Andrew Siegel, M.D. Blog # 67
On many levels, sleep has a vitally important role. Our brains and bodies require this critically essential down time to “recharge.” Our sleep cycle includes restorative deep sleep phases and rapid-eye-movement sleep phases. Our bodies need sufficient time to complete all phases of sleep to maintain our well being and to promote tissue repair, memory reinforcement and the release of hormones that function in regulating growth and appetite.
Who does not relish the blissful experience of a great night’s sleep, in which we awaken feeling alert, rested, energetic, optimistic and ready to tackle life with vigor? Throw in some great dreams and we have the recipe for the beginning of a wonderful day. Conversely, we have all experienced a very poor night’s sleep, in which we awaken feeling physically exhausted, mentally spent, lids heavy, dark circles under our eyes and in a disassociated state, totally unprepared and unenthusiastic about facing the new day.
Many of us do not realize the profound association between sleeping and eating. The bottom line is that an adequate amount of quality sleep helps keep us on the healthy eating wagon, while insomnia and chronic sleep deprivation can throw us off it. Fatigue eating is a very real phenomenon and is one of the circumstances that drive my own bouts of mindless, unnecessary eating. Many of us, when physically and mentally exhausted, in a “zombie”-type state, often seek refuge in the refrigerator or pantry in spite of not being genuinely hungry. It seems that this FATigue—an altered state of mind and body—would best be served by seeking refuge napping in our beds, but mindless food foraging all too often serves as a surrogate activity.
In addition to the dis-inhibition of “eating discipline” that occurs with fatigue (similar to that which occurs with alcohol), there appears to be a physiological basis for this fatigue-driven eating. Fatigue or sleep deprivation causes the following:
- decreased levels of leptin, our appetite suppressant
- increased levels of ghrelin, our appetite stimulant
- increased levels of cortisol, one of the stress hormones
- increased glucose (blood sugar)levels
Thus, fatigue results in internal chemical changes that can drive our eating.
Acute sleep disruption is associated with increased appetite and caloric intake and chronic sleep deficits result in an inability to be attentive and focused, interfering with our mindfulness, which can wreak further havoc with our eating. The disassociated “zombie” state lends itself to dysfunctional eating patterns and, as such, weight gain is a predictable consequence. Additionally, a chronically fatigued state will also affect our ability to exercise properly, if at all.
The following are pointers to help achieve a good night’s sleep:
- A quality mattress and box spring, topped by a cushioned mattress pad, are wonderful investments since we spend up to one-third of our lives sleeping; amortized over many years, they really prove quite a bargain.
- Same goes for pillows—some like them firm, some fluffy, so you must find what works best for you.
- Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule in terms of time going to sleep and time arising, making an effort not to disrupt the pattern too much on weekends.
- Caffeine restriction after a certain hour, depending on the individual—this means coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate (which contains a caffeine-like chemical).
- Limit daytime naps.
- Don’t overdo it with alcohol during dinner and the evening hours; even though alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant (which one might think would aid in sleep), in reality, it interferes with our natural sleep rhythms.
- Easy on late-night eating—going to bed bloated with churning intestines is counter-productive in the effort of getting quality sleep.
- Don’t overdo it with fluid consumption in the evening that can cause sleep-disruptive nocturnal urinating.
- Exercise early since evening exercise tends to stimulate our brains and bodies and cause insomnia.
- Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature—generally, a cool room promotes quality sleep.
- Keep the room as dark as possible—black out shades are terrific.
- Try to keep the ambient noise to a minimum so the sleeping environment is quiet.
- For some, white noise can be very helpful—I go to sleep to the sound of machine-generated surf; not quite as good as when I lived in Manhattan Beach, California right on the ocean, but helpful nonetheless.
- Have a pre-sleep relaxation and tension-reducing ritual such as reading, a hot bath, meditation, romance, etc.
Take home points:
— The fatigue resulting from insufficient sleep interferes with our mindfulness and can result in unnecessary eating as a surrogate activity for sleeping.
— There is a biochemical basis for this sleep-deprivation eating.
— When we find ourselves succumbing to fatigue eating, it is best to try to muster up the wherewithal to head to the bedroom instead of the refrigerator—we will feel much better about ourselves in the morning and will have saved ourselves needless calories!
— On a general basis, it is best not to use eating as a substitute for other activities.
— Try to consistently get enough sleep in order to avoid FATigue and its many pitfalls!
Andrew L. Siegel, M.D.
Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food
Available on Amazon Kindle