Not getting enough sleep? It's making you fat

Not getting enough sleep? It's making you fat

Nightmare truths

Site: Anna McClelland

Image: Bruce Weber

When it comes to losing weight, diet and exercise are only two pieces of the puzzle, writes IsoWhey dietitian Belinda Reynolds and fitness expert Nardia Norman

The amount of sleep you get each night and the amount of stress you experience on a daily basis all influence your body's ability to lose weight and be healthy. The human body is a complex organism and when it comes to weight loss, our biology and psychology are closely linked. Our thoughts drive our behaviours and actions, and our actions can drive our thoughts. 

Take when you wake up tired and cranky after a terrible night's sleep and crave sugary, fatty and caffeinated foods like chips, chocolate, lollies and cakes. Or when you're feeling sad, angry, frustrated or lonely and reach for the comfort food - a clear case of emotional eating where your thoughts are driving your actions. But by taking a holistic approach to your weight loss and wellbeing, you'll be able to foster long-term success.

There are a number of approaches that can improve your ability to cope with stress.  From a nutritional stand point, it's important to ensure you're not deficient in any key nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D3, amino acids and essential fatty acids (e.g. omega-3 oils from fish). Each of these play a fundamental role in forming the chemicals in our brain and body that help to switch off the stress response, maintain a healthy mood and manage stressful situations.

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If you don't have enough of the essential nutrients, your body and brain will have a diminished ability to cope in stressful events, and you may find that your threshold for dealing with stress is significantly lowered.

It's also important to incorporate other practices into your life, including mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, yoga and gratitude. Each of these can help to switch your body out of a stressed mode and into a relaxation state.

This is incredibly beneficial in the long term, as chronic, unresolved stress leads to fatigue (reducing your motivation for exercise), hormonal imbalance (which can lead to difficulty managing weight, particularly around the abdomen), blood sugar imbalances (leading to cravings and stress-related eating), depression and even difficulties with memory, learning and focus. (Yes... stress actually damages your brain, not just the rest of your body).

Sleeping habits also help to keep body composition in check, help mental performance and acuity and reduce the effects of mental disorders like depression and anxiety. When we go to sleep, it's like shutting down a computer. It's the body's chance to repair and rejuvenate. While we're sleeping, our bodies undergo remarkable change - cells are repaired, the musculoskeletal system relaxes, and our brains slow down. Of particular importance to fat loss is the release and control of certain hormones that regulate appetite and fat storage.

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The average adult needs roughly eight hours of optimal sleep per night; the type of sleep that is deep and uninterrupted where you wake up feeling refreshed and super-charged for the day. For most, however, poor sleep is a reality, and with it comes a host of problems. If you're experiencing difficulty with sleep, consider the following:

1. Ensure you're not consuming too much caffeine close to bedtime, and remove any refined carbohydrates and sugar from the four hours before you're due to retire for the evening.
2. Caffeine and sugar play havoc with the body's normal hormonal rhythms that control the sleep/wake cycle.
3. Try dimming the lights for the hour before you head to bead and avoid the temptation to stare at your phone, iPad or laptop. The light emitted from electronic devices is very stimulating for the brain and will impact your sleep.
4. You can also try a quick meditation or a few calming yoga poses before bed.

Consider the above recommendations for stress, but also consider some magnesium before bed, plus tart/sour cherry, which is naturally rich in melatonin and can assist sleep and relaxation.

This content is an extract of the new IsoWhey Weight Management program e-book, free to download. 

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