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Week 8 - Sleep


The eighth week of our course takes a look at sleep and how a good night’s sleep can have a big impact on how we lose weight. We’ll look at how the body copes when it doesn’t get enough quality sleep and what we can do to improve our sleeping habits. A good night’s sleep doesn’t just make you feel great, it helps you lose weight!


Welcome to week 8 from the Lifestyle Medicine team.

We’ve talked with a lot of people about their issues with losing weight. What we’ve found is that most people don’t realise how important getting enough sleep is to supporting their ability to lose weight. We’re going to share with you some of the reasons why sleep is so important to help you lose weight, and share some tips about how you can improve the quality of your sleep, if you’re experiencing sleep difficulties.

If you're regularly suffering from poor sleep and trying to lose weight you need to take action. We recommend that you prioritise improving your sleep to support your weight loss goals. You might be wondering, what has sleep got to do with weight loss? Your appetite and how much you eat is predominantly controlled by two hormones - Ghrelin and Leptin. Leptin tells your body when you're full and Ghrelin tells your body when you're hungry. Leptin and Ghrelin levels are directly affected by how much sleep you get and low levels of sleep is likely to increase your appetite (1).

Ideally, you should aim to sleep between 7 and 9 hours a night. If you sleep less than this your body will produce more Ghrelin - the hunger stimulating hormone - leading to you feeling more hungry the next day. At the same time, Leptin levels are reduced so you'll feel less full. Low levels of sleep are known to be common in the UK, and this is thought to be a factor in the growing issue of high BMIs across the country. There’s a greater chance that you'll struggle to control how much you eat or snack after a poor night’s sleep.

We know that not getting enough sleep also affects your food choices - when you have poor sleep you're more likely to be tempted to eat high fat unhealthy foods. You can probably relate to feeling tired or sleep deprived and craving or choosing foods that are high in calories and carbohydrates to try and boost your energy levels (2). These tend to be foods like bread, pasta, cheese, chocolate, crisps, or pastries.

As we talked about in the good food week, these foods tend to negatively affect your blood sugar balance and energy levels when you eat them, and can make it hard for you to lose weight as well as contribute to you gaining weight.

Research has found that you're likely to eat as many as an extra 300 calories a day if you experience four hours or less sleep a night for five nights in a row (3). If insomnia or difficulty with sleep continues for longer than this, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes also increases (4). When you're looking to lose weight and only sleeping for short periods there is also a risk that your body composition will be affected because you’re more likely to lose muscle mass rather than fat tissue (5).

Top Tips from the Lifestyle Medicine Team to Improve Your Sleep

We recommend that you create new morning and bedtime habits to optimise your circadian rhythm. Morning - aim to get out in the natural morning light for five minutes or more each day. This can help to regulate your melatonin levels - a hormone that stimulates sleep. If you're working indoors – sit by a window to maximise how much natural light you get in the daytime. Block blue light in the evening and night - Blue light suppresses your sleep hormone melatonin (6), which can reduce how easily you fall asleep, your sleep quality and how long you stay asleep.

Use blue blocking light bulbs or wear blue light blocking glasses, use blue light blocking screen filters or apps, or avoid screen time later in the day to reduce your blue light exposure. Aim to get to bed before midnight . Anecdotally, it is thought that your sleep quality is better if you get some sleep before midnight (7,8). Aim for an hour or two. This is all to do with how your body responds to the changing light levels in the evening. You can also download a copy of our Top Tips for Sleep Guide.


Boost Your Sleep by Tweaking What You Eat and Drink

Eat to balance your blood sugar levels (You can remind yourself here). Limit how many cups of tea or coffee you drink – switch to decaffeinated drinks after lunchtime. For some people, sensitivity to caffeine can affect sleep quality (9). Each of us processes caffeine at different rates. Generally speaking it takes about one hour for caffeine levels to peak in the body after having a caffeine rich drink such as tea, coffee or cocoa.

Once they have peaked, caffeine levels can remain high for several hours. After 5 to 6 hours, half of the caffeine will have cleared from your body and it takes this time again for the rest of the caffeine to leave your body. On the other hand, some food and drinks have been found to help improve sleep. Having these during your day or including them in an evening snack may support a good night’s sleep.

Examples are oats, almonds and kiwi fruit (10). Chamomile tea has been shown to help sleep if you drink two cups over the day. Passion flower tea has also been shown to improve sleep (11), and interestingly tart cherry juice made from Montmorency cherries has been shown to support melatonin levels and so can help you to sleep better (12).

Equally, there are some foods that are best to avoid before you want to sleep. Sugar, cheese, chocolate, alcohol and processed foods are all things to avoid in the evening for a good night’s sleep. You may find, eating a carbohydrate rich meal before bed can also adversely affect your sleep quality (13).

Include Magnesium rich foods in your diet. Magnesium has a calming and relaxing effect and can support sleep. Examples of foods containing magnesium are whole grains, dark green, leafy vegetables, low-fat milk and yoghurt as well as beans and legumes such as soybeans, baked beans, lentils, peanuts and nuts like almonds and cashews also provide magnesium (14).

Taking magnesium as a supplement may upset your stomach, so you can avoid this by using a topical magnesium spray or gel. Magnesium is thought to be absorbed well through the skin. To support you in having healthy sleep, we have included two free gifts with this week's videos. One is a guide to sleep hygiene to help you create the right conditions for good quality sleep and the second is an audio recording that you can listen to as you fall asleep, either using headphones or through a speaker. This audio is based on Savasana, the final pose in any yoga class, for a mindful, full body and mind relaxation to encourage deep sleep (15).


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

Welcome back to our final episode from week 8 of our online weight-loss course. In this video, we’re going to be talking about obstructive sleep apnoea or OSA. One of the common symptoms of OSA is experiencing regular morning headaches. Do you know if you snore when you sleep? Do you have disrupted sleep? And do you find yourself with poor concentration day to day? If any of these symptoms ring true for you, they might be signs of OSA.

We wanted to mention obstructive sleep apnoea or OSA here, as for some people, this can be a reason for waking up still feeling tired after a full night's sleep. OSA is known to be associated with heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. It’s a condition that can really diminish your quality of life. Some studies have shown that obstructive sleep apnoea can further compound health problems like heart disease and lung disease and can pose a problem when a general anaesthetic is needed (16). It is thought that a large proportion of those with OSA in the population are undiagnosed. Take a moment to reflect on whether obstructive sleep apnoea might affect you.

For example, do you suffer from morning headaches? Do you know you snore when you sleep? Do you have disrupted sleep? And do you find yourself with poor concentration day to day? If any of these ring true for you, these might be signs of OSA. We have added a link to a short questionnaire called the STOP-BANG a screening questionnaire and the Epworth Sleepiness Scale self assessment. If you think that OSA could be an issue for you, please complete these short assessments and discuss the results with your GP


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