Getting Those Zzzzzzs!

When it comes to our busy lives, we always look for ways to do things faster and more efficiently. We often find that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything we want to do. We try to give ourselves more time for work or play and unknowingly sacrifice one vital function of our lives. Can you guess which one? If you said SLEEP, you are absolutely right! Unfortunately, we only tend to think about sleep when we haven’t had enough of it. Giving yourself adequate time to sleep will do your body good and can actually have an effect on your nutrition.

The scientific explanation of this striking fact is that sleep is necessary for proper neuroendocrine function and glucose metabolism. Being awake for an extended period of time can trick the body into thinking we need more energy! Our body will compensate for the extra hours of wakefulness causing neuroendocrine, metabolic and behavioral changes leading to the increased consumption of food and increased energy retention. Altered neuroendocrine functions can cause an increased appetite and decreased satiety, making an individual feel hungry all the time. Metabolic changes can include a decreased resting metabolic rate or a decrease in the amount of energy an individual burns at rest. Lastly, behavioral changes, such as skipping the gym because all you want to do is sleep, can occur. Current epidemiologic and laboratory studies have found that altered metabolism can increase your risks of gaining weight and becoming obese, leading to the further development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

So just how does limited sleep alter our metabolism?

Our glucose tolerance decreases the less we sleep causing our body to have increased glucose levels. This increase of glucose can contribute to hyperglycemia or high blood sugar levels and increase an individual’s risk for cardiovascular disease. At the same time, our insulin sensitivity decreases. This means our fat cells are unable to effectively use insulin, although our pancreas produces plenty of it. Glucose levels will thus remain high, contributing even further to hyperglycemia. To make matters worse, this change is likely to cause Type 2 diabetes.

Our cortisol secretions are increased the less we sleep, and as we know, cortisol is the steroid hormone released by the body in response to stress. Increased levels of cortisol are associated with higher amounts of abdominal fat, which can lead to further health problems such as the development of metabolic syndrome.

Our ghrelin hormone secretions (the hormone that increases appetite) are also increased the less we sleep. Conversely, leptin hormone secretions (the hormone that decreases appetite) are decreased. As these two hormones work together, our appetite is increased and our satiety is decreased leaving us to feel the need to consume more food.

New research has emerged that suggests insufficient sleep related metabolic adaptations may also cause ill effects for those who are trying to lose weight. Although the individual is reaching their target level of physical activity and following a healthy diet, their sleep loss in the past can delay the success of their treatments. They may also tend to retain more fat if they have a history of excessive food consumption.

So before you hit the sack to clock in your hours of sleep, here are some tips to follow to get a better night’s sleep and wake up feeling healthy and refreshed!

  1. If you exercise in the evening, do it at least 3 hours before bedtime. This will allow your body to cool off and relax before bedtime. Cooler body temperatures will hasten sleep onset.
  2. Limit stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine or alcohol right before bed because it can make it harder to fall asleep. Less sleep will ultimately affect you the next day making your body cry out for more caffeine, eventually leading to a cycle of caffeine dependence.
  3. Aim for a regular bedtime and wake time, including the weekends. This will strengthen your circadian rhythm and will help put you to sleep faster.
  4. Begin a calming routine before bed, such as reading a good book or soaking in a hot bubble bath. Relaxation before bed can prepare your body for deep sleep.
  5. Avoid bright lights, such as your phone or computer. This often can signal increased activity of neurons which can delay your sleep onset.
  6. Eat at least 2-3 hours before bedtime to increase your sleeping comfort. Eating and drinking too closely to bedtime can stimulate your body due to the digestive process, leave you feeling full and may cause you to run to the restroom in the middle of the night.
  7. Regular exercise can help you fall into a deeper sleep.

When it comes to sleep, it’s best we don’t take it for granted! Our body is depending on us to get an adequate amount of sleep so it can function properly and keep us energized throughout our day. So, long story short, getting the sleep we require will help us work faster and more efficiently. And sacrificing sleep for more time will only harm our effectiveness. Following these simple steps, will lead us to live stronger, happier and healthier lives.

Thank you to E. C.–WIC Dietetic Intern, for writing this posting.


Penev, P.D. (2013). Sleep deprivation and human energy metabolism. In Handbook of nutrition, diet and sleep (pp.194-208). Wageningen Academic Publishers.  Accessed June 11, 2013.

Leproult, R., & Van Cauter, E. (2009). Role of sleep and sleep loss in hormonal release and metabolism.  Accessed June 12, 2013.

The National Sleep Foundation. Healthy Sleep Tips .Accessed June 12, 2013.