Most people sleep better – and feel better – when they maintain a steady sleeping schedule. When you go to bed at the same time every night, and rise each morning at the same time, you tend to program your body’s sleeping rhythms and sleep more soundly. However, researchers at Brigham Young University have found that women with a sleeping routine tend to maintain a healthy body weight.
Weight and Sleep: What You Need to Know
It sounds counter intuitive. To lose weight, sleep more. Sleeping burns fewer calories than activities, but those who get a good night’s sleep have more energy during their waking hours for other activities, such as exercise. People who are sleep deprived and tired also tend to reach for higher-calorie, sugary fare, perhaps to boost their energy. The result is that sleepy, tired people eat more and exercise less, which can lead to weight gain.
Eight Hours a Night
Researchers discovered that too much sleep can also lead to increased body fat, as can too little sleep. People who slept fewer than six hours a night gained body fat, but so too did people who slept for more than eight and a half hours a night tended to gain weight. Although the amount of sleep people need is highly individual, that range – between 6 and 9 hours of sleep per night – appears to be optimal for weight loss or maintenance of healthy body weight.
Sleeping Habits that Promote Weight Loss
Researchers conducting the Brigham Young University study found that variations in sleep patterns by more than 90 minutes a night disrupted sleep enough to lead to weight gain. That means that you should try to go to bed roughly the same time each evening, or within an hour and a half of your regular bedtime.
Tips to Help You Sleep Better
Many people never learned healthy sleeping habits, or if they did, abandoned them during their college years when all-night studying or parties meant more than a good night’s sleep. Other things that can affect the number of hours you sleep each night, such as having a baby, tending to a sick child or family member, or too much caffeine can also prevent you from achieving the optimal amount of sleep researchers recommend.
The National Sleep Foundation offers several tips to help you achieve a restful night’s sleep. These tips include:
- Alternative bright light during the day with absolute darkness while you sleep. This helps you reset your body circadian rhythms, or the body’s internal clock of waking and sleeping.
- Invest in a comfortable pillow and mattress. Comfort is key to a restful night’s sleep, but what is comfortable to you may be uncomfortable to others. Test mattresses in person, and consider separate beds or a dual-mattress system for partners with wildly different tastes in mattress softness levels.
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco or heavy meals late at night. Eating a big meal close to bedtime, drinking too much or other unhealthy habits makes it difficult to sleep.
- Ease into sleep. A bedtime ritual, such as taking a bath or reading a book, helps your body recognize that it’s time for bed. Log off your computer a few hours before bedtime to give your body a chance to adjust to the light quality, and turn off bright lights, too.
- Consider cutting out caffeine entirely. Caffeine is sneaky. Some people can drink caffeinated beverages and fall asleep easily, while others find that even a little caffeine intake early in the day can be enough to keep them away at night. Test your caffeine sensitivity by gradually cutting back to see if it has any effect on your sleeping patterns or quality. If you notice a positive difference, consider giving up caffeine entirely or easing away from it late in the day.
Sleep Isn’t a Luxury – It’s a Necessity
A good night’s sleep isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. If you aren’t getting a good night’s sleep, you’re waking up frequently for no reason, or you can’t fall sleep easily, consider speaking with your physician to rule out health problems such as sleep apnea that may be interrupting your sleep.
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