Sleep — The Missing Link

It’s a well-known fact to those of us in the fitness profession that sleep is a key element in achievement of reducing fact in the body (“losing weight” as most of you refer to it). Unfortunately, this fact is little acknowledged, not to mention followed, by most people. Sleep is a commodity in our fast-paced, over-worked, over-committed society. While many of us can function quite well with little sleep (especially you Moms), the detrimental effects are huge, yet hugely ignored.

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With too little sleep comes a myriad of issues ranging from depression, elevated stress levels on organs, higher blood pressure, reduced sex drive, inability to concentrate, and deteriorated memory, just to name a few. But the biggie is obesity. According to studies by medical professionals, people who sleep less than six hours a day were almost 30% more likely to become obese than those who slept seven to nine hours. Research has shown a direct link between sleep and the peptides that our brain stimulates to regulate appetite. Not only does sleep loss appear to stimulate appetite, it also stimulates cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods, especially at night when the body is less likely to burn those calories.   Even kids are suffering from less sleep thus resulting in the increase of childhood obesity.  The demands of school and after-school activities are leaving kids less time for sleep.

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There is also a vicious cycle that occurs in obese people who suffer from sleep apnea. Even if they allow enough time to sleep, their sleep is disrupted multiple times each night which results in less quality sleep time. Thus their bodies retain more fat, increasing the sleep apnea, and the cycle continues until they are on assisted breathing devices. Sadly, I have a hard time convincing most people that if they follow my recommended course of exercise, healthy consistent nutrition, and proper sleep habits, they could find themselves off the breathing mask within months (and in many cases off their high blood pressure meds too)!  But I have personally helped many clients to do just that.

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So here are a few tips that can help improve the increase amount of time you sleep:

Prioritize: Make sleep as important as all the other responsibilities you have in your life. Schedule 8 hours of sleep just like you schedule everything from getting to work on time to getting to the gym (you do schedule your exercise time too, right?).

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Decompress: Many of us need a little while to decompress before we can fall asleep. Schedule about 30-minutes prior to your targeted sleep time and do some yoga-like stretches, read a book, watch TV (as long as the show is not too dramatic or stimulating), or write in a journal (as noted below).

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Journaling: If you’re like me, sometimes the issue with falling asleep (or staying asleep) is an over-active brain, sorting and re-sorting tasks or issues needing to be dealt with. If you spend a few minutes prior to sleep jotting down the tasks for the next day(s), or writing about issues weighing on you, or your day and feelings, the brain will relax and sleep will be easier.

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Time your Nutrition: You mustn’t got to bed hungry, but conversely, you don’t want to have just finished a meal. Make sure your last meal or snack is at least one hour prior, but not more than two hours before bedtime.

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It’s getting close to that “resolutions” time of year, I hope all of you seeking to change your body’s condition, add “getting more sleep” to your resolution of losing fat and getting into shape. It is essential to your success.

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