May 18, 2017

Sleep and exercise tips

Here’s the third in our series on low-carb tips. What’s sleep go to do with low-carb tips? A lot, it turns out.

Poor sleep has negative consequences for the hormones that control hunger, appetite and weight:

  • Increases ghrelin, the hunger hormone – you eat more
  • Decreases leptin, the satiety hormone – your body doesn’t tell you when to stop eating
  • Decreases serotonin, the ‘feel good’ hormone – your mood is lower and you tend to go for ‘comfort’ foods to try to life mood
  • Decreases melatonin, the sleep-wake cycle hormone – poor sleep leads to poor sleep: seems obvious but it’s harder to get back into a good sleep pattern
  • Increases cortisol, the stress hormone – this increases fat storage (especially around the middle) and decreases muscle tissue
  • Decreases Human Growth Hormone, which leads to increased fat mass and decreased muscle mass, along with reduced energy.

Any of these effects, alone or in combination, can slow your metabolic rate and make you eat, on average, an extra 500 calories per day. Your body is in survival mode and so does everything possible to maintain or build energy stores. Eating well is more difficult.

When you think about making dietary change, feeling positive and in control are important psychological components of sticking to good intentions, so sleeping well is perhaps the unrecognised success factor in adopting a low-carb eating pattern.

It’s clear that sleeping well is essential, but if you’re not a good sleeper, how can you improve?

No coffee or chocolate after noon

Caffeine has a “half-life” of 5 to 6 hours in the average person. The half-life means that if you ingest 200mg caffeine, 5 to 6 hours later you’ll still have 100mg in your body. As it’s a stimulant, this means that the caffeine is keeping you more alert and less likely to sleep.

The half-life is variable. For some it’s shorter, for others longer; depending on age, gender, size, and genetics, as well as liver function and hormones.

A small espresso coffee (or cappuccino or café latte) contains around 200mg caffeine, which is the suggested healthy daily amount. A 100g serve of dark chocolate contains around 50mg caffeine – though if weight loss is a goal this serving size is not desirable.

Avoid alcohol: Try mineral water with lemon or lime

Most alcohol adds carbs, but it also disturbs sleep. Sure, you might be able to drift off more quickly if you’ve had a drink or two, but it disturbs sleep later in a few ways:

It raises your blood glucose levels, which raises insulin and makes you hot. The extra heat wakes you, or at the least disturbs your sleep. Insulin is a hormone that works by delivering blood glucose to the cells for storage, and for most people this means storage in the fat cells.

Alcohol decreases the amount of time you spend in REM sleep – the restorative sleep that you need to maximise.

Instead of alcohol, there’s something almost magical about drinking sparkling water with a slice of citrus that makes you feel a bit special. Nutritionally, it’s not much different to a glass of tap water, but psychologically it makes a big difference.

Give it a try. Select a lovely glass, or even a cut crystal hi-ball tumbler. Fill it with sparkling water, add the lemon or lime slice or even a squeeze of fresh juice, and enjoy.

Ribbons of cucumber in water is a surprising delight, too, so why not give that a try.

Go to bed early

To get around 8 hours of sleep, it’s important to work out the time you need to get up in the morning and then work backwards to determine your bed time. If you need to be up and about by 6am, for example, then sleep time needs to be 8 hours earlier – 10pm. Then, if it takes you say 30 minutes after getting into bed before you get to sleep, then bed time needs to be 9.30pm.

If you’ve been habitually burning the candle at both ends, you’ll probably need to gradually bring your sleep time back. It won’t work if you’ve been going to bed at midnight and then today decide that 9.30pm is more appropriate. You’ll probably lie awake for hours! Instead, go to bed at 11.45pm for a week, then 11.30pm for another week, then 11.15pm for a week, and so on.

No TV or mobile phone in your bedroom

Ah, the dreaded curse of being permanently connected. The ‘ping’ of a notification, the red stand-by light of the TV, and the invisible wi-fi signals can all interfere with sleep quantity and quality. Focusing on what you’re missing out on in the wider world means you miss out on sleep.

The bedroom should have limited functions: sleep, dressing, and time with your partner.

Establish a consistent bed-time routine

Like training children to sleep well, we also need to train ourselves to sleep well. Going to sleep and waking at (more or less) the same time every day makes it easier, as do things like having a shower before bed, turning off the TV an hour before bed, and ensuring that we don’t have a huge meal right before bed time. You might like to read a chapter of a light novel before settling down, just to help your body relax.

Early morning walk or exercise

Starting the day right makes it easier to continue the day right. Exercising before breakfast is great for waking you up, making you hungry for breakfast, and setting your mind into the right space to continue well. Feeling good carries over and helps you make better food choices for the rest of the day.

Schedule 2-3 gym sessions per week – and go!

Getting to the gym has many benefits, especially when you’re losing weight. Maintaining muscle while losing body fat keeps your metabolism firing higher. This means that you lose primarily body fat and not your valuable lean muscle. As with exercising early in the morning, a gym workout makes you feel your body working, sometimes feel glad that it’s over, but you feel food. Feeling good carries over to help you eat better and sleep better, so it’s a winning move to get to the gym regularly.