On a scale of one to ten, how easy is it for you to fall and stay asleep? Are you a one who crashes the moment your head hits the pillow, sleeping peacefully until your alarm awakes you the next morning, or are a ten, a person who lies awake for quite some time before finally drifting off into a light, not very peaceful sleep? If you’re like most of the professional women that I work with, you’re probably a ten, if not close to it.
Not only does a lack of sleep create issues with your energy levels and ability to focus, making work projects hard to complete or important family decisions difficult to make, but it also increases the likelihood that you’re carrying around a few extra pounds. Why?
The Connection Between Sleep and Your Weight
Part of the reason sleep-deprived women tend to weigh more involves two brain chemicals: serotonin and dopamine. When these are not in balance, particularly when your serotonin levels are extremely low, you may find it harder to get good amounts of shut eye at night. Add this to lower dopamine levels, which create further feelings of fatigue, and it’s no wonder you can’t lose weight. You’re too tired to try!
Additionally, low dopamine and serotonin levels are also usually behind your cravings for sugary foods. Cravings are your body’s attempt to restore its levels of these two chemicals, and these types of foods do exactly that. Unfortunately, these are also the types of foods that make it easy to gain weight and harder to lose.
Lack of sleep also contributes to your weight in that when you’re overtired, it is difficult to make healthy lifestyle choices. You don’t feel like cooking a nutritious dinner, so you eat out instead. You know you should exercise, but the thought of dragging your tired body on the treadmill is completely unappealing, so you decide to spend your evening lying down on the couch while telling yourself that this is better for your body anyway since it needs rest.
You’re right; your body does need rest in order for you to be healthy and to eventually work your way to a lower weight. But the rest it needs most is the kind you get at night. It needs to be lulled into a deep, heavy sleep so that it can rejuvenate itself and become healthy and strong. How do you get that kind of sleep?
Good Sleep Guidelines
Because the issue may be with your serotonin and dopamine levels, it is best to get those tested first. If they are low, the fix to your sleep issues may be as simple as taking supplements so that the chemical and hormonal balance in your body is restored. But there are other things you can do for good sleep as well.
For example, set and adhere to a sleep schedule so your body knows when it should be awake and when it should be dreaming. This begins by going to bed at roughly the same time every night and getting up at approximately the same time every morning—even on weekends.
Also, make sure your sleeping quarters are as dark as possible. Use room blackening curtains to keep outside lights out and turn your alarm clock display away from you as even that little bit of light is enough to tell your brain that it is time to be awake.
Stop all computer usage within a few hours of bedtime so that your mind gets a chance to relax and, if you watch television, choose nighttime programs that are soothing. Reading is also a great pre-bedtime activity as it relaxes your brain and allows you to drift off to another world before eventually drifting off to sleep.
Getting regular physical exercise helps you sleep better too. It works to stabilize the hormones in your body and is a great way to deal with the stresses that have found their way into your day. The key is to engage in these types of activities at least 2-3 hours before bedtime so that your body has time to slow back down before you’re ready to sleep.
Once you get your hormones balanced and positive sleep patterns in place, your weight will begin to naturally lower all on its own. Now you don’t have to feel guilty about sliding into bed a little earlier tonight because you know that you will slide out a little smaller in the morning. Okay, maybe it isn’t that quick, but it’s a step in that direction anyway!