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With the clocks going forward on March 31st, losing an hour’s sleep can make all the difference to how you feel the next day. Many of us soon learn to adapt to this subtle but noticeable shift in our body clock, but for an increasing number of people, the switch to British Summer Time simply adds to their sleep problems.
Over 20 million people in the UK suffer from lack of sleep at some stage in their lives, which not only leaves them feeling tired, irritable and unable to function properly, but also can also lead to more serious problems such as weight gain and diabetes. The good news is there’s plenty you can do to break the cycle of restless nights. Making a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle can make all the difference.
Sleep is a fundamental requirement. It’s the time when our bodies can rest, recharge and repair and is also essential for strengthening our immune system. Most adults need between six and nine hours sleep a night. Unfortunately, even an occasional sleepless night can rob you of vital energy and affect your mood, memory and concentration, but regular restless nights can affect your health more seriously.
Poor sleep habits can cause pounds to pile on. Researchers have found that people who sleep for five hours or fewer per night often have weight problems because sleep deprivation upsets the balance of hormones that regulate appetite, causing the metabolism not to function properly. When you’re tired after a disturbed night, the body produces extra ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, and lowers the levels of leptin, the hormone that suppresses appetite and signals that you are full. This prompts you to eat more.
Sleep loss can also trigger cravings for high-fat, highly-calorific foods. If you’re feeling tired, you’re far more likely to reach for a coffee and a chocolate bar, rather than a healthy snack, to give yourself a quick energy boost. Also, when you sleep less you tend to snack more late at night which can spell disaster for your waistline.
Lack of sleep is also linked to a greater risk of developing diabetes, which occurs when the body produces insufficient insulin or does not use insulin properly to break down glucose and convert it into energy. People who regularly sleep fewer than five hours a night are not only more likely to put on weight, a risk factor for diabetes, but they are also at a greater risk of having high blood sugar levels which can lead to diabetes. Sleep deprivation seems to alter the body’s hormonal balance, which affects the regulation of glucose. Regular sleepless nights cause the insulin-producing cells to stop working properly, causing blood sugar levels to rise which, if left unchecked, can lead to diabetes.
There are many ways to help prime yourself for a good night’s sleep. The first thing I would recommend is to make sure that you stick to a regular routine. Experts say going to bed and waking up at the same time on a regular basis is vital for healthy sleep. Your sleeping environment can also affect how well you sleep so make sure your bedroom is well ventilated, dark and quiet. Switch off any distractions such as mobile phones, televisions and laptops and try different ways to relax before you go to bed, making this a part of your daily routine. Having a bath, reading, yoga or listening to some peaceful music are great examples of this.
Eating can also influence sleeping patterns so aim to eat your evening meal at least two to three hours before bedtime. A heavy meal too late at night overloads the digestive system, leading to disturbed sleep. Unrefined complex carbohydrates included in your evening meal, such as wholemeal rice or wholewheat pasta, will give a slow, balanced release of energy and will also have a calming effect on the brain by increasing the production of the sleep-promoting chemical serotonin.
Exercise can also help you prepare for a better night’s sleep as exercise triggers the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormones, and helps you unwind and switch-off from any worries and anxieties, enabling you to fall asleep easier.
I recommend trialing a combination of these as you will soon learn what will help you get that all-important good night’s sleep.