Unplug. Lose weight.

Have you ever woken up in a blunder, a seemingly comatose state, only to later realize as the day goes on that you only got a mere 5 hours of sleep? In today’s society, we are so glued in to technology- with laptops, tablets, endless emails, calls to return, and never  ending to-do list, it’s no wonder we don’t hit the sack until midnight or later most nights. Most of us out there, racing against the clock to climb the career ladder and raise a family….

Well, did you ever consider that if you hit the hay, or turned in a wee bit earlier, it just might have a positive effect on your waistline?

More Sleep – Huh?

The amount of sleep on gets each night matters for weight loss for two reasons. First, there’s the behavioral aspect: how much sleep you get influences what you’re likely to put in your mouth. Second, there’s the metabolic aspect: sleep deprivation profoundly changes what happens to that food once it’s already down the hatch. We’ll come back to this in a bit…

Sleep and Metabolism:

Let’s say you have iron willpower, though. You’re one of the few who can stride past the vending machine after a week of late nights and not give the Snickers a backwards glance. And because you’re good at estimating your food intake, and because you’re completely on top of everything despite the situation that’s causing the sleep debt..right? Let’s roll up our sleeves take a closer look….

Your body still knows you haven’t slept, and it’s still not happy about it. Sleep loss:

  • Reduces insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity is the metabolic capacity to handle eating carbs – to use them for energy, instead of storing them as fat. A reduction in insulin sensitivity means that you’re more likely to store food as fat (and then still be hungry and likely to binge afterwards).
  • Creates inflammation. In this study, for example, either sleeping 5 hours a night or sleeping at the wrong time (the shift work pattern) increased markers of inflammation.
  • This study makes it even clearer: “sleep deficient humans…exhibit a pro-inflammatory component; therefore, sleep loss is considered as a risk factor for developing cardiovascular, metabolic, and neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis).

Screen Time Suppresses Melatonin

If you have trouble sleeping, laptop or tablet use at bedtime might be to blame, new research suggests. Mariana Figueiro of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and her team showed that two hours of iPad use at maximum brightness was enough to suppress people’s normal nighttime release of melatonin, a key hormone in the body’s clock, or circadian system. Melatonin tells your body that it is night, helping to make you sleepy. If you delay that signal, Figueiro says, you could delay sleep. Other research indicates that “if you do that chronically, for many years, it can lead to disruption of the circadian system,” sometimes with serious health consequences, she explains.

So, you see? We may be paying a price for basking in all that light. At night, light throws the body’s biological clock—the circadian rhythm—out of whack. Sleep suffers. Worse, research shows that it may contribute to the causation of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Sleeping the Weight Away

Here is the difficult part: actually getting the sleep that you need. With a few well-rested exceptions, most people in the modern world simply don’t get enough hours in the sack.  So here’s a guide to figuring out what’s really holding you back from the sleep you need, and how to fix it…

The solution is to make sleep a higher priority than whatever is keeping you awake, but you have to do this by changing your behavior, not just talking about it. Try using specific, trackable tactics like

  • Set a bedtime. Count back 8-9 hours from when you have to wake up: that’s your bedtime. Schedule it on your calendar as an appointment if you have to, and set an alarm on whatever electronic device you typically use in the evening.
  • Create a bedtime routine. If you always get up to brush your teeth at 9:00 for example, sooner or later it’ll get automatic and you’ll end up doing it even on “off days.”
  • Ban electronics from the bedroom. If they’re not there, they can’t distract you.
  • Schedule an “unplug” for your work. Don’t tell yourself you have all evening to do whatever it is; give yourself a deadline so you can get it done and then relax, maybe even meditate, and get ready for bed.
  • Address any chronic procrastination issues. Procrastinating might seem like a non-problem to people who don’t struggle with it, but it is serious, and there are ways to address it.  We usually procrastinate out of fear.  Fear of facing uncertainty and discomfort are common and can be effectively addressed with simple strategies.  This excellent post by Leo Babauta and this video by Ray Edwards will give you a great start.

So we see that they key sustaining a healthy lifestyle and long-term weight loss means finding a time that works for you to unplug, or switch off from technology, and get into a sleep schedule that makes you feel energized, calm, and well-rested. Sleep deprivation can seriously throw off your behavior patterns and your body’s response to food, sabotaging your weight-loss efforts in several different ways. Turn in to bed a few hours earlier on a regular basis, and you just may see that needle on the scale move in the direction you’d like!

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