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Sleep yourself healthy

Tired of not getting enough sleep? Research suggests that a lack of sleep can increase the risk of diabetes and lead to health problems. Read more to find out why and get some top tips on a better night’s sleep.

Sleep yourself healthy

Tired of not getting enough sleep? New research suggests that in addition to bad-tempered mornings, a lack of sleep can also lead to health problems.

The definition of a good night’s sleep varies from person to person and everyone has different sleep patterns, but as a rule of thumb, adults who fall below eight hours a night may have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

Several studies have confirmed that people who have difficulties sleeping tend to opt for more unhealthy and fatty foods than their well-rested counterparts and, as a result, are more likely to gain weight and have an increased risk of diabetes. Research from top universities in the US found that cutting back on sleep by as little as two hours each night can affect the hormones that influence hunger.

Although the idea that a lack of sleep can cause overeating is not a new theory, research by Orfeu Buxton, neuroscientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School has revealed that restricting sleep can lead to weight gain of as much as 5kg a year and increases the risk of diabetes. The reason for this, experts believe, is that sleep deprivation causes the brain’s reward center to become more active, drawing you to unhealthy foods containing more fat and carbohydrates.

Buxton’s study suggests that disrupted sleep lowers the metabolism and causes a rise in blood glucose levels – a sign of pre-diabetes. Further research carried out by the University of Chicago suggested that a higher quality of sleep could improve glucose levels and insulin sensitivity just as much as some diabetes medications.

     

Top tips for better sleep

So now we know some of the health risks associated with a lack of sleep, what can we do to get more of it? Here are some top tips on how to get a good night’s rest:

  

Bedtime

Relax: create a relaxing bedtime ritual, such as reading, soft music, breathing exercises, yoga or prayer.

Avoid looking at your smartphone or tablet before bed: studies have shown that artificial light from screens may supress melatonin, which plays a role in the sleep cycle.

Create a sleep-friendly environment: a subtle background noise, such as a running fan will help to drown out any outside noises. Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature and don’t keep a computer or TV in the bedroom.

Hide the clocks: set your alarm so that you know when to get up, but then hide all clocks in your bedroom, including your wristwatch and cellphone.

If you’re not sleeping, do something else: if you can’t sleep, get out of bed after 20 minutes and do something relaxing, such as reading.

  

Daytime

Stick to a regular schedule: keep your bedtime and wake time consistent from day to day, including on weekends.

Spend a little time in the sun: daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day.

Exercise and stay active: get at least 20 to 30 minutes of vigorous exercise daily, but make sure it’s at least five to six hours before bedtime. Consider taking up Yoga or meditation to reduce stress as stress can have an effect on hormones and sleep patterns.

Avoid or limit caffeine and nicotine: caffeine after lunchtime and nicotine at any time of the day can keep you from falling asleep at night.

Avoid large meals and beverages before bed: aim to eat your evening meal at least two hours before you go to sleep, this aids digestion and helps to manage weight. Reduce fluid intake before bedtime so that you won’t have to urinate as often.

Change your diet: research shows that certain foods, such as bananas, which are good source of magnesium, can help you sleep better.

Everyone has trouble sleeping from time to time. But if you are concerned, see your doctor to find out what steps you can take to improve your sleep.

References:
Image courtesy of Graur Codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sleep-custom-site/MY02524

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