The importance of sleep for a healthy lifestyle

by Leanne Ward

Poor sleep and poor nutrition go hand in hand

In our busy lives, sleep can be seen as less important than other activities. Many of us give up some sleep to catch up on other things like work, playing computer or late night TV. Getting less than 7 hours sleep per night has been linked to weight gain and increased stress. Just one or two nights of skipping sleep can have an impact on your health, mood and weight. 

How Lack of sleep leads to weight gain

  • Sleeping fewer than 7 hours can cause:
  • An increase in cravings for high carbohydrate, high kilojoule foods
  • Increased levels of stress hormones
  • A reduction in your metabolism so more fat is stored in your body
  • Increases in insulin resistance that can lead to type 2 diabetes.
  • An increase in hunger and appetite – sleep duration affects hormones that regulate your hunger and stimulate your appetite.
  • Tiredness and lack of energy – when you feel tired you are less likely to prepare food, make healthy choices or be physically active. A lack of energy can be mistaken for hunger so you may eat more when all you really is sleep.

Factors That Disrupt Sleep

1. Caffeine: It may take six to eight hours for the effects of caffeine to wear off completely. Avoid caffeinated drinks such as tea, coffee, cola or chocolate close to bed time as these can stimulate the mind. Instead try a warm milky drink.

2. Nicotine: Cigarettes contain nicotine which is a stimulant. Smoking before going to bed increases your heart rate and blood pressure. This is likely to keep you awake longer.

3. Alcohol: It may help you doze off but it disturbs sleep rhythms. It prevents deep sleep so you won’t feel refreshed in the morning. You are also more likely to wake up and use the toilet during the night.

4. Night time exercise: Daytime exercise is associated with improved night time sleep, but evening exercise can disrupt sleeping patterns.

5. Large meals: Large portions at night can make it hard to fall asleep as they can cause indigestion and make you feel overfull making it harder to go to sleep.

6. Medications: Many pain relievers contain caffeine; decongestants and steroid medications can disrupt sleep; and beta-blockers can make it difficult to fall asleep and cause frequent night time awakenings. Sleeping pills should be used only as a temporary last resort and under strict medical advice. Check with your GP if you have any concerns regarding your medication

7. Environment: There are many environmental factors that can impact sleep and result in a restless night (see environmental tips below).


Tips to improve your sleep

  • Work with your body clock: go to bed the same time each night and wake up the same time every morning—even on the weekends.
  • Spend some time outdoors in early morning sunlight. This helps to set your body clock.
  • Exercise at regular times each day, but not within 3 hours of your bedtime.
  • Avoid napping in the afternoon or evening, as this can keep you awake at night. Take a nap if needed, but not for more than 20 minutes or after 3 PM.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine in the afternoon and evening
  • Limit eating and drinking to small quantities before bedtime.
  • Drink fewer beverages in the evening to prevent waking up to use the bathroom.
  • Take time to relax before bedtime every night. Some people find that watching television, reading a book, listening to soothing music, or soaking in a warm bath helps them to relax.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Avoid watching TV or sitting in front of a computer for at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Avoid going to bed if you don’t feel tired. Lying awake can reinforce bad sleeping habits.
  • Give yourself about 20 minutes to fall asleep. If you find that you are still awake and not tired, get out of bed. When you feel sleepy try going back to bed.
  • Discuss with your doctor or pharmacist alternatives to medicines that interfere with sleep.

Where to get more help

If you still have trouble sleeping do not hesitate to speak with your doctor. It’s important to see your doctor if you continually feel sleepy during the day despite sleeping enough hours at night, consistently need more than 30 minutes to fall asleep at night, snore loudly or frequently, or awaken frequently or for long periods most nights of the week. You may need referral to a sleep specialist. It may also help to record your sleep in a sleep diary to help you better understand common patterns or issues you may see with your sleep or sleeping habits. Regular meditation or yoga may also assist with improved sleep patterns.

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Tiffany June 29, 2018 - 10:07 am

This is was very helpful. Thank you!

Leanne Ward June 29, 2018 - 5:23 pm

Hi Tiffany, Glad you found it useful! Have a lovely day. Warm regards, Leanne


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