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Is Suboptimal Sleep Contributing to the Global Obesity Epidemic?

Hip-hop superstar Nas claims in one of his lyrics that he “never sleeps because sleep is the cousin of death.” Surprisingly, Nas is still alive!! Although the American rapper makes more money in a week than what I will probably make in my whole life, I strongly disagree with him on this one and I won’t be avoiding sleep anytime soon

We have known for some time now that chronic sleep deprivation increases the susceptibility of negative health outcomes occurring such as high blood pressure, depression, heart attack, heart failure along with affecting our physical appearance, lowering our immunity and our sex drive can even take a hit.






Astonishingly, global obesity has almost tripled in the last 50 years but has sleep deprivation contributed to this? There is now a plethora of mounting evidence to suggest that a lack of sleep does in fact play a role in digging the obesity epidemic hole bigger.























Adults between the ages of 18-64 are recommended to get between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. However, 34% of people get less than 7 hours per night and only 7% get more than 9 hours each night. I think that we can all agree that in the modern world where such emphasis is placed on productivity that time is a valuable commodity and we sometimes forget to prioritize our sleep. However, being aware of the consequences of poor sleep hygiene on obesity is half the battle.




So how does sleep contribute to obesity you find yourself asking? Well, it indirectly causes obesity due to a reduced level of engagement in any form of physical activity and therefore a reduced caloric output ensues. It also causes an increase in our energy intake as less time spent sleeping creates a bigger opportunity to eat. People deprived of sleep have been found to increase their daily caloric intake by up to 385 calories per day! If this was to occur on a daily basis it would add up to 140,525 extra calories per year which in fact equates to 40lbs of fat!!




















However, it can also be a little more complex than the aforementioned. This is because a lack of sleep can also have an impact on our hunger hormones. For example, ghrelin is the hormone that is primarily released by the stomach and signals hunger to the brain. The brain will tend to seek out more calorie dense, fatty and sugary foods for increased energy as a result. The production of ghrelin is increased when we are sleep deprived. Conversely, Leptin, whose job is to essentially signal to your brain to stop eating and regulates how much energy your body burns throughout the day is reduced when we are sleep deprived.
















So how can we improve our sleep hygiene? We can easily make improvements by implementing as many of the below tips into our daily and nightly routine.



· Increase bright light exposure during the day – this will help you keep in sync with your bodies natural time keeping clock known as your circadian rhythm.


· Reduce blue light exposure one hour before bedtime – blue light reduces melatonin which is a hormone that helps you relax and get deep sleep.


· Limit caffeine after 4pm – Many people have told me they can drink coffee just before bedtime and still sleep. That could be the case, but it can have quite a negative impact on your sleep quality.


· Try to sleep ad wake at consistent times – this will helps optimize your levels of melatonin and circadian rhythm.


· Lavender sprays – I recently tried a lavender spray from Amazon and found it very beneficial to spray on my pillow before I got into bed to promote relaxation.


· Limit your alcohol intake – Alcohol again reduces melatonin and causes disrupted sleep patterns.


· Optimize your bedroom environment – Have the room at a comfortable temperature (not too cold and not too hot), make sure the room is clean and tidy, use blackout curtains/blinds if possible and a personal favourite, fresh bed sheets.


· Exercise when you can but not too close before sleep time – Exercise during the day is one of the best ways to ensure a good night’s sleep. However, if you exercise too close to sleep time hormones such as adrenaline will be released which increases alertness.


· Find a way to destress before bed - This could include taking a hot bath, reading a book, meditating, yoga, guided relaxation breathing or whatever floats your boat. Just find what works best for you!


· Certain foods before bed have shown to improve time taking to fall asleep and sleep quality –Some of these foods include 2 kiwis before bed, turkey, almonds, pistachios and chamomile tea.



Written by: Paul Cox - @paulcox_sportsnutrition



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