The Skinny on Sleep

Are you sleeping enough to keep thin? It is an interesting concept as most Americans do NOT get adequate sleep and we happen to be a country full of obesity. Take Gwen* for example, a 54 year old female who has struggled with fatigue and insomnia for as long as she can remember. Though she admitted to not getting enough exercise, she was walking some and did try to watch her diet. Gwen was about 40lbs overweight.

Sleep is the body’s time to heal and repair; when we don’t give the body the time it needs to do so - systems begin to wear down. The endocrine system, including hormones (and especially the adrenal hormones) get out of whack. This often will be associated with increased sugar cravings, decreased motivation and increased fatigue. All together, it makes it extremely difficult to lose weight.

On further questioning, Gwen would not be able to fall asleep at night for at least an hour after going to bed; and once she would fall asleep would only get a couple hours before waking again. I asked her about sleep hygiene - meaning, what was her bedtime routine? On a normal night, she would have some popcorn for a snack around 9:30pm, brush her teeth and would watch the news in bed until turning the TV off around 11pm.

Sleep hygiene

  • No electronics in the bedroom - the bedroom is a place for calming and relaxing; not for TV, video games, online shopping and various other electromagnetic frequency (EMF) emitting devices.
  • Make the bedroom dark. Darkness helps the body produce melatonin, a sleep hormone. Melatonin levels can be lowered by too much light - even street lights from outside!
  • No news before bed - due to the negative and highly sensationalized content of the news, people can actually suffer from disrupted sleep when it is watched prior to bed. If you are a news junkie, maybe consider switching to morning news.
  • Consider some deep breathing for 5 minutes before bed. This actually helps the heart muscle release calming hormones to the brain!
  • Create a routine. Maybe you 1. Brush your teeth 2. Do some light stretching 3. Deep breathing or meditation/prayer and then go to bed. Do the same series every night, this will signal to your body that it is getting ready for sleep.
  • Journal. If busy mind or worry keeps you up - write it down so your mind does have to think about it while trying to sleep.
  • Don’t eat or drink too much right before bed. This can alter blood sugars or create the need to get up to use the bathroom. If you need a snack before sleep, try for a protein rich snack.
  • Eliminate alcohol before bed. Alcohol induces calming hormones, but it can either 1. over-induce them causing someone to “pass out” (which is not the same thing as sleep) - OR- it can deplete the calming hormones leaving the brain to stimulated to sleep.
  • Get some exercise earlier in the day. This releases hormones such as serotonin which is known to enhance mood and also help with sleep cycles.
  • Consider sleep supporting supplements.

In addition to sleep hygiene, I considered several options for Gwen. There are a couple of homeopathic remedies and acupuncture treatments that work well to rebalance the body to sleep, I considered sex hormone imbalance (predominantly progesterone), especially due to the menopausal age of the patient, and I considered working at calming her with some amino acid/neurotransmitter support such as: L- tryptophan, GABA, 5HTP, L-theanine, etc. After further assessment, I started the patient on the neurotransmitter support. At her 3 week follow-up, she cheerfully reported, “I’m sleeping like a baby,” and had noted a few pounds weight loss.

Fast forward 4 months - the patient is still sleeping well. Despite the lack of exercise, she reports almost 30lbs weight loss. Gwen also mentioned that she didn’t get sick while the rest of the family got bad colds and she felt like her mood was “lighter.” A friend had also commented that her skin looked very lustrous lately. Gwen was literally sleeping herself better!

We often forget how important sleep is to our overall health and wellbeing. I recommend at least 8 hours a night (some people need more)... are you getting enough?

*Name has been changed to protect identity.

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