Sleep more. Weigh less.
That was the simple message delivered recently to Butte-Silver Bow Health Department employees who attended a lunch-and-learn session at the department.
“There are negative effects from not getting enough sleep,” said Aimee Velk, a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist who works in the department’s WIC program. Conversely, Velk said, there are positive health effects when sleep is sufficient.
In the early 1940s, Velk said, Americans were sleeping on average almost eight hours nightly. Today, the average is 6.8 hours. Referring to a July 2018 WebMD article, Velk said Americans today are paying for that deficit.
“When you’re overtired, your brain’s reward centers rev up, looking for something that feels good,” said the article, “So while you might be able to squash comfort food cravings when you’re well-rested, your sleep-deprived brain may have trouble saying no to a second slice of cake.”
Velk told the Health Department group that the sleep-deprived brain “shows decreased frontal lobe activity – this part of the brain is important in decision-making and impulse control. The sleep-deprived brain shows increased reward-seeking activity, which can be satisfied with food.”
The negative effects from not getting enough sleep can be behavioral in nature – when a person is not sleeping, there is simply more time available to eat. Velk said the feeling of fatigue can lead to a decrease in physical activity, and the potential to pursue fast food rather than taking the time and energy to cook a healthy meal at home. Fast food, of course, is loaded with salt, fat and sugar.
Sleep deprivation also has hormonal effects. “Insulin is produced by the pancreas and is released in response to increased blood sugar levels to signal cells to take glucose in,” Velk said. “Insulin function is inhibited by sleep deprivation, leading to elevated blood sugar.”
Sleep deprivation also increases levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, which then prompts the body to conserve energy, Velk said. She added that deprivation affects a hormone called leptin, which communicates a feeling of fullness, or satiety, to the brain, and a hormone called ghrelin, which communicates a feeling of hunger to the brain.
Velk provided information on how we all can improve the quality and quantity of the sleep we get – she referred to it as “sleep hygiene:”
• Close to bedtime, avoid alcohol, heavy meals and foods that cause heartburn
• Avoid caffeinated beverages and chocolate for at least five to six hours before bed
• Avoid screens – television, phone, computer – at least one hour before bed
• Stick to the same sleeping and waking schedule, even on weekends
• Take a bath or shower before bed – the decrease in body temperature promotes sleep
• Turn off the lights – darkness is a cue for the body to produce melatonin, a hormone involved in sleep
Said the WebMD article: “Most people need between 7 and 9 hours each night. Get less than that, and your body will react in ways that lead even the most determined dieter straight to Ben & Jerry’s.”
Thanks to Velk for the presentation, and bon appetit to more sleep.