Prioritizing Sleep Is Good for Your Waistline
Welcome to the second installment in my series about Pilates and weight loss! (You can read the first post in the series, Is Pilates Good for Weight Loss?, here.) Today I'm sharing how I get the best night's sleep possible, which helps me maintain a healthy weight, among many other benefits.
Bedtime is a bit of a joke in my house. As in, the rest of my family makes fun of me for liking/needing an early bedtime. I'm a creature of habit, I guess, and I run out of steam at 10:00. Okay, some nights, it's 9:30. If I lived alone, it would be 9:00!
I wasn't always like this. When I was in my late teens and twenties, I was a night owl. I would stay up until midnight or later, and sleep at least until 9:00am. But with motherhood, that schedule shifted as I started going to bed earlier and earlier in an effort to catch up on sleep.
Fast forward a few years, til when we lived on a farm in Scotland.
We all slept so well there, particularly in our first year. There was little to do at night, and no one to do it with, and in winter it got dark at 3:30 in the afternoon. By 8:00, I'd be struggling to keep my eyes open. When I would tell others that I went to bed so early, they would say, "Oh, so you must get up super early too". Umm, no...not me. I can sleep from 9:00 at night until 7:00 the next morning, and I feel amazing the next day. They say adults need 7 - 9 hours of sleep a night, and I have always leaned towards 9 (or more!).
It was around this time that I was diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune condition. As I learned more about it, and about autoimmune disorders in general, I realized that my need for sleep has, at least partially, a medical explanation. After all, sleep deprivation can be harmful to the immune system, and profound fatigue is a common complaint of those who suffer from autoimmune conditions. I began to feel validated, and even cheerily smug, as I turned out the light at 9:00 on the dot. After all, by doubling down on a consistent sleep routine I was following my doctor's orders.
It turns out that consistent sleep is good not only for your immune system, but also for managing stress and maintaining a healthy weight. Additionally, getting less than 7 hours of sleep has been shown to wreak havoc on weight loss plans. I'm not a scientist, so if you're seeking data and medical findings, check out the link at the end of the post. What I can tell you from experience is that consistently getting the right amount of sleep for you, feels amazing and it will help keep the pounds off.
A good night's sleep underlies everything:
how healthy your skin looks (remember the age-old advice for girls to "get your beauty sleep");
how stable your mood is (you'll feel less irritable and be less likely to fly off the handle);
how consistent your energy level is throughout the day;
how well you focus on tasks that require mental concentration;
whether you move with coordination and control (imagine climbing up a ladder to complete a household chore, or mincing garlic with a sharp knife, or doing a Teaser on little sleep - doesn't sound fun, does it??).
So how to get a consistent, deep sleep every night? Here are few things that have helped me...
Five Things You Can Do to Get a Better Night's Sleep
Consistency is Key
Setting a sleep schedule and sticking to it has been shown to increase quality of sleep, and this includes your wake-up time as well as your bedtime. We all need a slightly different amount of sleep each day, anywhere from 7 - 9 hours (give or take), and once you figure out your magic number, you can set your bedtime and waking time accordingly. The key is to stick to it as best you can, which includes getting up at your set time even if you stayed up late or had a restless night.
Limit Screen Time at Night
As best you can, turn off your phone (or at least the notifications) at least an hour before the bedtime you've set. Two hours would likely be even better, but most of us would have a hard time doing that. If this feels Draconian to you, ease into it. Start by turning your phone off 15 minutes before you go to bed. After several days, increase it to 30 minutes. Do that for another few days, then go to 45 or 60 minutes. Eventually, it'll feel natural to not check your phone (or mindlessly scroll) as you wind down for the night.
Choose a Wind Down Activity
To get your body and mind in the mood for sleep, try incorporating a wind down activity. My family reads aloud every night before bed, something we've been doing for at least 12 years. It's honestly our favorite time of day - it's entertaining, yet quiet; thoughtful, yet tender. My husband reads while my daughter draws and I stretch (below are four of my favorites). Doing a meditation or breathing exercise can also help calm your mind and soften muscle tension before bed. Whatever you choose to do, be consistent so the activity starts to signal to your brain that it's time for bed.
Establish a Daytime Mindfulness or Meditation Practice
One of my biggest struggles with getting a good night's sleep is that I wake at 4:00 or 5:00am and within minutes my mind is going a hundred miles an hour. In our house, we call this "busy mind". One of my clients told me that when he wakes early in the morning, he repeats to himself "don't think, don't think". Another client says she "thinks of something really boring, like dirt". Both of these suggestions have worked for me at times, and you should definitely give them a try. But the thing that helped me the most with "busy mind" is establishing a regular daytime meditation routine. I've found that it doesn't have to be long, even 10 - 15 minutes is enough to calm my mind and body. To block out the sounds of a busy household, I turn on my white noise sound machine, put on my favorite heated eye mask, and tune into Headspace using earbuds. I'm able to focus on the meditation, and my family has learned that this mini-break in the afternoons makes for a happier mom and wife.
Limit Liquids, Especially Caffeine, Late in the Day
If you drink cola, tea or coffee throughout the day, consider cutting back, or at least having your last cup 8 hours before your chosen bedtime. Herbal tea can be a good alternative as you wean from caffeine, and there are so many that have calming effects on the nervous system and are still tasty. Two of our favorites are Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer and Tazo Calm Chamomile. Finishing your tea several hours before bed will help limit how often you wake in the night.
Over the next several weeks, I'll continue sharing the choices that have had the most impact on my weight. Next up, I'll outline some key changes I made to my eating habits and in the last segment, I'll explain how I went from being a sedentary office worker to someone who enjoys exercising every day. I hope by sharing my experience, you can take even just one piece of information that helps you get the best night's sleep you can.
More Resources on the Importance of Sleep:
The Connection Between Sleep and Weight (The Sleep Foundation)
Insufficient sleep decreases weight lost as fat (Annals of Internal Medicine)
Dr. Shelby Harris, a psychologist specializing in behavioral sleep medicine, addresses common sleep issues
Does sleep impact my workouts? (Spoiler alert: yes!)