Sleep yourself well

Is lack of quality or quantity of sleep contributing to your health or weight issues? It’s quite likely. Our health and wellness is affected by insufficient sleep in two ways:

  • Impaired sleep 
  • Compromised physical health
  • Poor behavioral habits

The affect poor sleep has on our physical health
Blood sugar
Researchers from the Harvard Medical School have found the amount of sleep you get may affect how well you process glucose (sugar). Compromised sleep can result in higher than normal blood sugar levels. This means even if you are eating healthy carbohydrates (sugars) like fruit, brown rice and kumara you have a higher chance of the sugars being stored as fat and increased the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Interestingly Doctors are now treating sleep disturbances as a first line treatment to obesity and other health concerns such as high blood pressure, stroke and depression

A healthy thyroid gland plays a  big part in maintaining a healthy metabolism and burning fat efficiently. Lack of sleep can be very damaging to our body’s gland and hormonal systems, including the thyroid and adrenal glands. Lack of sleep can be a contributing factor to a slow working thyroid (underactive) which means an increased risk of your body not functioning well leading to low energy levels, disease and putting on unwanted body fat. Our body also releases growth hormones during deep sleep. Growth hormones support healthy growth and repair of lean muscle, cells and other tissues which means we can heal injuries faster, our skin looks healthier and maintain good muscle tone and strength which is important for weight management and strength, especially as we age.
Furthermore, inability to sleep well also causes fluctuations with our appetite hormones ghrelin (appetite increaser) and leptin (appetite suppresser). When an imbalance occurs we begin to automatically feel hungrier, even with the same intake of food. This is due to an increase in ghrelin levels or a decrease in leptin.  Overeating and an excess in daily calorie intake can result. 

Immune system
Our immune system relies on adequate sleep to clear toxins and foreign substances. Without enough rest our body’s don’t get enough time to detoxify.  We become more prone to colds and infection and are more likely to wake up feeling sluggish and experience ‘foggy brain.’ Reduced sleep and foggy brain leads to accidents and indecisive decisions which may put ourselves or others at risk. Scarily, research has found that getting only 5 hours of sleep per day produces the same driving reaction time as a drunk driver!

Lack of sleep = impaired thyroid  function + hormone imbalances + low immunity
= weight gain, illness, accidents

Behavioral changes – when lack of sleep compromises healthy habits
Lack of sleep impacts negatively on our healthy behavioral habits. When we have low energy levels we tend to take the easy path by doing less exercise and reducing  our general movement around the home or office  therefore expending less energy overall.

Sometimes when our energy levels are low due to lack of sleep we choose foods that act as stimulants in the hope we’ll feel better. Unfortunately overtaxing ourselves with low nutrient, high calorie foods like refined white flours and sugary items actually causes huge highs and lows in our energy levels and moods and negatively impacts our health.

More energy in vs energy out = weight gain. 

Caffeinated beverages like energy drinks or coffee can also worsen a tired situation by over-stressing the adrenal glands into producing more adrenalin (that’s our get up and go hormone). This in turn increases our body’s stress response, escalating our blood sugar levels along with sweet ‘cravings (which can lead to eating the wrong foods!).

High adrenalin + empty calories + sugar = stress, inflammation and weight gain

Low energy can   impair our ability to do our daily work properly, which can lead to injury. For example when we are tired we may not lift heavy items correctly. 

Mental health
Ultimately, when we feel physically and mentally run down, our emotional wellbeing is at risk. Depression and anxiety are compounding factors in not getting enough sleep and this can create issues with family, other relationships and in our work. 

Just think:  Good Sleep = clear mind + great energy + happy feelings =weight loss/ wellness

Recommendations to maximise your sleep potential:
Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.  Ideally, if you are woken up during the night or day, aim to get another nap at another time within the 24hours or go to bed early. 
Avoid using light stimulating devices 1 hour prior to bed e.g. iPad, computer, cell phone or  television.
Read a book or magazine to help take your mind off the day’s activities or tomorrow’s duties
Write a tomorrow’s ‘to do list’ so that you are not thinking about the details as you go to sleep
Keep animals out of the bedroom if they wake you during the night
Invest in a good mattress and pillow. The majority of back pain or ‘uncomfortableness’ comes from our beds, mattresses or pillows
Avoid alcohol close to bed time and coffee or stimulants at least 4-5 hours prior
Practice deep relaxing breathing techniques prior to bed to de-stress any family or work pressures from the mind
Minimize any light or sounds in the bedroom that can make it harder for you to sleep, for example a ticking clock Deal with issues around snoring, even if it’s your partner! 
Best foods to help induce a good restful sleep:
Walnuts and pumpkin seeds are a good source of tryptophan, a sleep-enhancing amino acid that helps make serotonin (happy hormone) and melatonin (our sleep hormone)

Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, silverbeet, bok choy, they contain higher levels of magnesium which helps you relax and possibly stay asleep for longer. 
Calcium found in cheese, yogurt, milk also contains tryptophan to increase the sleep inducing melatonin hormone. In addition dairy products also contain magnesium. 

Fish such as tuna, halibut, and salmon are high in vitamin B6, which your body needs to make melatonin and serotonin. Other foods high in B6 include raw garlic and pistachio nuts.

A glass of cherry juice could make you fall asleep faster, according to researchers from the Universities of Pennsylvania and Rochester. Cherries, particularly tart cherries, naturally boost levels of melatonin.

Having a cup of chamomile tea will help you sleep. Interestingly, researchers found drinking the tea is associated with an increase of glycine, a chemical that relaxes nerves and muscles and acts like a mild sedative. If you don’t like chamomile, you can try passionfruit tea as this acts in a similar way to calm, relax and make you more tired.

Seafood like shrimp, prawns, crayfish contain tryptophan which again converts to melatonin. Aiming to get a seafood meal including fish a few times per week would be beneficial.
Chickpeas are also a good source of tryptophan, so a light snack of hummus and whole-grain crackers or added to a spinach tuna salad lunch, could be a good way to head into an afternoon nap or night’s sleep.

Aim to include these foods to your daily or weekly meal routines to make sure you are getting all the nutrients needed for your body to sleep well. 

A special sleep inducing recipe:
It is better for the digestive system if we aim not to go to bed on a really full stomach. A really simple recipe you can make in under 30mins which can help you sleep is: 
Salmon fish cakes and spinach salad.
-1x 400g tinned Salmon with skin and bones, drained well and mashed up so you can’t see bones (the bones are high in calcium so keep them in). 
-1 grated carrot, 
-1 grated zucchini
-tsp wholegrain mustard, 
-tsp garlic
-few cracks of pepper and few cracks of rock salt. 
-1x beaten egg (for binding)
-Salad ingredients including spinach or baby spinach, carrots, cucumber, pumpkin seeds and/or walnuts.

Add to the bowl of mashed salmon, the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Then add in 1x beaten egg (binder) and mix again. Make into patties about size of your palm or just smaller and pat into some cornflour or standard flour on each side (optional) and pan fry on medium-to high heat with a tablespoon of oil if you don’t have a non-stick pan, for 3mins each side or until browned each side. Makes 4 fish cakes. 
Serve fish cakes with large handful of spinach or baby spinach with sliced tomato, carrot, cucumber and sprinkle of tablespoon of pumpkin seeds or walnuts or in winter you can steam the spinach and toast the pumpkin seeds to sprinkle over. 

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