by Alex Petrushevski
Chronic poor sleep has been associated with a variety of negative health outcomes, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and dementia. 1-3 Rather than being a passive process, sleep is an integral regeneration system in the body and brain – adequate and healthy sleep is a fundamental pillar of good health.
Unfortunately in modern society, many people do not prioritise adequate sleep, and this is potentially holding them back when it comes to achieving their health goals. This is especially important in the area of weight loss and metabolic health. In some respects getting adequate, healthy sleep is just as important as the diet you are eating.
The problem with inadequate sleep
- Just 1 week of sleep deprivation is enough to reduce your ability to put glucose into your muscle, the same problem that pre-diabetic patients have. 4
- Sleep deprivation also produces an insulin resistant state in adipocytes (fat cells) – a hallmark of type 2 diabetes and various other chronic medical conditions that are frequently treated with a low carbohydrate diet. 5
- People who are acutely sleep deprived have lower levels of leptin (the hormone that tells your brain you are full) and higher levels of ghrelin (the hormone that tells your brain to eat more). 6
- What’s more, people who are sleep deprived will eat on average 600 calories more the day after a poor night’s sleep 7 and are more likely to make poor food choices. 8
- Worse still, if you do manage to lose weight while sleep deprived, you are more likely to lose muscle mass instead of fat, compared to if you are well slept. 9
What can you do to improve your sleep?
- Avoid overstimulation from electronic devices and screens for an hour before bed:
Electronic devices that emit blue light trigger melatonin production in your brain, which is a hormone that is associated with daylight hours. Lowering of melatonin is an integral part of falling asleep, so high levels of melatonin at bedtime will make falling asleep difficult.
- Limit caffeine in the afternoon and evening:
Caffeine has a half life of 6 hours in the body, and a quarter life of 12 hours. This means that if you have a cup of coffee at midday, a quarter of the caffeine in it is still in your system at midnight. If you are sensitive to caffeine, limiting any caffeine intake after lunch may be important. Even for people who say they sleep fine after consuming caffeine, as little as 200 mg of caffeine before bed can result in significant reduction in deep sleep. 10-11
- Keep a regular sleep schedule:
Keeping a regular wake up time will help regulate your sleep rhythms – even if you have a bad sleep the night before getting up at your usual time rather than sleeping in is your best defence against the risk of chronic insomnia. Avoiding naps wherever possible is also important.
- Keep your bedroom temperature cool:
Your core body temperature lowers when you are going to sleep, so if you are too hot in bed this is more difficult and you may have difficulty getting to sleep.
- Avoid eating a large meal just before bed:
This is a bad idea when it comes to sleep for 2 main reasons – first it increases your body temperature (and makes it harder for it to drop as it needs to) and secondly it increases the risk of acid reflux which can be painful to prevent sleep.
- King CR, Knutson KL, Rathouz PJ, Sidney S, Liu K, Lauderdale DS. Short Sleep Duration and Incident Coronary Artery Calcification. JAMA. 2008;300(24):2859–2866.
- Phua CS, Jayaram L, Wijeratne T. Relationship between Sleep Duration and Risk Factors for Stroke. Front Neurol. 2017 Aug 8;8:392.
- Ooms S, Overeem S, Besse K, Rikkert MO, Verbeek M, Claassen JAHR. Effect of 1 Night of Total Sleep Deprivation on Cerebrospinal Fluid β-Amyloid 42 in Healthy Middle-Aged Men: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Neurol. 2014;71(8):971–977
- Spiegal K, Leproult R, Can Cauter E. Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. Lancet 1999 Oct 23;354(9188):1435-9.
- Broussard JL, Ehrmann DA, Van Cauter E, Tasali E, Brady MJ. Impaired insulin signaling in human adipocytes after experimental sleep restriction: a randomized, crossover study. Ann Intern Med. 2012 Oct 16;157(8):549-57.
- Van Cauter E, Holmbäck U, Knutson K, Leproult R, Miller A, Nedeltcheva A, Pannain S, Penev P, Tasali E, Spiegel K: Impact of Sleep and Sleep Loss on Neuroendocrine and Metabolic Function. Horm Res 2007;67(suppl 1):2-9.
- Brondel L, Romer MA, Nougues PM, Touyarou P, Davenne D. Acute partial sleep deprivation increases food intake in healthy men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Jun;91(6):1550-9
- Greer SM, Goldstein AN, Walker MP. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nat Commun. 2013;4:2259.
- Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Schoeller DA, Penev PD. Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Ann Intern Med. 2010 Oct 5;153(7):435-41.
- Drapeau C1, Hamel-Hébert I, Robillard R, Selmaoui B, Filipini D, Carrier J. Challenging sleep in aging: the effects of 200 mg of caffeine during the evening in young and middle-aged moderate caffeine consumers. J Sleep Res. 2006 Jun;15(2):133-41.
- Landolt HP1, Werth E, Borbély AA, Dijk DJ. Caffeine intake (200 mg) in the morning affects human sleep and EEG power spectra at night. Brain Res. 1995 Mar 27;675(1-2):67-74.
This article provides general information from the current scientific evidence base and clinical judgement of the author. It is designed for educational purposes only and should not be substituted for medical advice. The author recommends you seek personally tailored support from a qualified healthcare practitioner before undertaking any major lifestyle change.