More studies are showing a link between sleep deprivation and weight gain, says Meredith Barbour, MD, a family medicine physician at Duke Primary Care Brier Creek. “Lack of sleep triggers the release of hormones that stimulate hunger and appetite, especially for those high-calorie, carbohydrate-dense foods like cookies, chips and ice cream,” she says. Going to sleep is the best way to satisfy that craving.
Sleep deprivation occurs more regularly in people who routinely get less than seven hours of shut-eye at night. “Generally speaking, adults should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night,” Dr. Barbour recommends.
Weight gain isn’t the only health problem associated with lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation can impair your daytime performance and decrease your levels of alertness. That can put you at increased risk for all kinds of accidents. Sleep deprivation can also put you in a bad mood, make you irritable; cause you to suffer from low energy and increased tension.
There are serious ramifications too. Lack of sleep can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. “It can also have a negative effect on the body’s immune system, which makes it more difficult to fight off infections, such as respiratory viruses and the common cold,” said Dr. Barbour.
If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, heed this advice:
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule
- Avoid caffeine after lunch
- Avoid alcohol near bedtime
- Avoid screen stimuli from televisions, computers, tablets and your smart phone for at least one hour prior to bedtime
- Exercise regularly
- Relaxation techniques also help. When you are ready to fall asleep, relax every muscle in your body, starting with your facial muscles, and moving down to your toes, one at a time, until you’re fully relaxed.
“If these methods don’t work, talk to your doctor who may be able to suggest alternative treatment options,” said Dr. Barbour. It is also important to consult with your doctor before trying any over the counter sleep aids or herbal remedies.