As we age our capacity for a good night’s sleep seems to desert us. Furthermore it seems that sleep is another fundamental piece in our metabolic jigsaw puzzle. We’ve long considered lifestyle behaviours such as diet and exercise to be key to good health and wellbeing. More recently however we have become aware of the impact that stress, gut health, hormonal status, and that ever-elusive sleep, have on our short and long-term health outcomes. It appears none of these issues stand alone; they are in fact intrinsically interconnected. Most concerning for many of us however is the impact that impaired sleep on a regular basis has on our ability to lose weight.
So where does sleep fit into that jigsaw puzzle that comprises our metabolic health?
After a night of disrupted or poor sleep, firstly our normal morning cortisol levels are lower than normal, so we lack that get up and go. Now remember that cortisol is our stress hormone, and while we don’t want prolonged increased levels throughout the day, we do need it to get us going in the morning. Secondly, those sluggish cortisol levels increase later that day and remain at a higher than normal level throughout the late afternoon. I am no scientist but it appears to me that those increased cortisol levels in the late afternoon and early evening will very likely set you up for another sleepless night.
We have discussed the impact that cortisol has on insulin levels and carbohydrate intake in previous posts, so you understand how those increased cortisol levels might affect your food choices. This stress hormone cortisol, triggers our bodies to burn carbohydrate, which in turn elicits cravings for high carbohydrate foods….. and so another cycle of risky dietary behaviour ensues. Furthermore, following a night of disrupted sleep our insulin responses can become impaired. So now we have impaired insulin responses, and increased cortisol, and this isn’t going to end well for anyone.
If the impact of one night of poor sleep is so discernible (and measureable) as early as the following day, clearly the long-term influence on our health is even more concerning. It is no surprise that long term sleep disorders contribute to; obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
So clearly those of you who are experiencing difficulties in losing weight, disrupted or impaired sleep patterns might well be part of the problem.
What constitutes a good night sleep? Well between 7 and 8 hours is ideal, apparently anything less than 7 and greater than 8 hour a night can impact your health in the ways I have just mentioned. I do believe however that we are all different and should know our bodies well enough to know how much sleep we need each night to feel energised the next day. Me, I’m a 7 hour girl and while I may not sleep through the night, I do manage to get my 7 hours most nights.
And just because this is a low carb blog, while I am not promising or promoting that a healthy diet will combat any sleep issues you are experiencing, it may just be a significant part of your own sleep puzzle.
A diet that is low in processed foods and carbohydrates, and high in green leafy non-starchy vegetables, good quality healthy fats, along with some (not necessarily a lot of) exercise or movement every day can only be a positive for your sleep patterns.
And sadly ladies, if you are experiencing sleepless nights, consider paring back on the nightly glass of wine. It may put you to sleep but will very likely wake you up later in the night. Plus if your sleep is being disrupted by hot flushes or night sweats, that glass of wine won’t be helping.
So if you are still awake, have a think about tomorrow’s food choices. Do they include some of these options?