One aspect of weight loss that often goes underappreciated is sleep. It took me a while to understand why sleep was so important. Nearly any weightloss plan recommends getting appropriate rest, but it is often a side note to exercise and diet. In my experience, sleep keeps everything even-keeled. It is much easier to maintain healthy eating habits when you approach food from a well-rested state of mind. As I have stated in previous articles, you must enjoy the process to stick with it for a long time and see the results. Getting adequate sleep creates a cascade of positive effects, including but not limited to, better mood, more even hunger patterns, better performance when exercising, and a general feeling of well-being.
In today’s world, sleep is one of the first things that we skimp on when life’s demands start to stack up. Whether it’s the work deadline, the unfinished paper, or socializing with friends, sleep inevitably is the easiest thing to cut into. For me, my social life has the biggest impact on my sleep. After working all day and taking care of all the things, it’s easy for me to lapse into late night habits that negatively impact the amount and quality of sleep I get.
I believe there is a cultural attitude toward sleep that leads us to cut into it before anything else. Fundamental to the American psyche is a dedication to the idea of hard work and sacrifice. I think that many people feel guilty about taking pleasure in sleep. Each of us were most likely prodded in our formative years to get up out of bed and get to school during the week. On the weekend it was the same story for recreation, family and community work projects, and religious services. Job schedules in the service economy tend to demand a lot of our sleep schedules. And finally, when we get time off, the last thing we want to do is waste it by sleeping. The lasting message that seems to have stuck with people, is that sleep is a luxury. Recent scientific studies suggest the opposite. It is a necessity.
One under-appreciated detractor from healthy sleep schedules is alcohol consumption. Many people think that alcohol is a good way to relax and fall asleep. It makes you sleepy, sure. But do you ever notice the way you feel the morning after? Part of this is that alcohol interrupts the quality of sleep you get, along with the fact that you tend to stay up longer when you’re out having a few drinks with your buds. Additionally, alcohol is basically poison giving your body a task to process and eliminate it. It contributes to a whole host of ill health effects and is labeled by the World Health Organization as a major contributor to early mortality. Nevertheless, it is culturally accepted and ubiquitous. I am no teetotaler, but I try to keep my alcohol consumption down (with varying degrees of success), not just because it has a lot of calories, but primarily because of the way I feel after I drink, due to sleep deprivation. I can feel the effects of a night of drinking days after. Often after an evening of consumption, I will wake up very early and find myself unable to fall back to sleep. Consistent drinking is the worst thing you can do if you want a healthy sleep regimen.
My general rule for sleep is to make it a priority during the week to get at least eight hours of quality sleep every night. When I first started losing weight, I was on a very strict diet. It was useful because it showed me how it felt to feel rested and healthy (mostly because it cut into my social life). I didn’t realize at the time just how much of an impact sleep deprivation was having on my overall well-being. I was in college full time, had a full-time job, and a robust social life, so I didn’t get good sleep. When I started my first successful diet (this is before I looked at it as a lifestyle), my social life was the thing I decided to cut into. I am glad I did because it gave me a good understanding of the importance of sleep.
There is nothing like waking up in the morning and feeling good. After you prioritize sleep for a couple weeks, you notice a whole host of positive ripple effects. I am prone to anxiety and depression. I have noticed that I have far fewer issues with this when I maintain a good sleep schedule. It is another positive snowball effect that begins to leach into other areas of your life. When I am sleeping well, my hunger patterns are much more level. As I have said before, one of my obstacles has been mindless or “emotional” eating. Sleep is a great tool to use against this because it goes directly to the root of the problem. You will find that eating well and getting adequate sleep have a symbiotic relationship that makes you feel like a superhero.
If you are trying to lose weight, focus on creating healthy sleep habits. If you make it a priority, you will find that it is that necessary link that helps to boost both your exercise and diet routines. Make your bedroom your sanctuary and indulge in sleep.