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Sleeping your way to weight loss

Posted Aug 28 2010 8:47am

Sleeping Through a Diet
Sleep is a problem these days. Either we don’t get enough because we don’t have time to sleep or we don’t get enough because we can’t fall or stay asleep. It seems that many of us would like to sleep more each night but our many commitments force us to stay awake longer than we should or wake up when we are still deep in our dreams. Then there are the 20% of Americans who suffer from an inability to fall asleep or wake up after only a few hours and have trouble falling asleep again.
It is not good to be sleep deprived. Everything seems to be affected from digestion to the ability to retrieve information from our memory stores or to drive with appropriate concentration. What and how much we eat is also affected by lack of sleep. College students, or anyone else pulling an “all nighter”, attempt to stay awake by eating their way through the early hours of morning. I remembered being told by an MIT student that the floors of computer labs are ankle deep in Twinkie and candy wrappers left by students working all night on their assignments. Some recent research that studied the behavior of volunteers deliberately sleep–deprived found that the subjects had cravings only for junk food, and many of them complained that they didn’t feel full after eating.
Would people be thinner if they got enough sleep? Even if the answer is yes, how can this be accomplished? Daily obstacles, such as long commuting times necessitating an early awakening or evening obligations requiring a late bedtime, reduce the chance of sleeping longer or getting to bed earlier. Everyone has his or her personal “to-do” list that eats into sleep time.
The fatigue and groggy feeling that accompanies sleepiness makes it particularly hard for the dieter who has to contend with calories, portion size and reading food labels when just grabbing a snack is much more tempting. Asking a dieter to wake up even earlier to get to the gym when she is already stumbling around from lack of sleep is like expecting a snowball to stay intact in a Texas August.
But perhaps we should not give up so easily. Dieters are told to change almost every aspect of their lifestyle, from what they eat to how much exercise they get. Why not include major changes in their sleep habits as well? The most obvious positive aspect is that you can’t eat when you are asleep. There are people who sleep-eat (a form of nighttime activity similar to sleep-walking) but this is neither normal nor restricted to dieters. If someone could come up with a sleeping cure in which you could go to bed and wake up 50 pounds thinner but fit, a sleep/weight-loss clinic would be on every street corner. Since this is not about to occur, dieters, and those who don’t want to gain weight, have to tackle the sleep problem the same way they tackle changing their eating and exercise habits.
It is not easy for a dieter to insert time to exercise into an overcommitted scheduled; yet those who do so are more likely to reach their weight goal and keep the pounds off. The same is true of those who make significant changes to meal planning and food choices. Sleeping enough hours to awaken rested, rather than longing for more sleep, may be as hard to do as eating salads and grilled chicken rather than take-out pizza for dinner but it can be done.
When I have suggested to my sleep-deprived weight-loss clients that they go to bed earlier, they complain that late evenings are precious because it is the only time they can relax, catch up with their reading or Web surfing or e-mails. Their lives are so crowded with obligations to others that they treasure their time when the house is quiet and they can attend to their own needs. It is hard to argue with this. However, since sleep deprivation substantially reduces efficiency and focus with which those daily obligations are carried out, it is possible that with more sleep, they may accomplish all their tasks in less time. If they went through each day more awake because they sleep enough, they still might have enough time for themselves because all their commitments would be met more quickly and even with less stress.
Interestingly, our serotonin-producing diet usually closes the argument on whether the clients will continue to stay up too late or go to sleep at a reasonable time. The serotonin-producing carbohydrate dinner and carbohydrate evening snack often makes the dieter so relaxed and drowsy that she can’t stay force herself to stay awake beyond 11 PM. Time after time, a new weight-loss client comes back, after a week or so on the diet, rested and wide awake because for the first time in years, she is getting enough sleep. The alertness and energy that comes with enough sleep makes it even easier to plan and prepare meals and exercise every day.
The wonderful thing about finally getting enough sleep is that it does make it easier to diet, to exercise, and to stay in a good mood. Like children, adults get cranky when they are sleep deprived and bad moods often lead to bad food choices. It may be hard to increase your sleep time by more than 15 or 30 minutes at first because your schedule doesn’t allow you to sleep more. Try to streamline your life to get to the point where you do get all the sleep your body needs. You’ll wake up to easier weight loss, a more fit body, and a mind and mood that are working optimally.
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