunlight during the day, as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle .
• Routine – A nightly bedtime routine helps the body recognize that it is bedtime. Take a warm shower or bath, read a book, or stretch.
• Environment – Mattress and pillows should be comfortable. A cool bedroom – between 60 and 67 degrees – is optimal. Turn off lamps, cell phones, and TV screens. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans or other devices that can make the bedroom more relaxing.
March 6-13 is National Sleep Awareness Week. Go to sleepfoundation.org for more information.