Nighttime approaches, but the Sandman does not. You lay in bed, eyes focused on the ceiling, or perhaps your phone. You set the phone down. Close your eyes. One sheep, two sheep, three sheep, four… no luck.

You’ve been feeling drained, stressed, and unhealthy – maybe your poor sleep habits are to blame.

We reached out to Babak Saedi, MD, and Director of Sleep Medicine at Kaiser Permanente in West Los Angeles, to help us better understand the connection between sleep and weight.

This is what he shared:

Sleep plays a critical role for our physical and emotional health. Without it, we lack the energy necessary to get through the day. Sleep deprivation impacts our immune system, making us more susceptible to illness; it affects our mood and stress levels; it also increases our risk for heart disease. Plus, not getting enough sleep is linked with a number of chronic diseases and conditions, including diabetes, obesity, and depression. While almost everyone feels sleepy in the daytime now and then, sleep debt can affect our concentration and reaction time, becoming the cause of serious problems like car crashes and work-related accidents. Poor sleep is also linked to increased pain perception and a degraded quality of life.

How much sleep is needed for optimal health?

Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep and kids – depending on their age – need between eight to eleven hours.

How does sleep affect our weight?

In order for us to achieve any health or fitness goal, we must make sleep a priority. Whether we want to maintain or lose weight, gain muscle mass, perform better or simply feel better, getting enough high-quality sleep is key to reaching our weight and fitness goals.

If you’re tired, you have less energy. Even if you can get yourself to workout, the intensity of that workout isn’t the same as when you’re well rested, and as a result, you burn less calories.

You’re more likely to eat more and consume extra calories from high fat and high sugar foods to cover the energy cost of staying awake.

Lack of sleep impacts our hunger (ghrelin) and satiety (leptin) hormones. It also causes a spike in our cortisol levels, signaling our body to conserve energy to fuel our waking hours.

It affects our body’s ability to properly respond to insulin signals. Excess insulin increases the storage of fat in fat cells and prevents fat cells from releasing fat for energy.

Lack of sleep slows the production of growth hormone, which can make it more difficult for your body to build muscle mass.

11 Tips for Better Sleep

1. Take a hot shower 1-2 hours before bedtime.

2. Make your sleeping environment comfortable. The temperature, along with light and noise should be controlled to make the bedroom conducive to sleeping. It’s also important to choose a comfortable and supportive mattress and pillow.

3. Go to bed only when sleepy. Once in bed, if you cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, leave the bedroom for another room. After getting up, it’s important to remain calm, which means avoiding bright-lights or engaging in activities that will lead to more alertness (including chores or games on the computer, phone or tablet). Return to bed once you feel sleepy. Until then, stay out of the bedroom.

4. Limit bedroom activities to only sleeping and intimacy. Avoid watching television, using electronics, playing games or studying while in bed.  Also, avoid clock watching. All of these activities increase alertness and make it difficult to fall asleep.

5. Avoid eating or drinking right before going to bed. Eating a late dinner or snacking before going to bed can activate the digestive system and keep you awake. Eating before bedtime can also worsen acid reflux or heartburn symptoms.  Avoid drinking too much before bedtime because it can cause the need to urinate frequently throughout the night.

6. Avoid smoking, caffeinated beverages, alcohol and other stimulants. The effects of caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine can last several hours after use, which cuts into sleep time. Caffeine can cause difficulty falling asleep and frequent awakenings, while alcohol is known to create a non-restful night’s sleep and frequent urination.

7. Avoid daytime naps. It is important to establish and maintain a regular sleep and wake-up pattern. Napping during the day, especially after 2 p.m., makes it difficult to fall asleep at bedtime. If one must take a nap during the day, it should be early, around midday, and should only last about 20 minutes.

8. Exercise regularly. Regular exercise can improve sleep quality and duration. However, avoid exercising close to bedtime because it can have a stimulating effect on the body. Try to finish exercising at least three hours before it’s time to sleep.

9. Wake up the same time each day. Waking up the same time every day regardless of how much sleep you’ve had helps to regulate your internal clock (circadian rhythm) and predict your bedtime. Try to keep the same sleep and wake-up time on work/school and non-working/school days, especially if you are a shift-worker.

10. Set aside time to plan. If you find that you lay in bed thinking about tomorrow, consider setting aside a time at night to review the day and make plans for the next day. The goal is to avoid doing these things while trying to fall asleep. It may also be helpful to make a to-do list.

11. Reduce Stress. Aim for two hours of relaxation time before bedtime. There are a number of relaxation therapies and stress reduction methods to relax the mind and body before going to bed. You may want to take a warm bath, do some light reading, listen to white noise or relaxing audio tapes, do some deep breathing exercises or practice meditation.

Responses and tips above provided by Babak Saedi, MD, and Director of Sleep Medicine at Kaiser Permanente in West Los Angeles. Questions provided by Mayra Suarez, Senior Media Relations Representative at Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

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