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Jan 15, 2014

Wake Up Earlier for Weight Loss

A wake-up call from nutritionist Mark Macdonald

We've all heard the saying "You are what you eat," but it's actually “you are what you metabolize!”

The reality is even if you’re eating right and exercising regularly, your sleep is the secret key that unlocks the power of your metabolism and helps turn your body into a fat-burning machine. To help you master your sleep and maximize weight loss, let’s talk about your sleep cycles, hormones and five ways you can “master your sleep.”

The power of 90 minutes
Just like your cell phone battery, your body and mind need to be consistently recharged. Instead of using electricity like your phone, your body uses sleep. Think of your sleep as powerful 90-minute cycles with multiple stages that repeat all night long. 

Each cycle has four stages and ends with REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Stages one and two are light sleep -- that “twilight” sleep we all know. Light sleep gets your body ready to enter deep sleep. Stages three and four are deep sleep, which repairs and rejuvenates your body. 
While deep sleep strengthens your body, REM (your dream state) sleep organizes your mind. REM sleep is your mind's efficient filing system for memories and thoughts. Once REM sleep is over, the cycle repeats.

Balanced hormones = leaner & lighter body
In a perfect world, we would all get enough sleep. Unfortunately, the majority of us live in a state of chronic sleep deprivation and that causes big challenges with three main hormones: Ghrelin, leptin and cortisol. 

Ghrelin and leptin balance your appetite. Ghrelin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract and stimulates hunger, while leptin is produced in your fat cells and tells your body when you're full. When you're sleep-deprived, your body releases too much ghrelin, which increases your appetite, and inhibits the release of leptin, which prevents you from feeling full. This triggers higher calorie consumption and weight gain.

If that wasn't bad enough, the other hormone affected by lack of sleep is cortisol (your stress hormone). That unwanted belly fat we all love so much is mostly caused by cortisol. When you're tired, your cortisol levels will naturally rise. That affects your blood sugar, increases your appetite and causes cravings. This leads to higher calorie and carbohydrate intake, which spikes your blood sugar and causes fat storage.

5 strategies to master your sleep
Are you ready to get serious about shut-eye? You can get your sleep dialed in and your metabolism rockin’ in 2014 with these five strategies.

Strategy 1: Set a sleep schedule
Many of us may hate to set schedules, but the reality is our bodies love them. Simply start by figuring out how many hours you need to sleep each night to wake up and feel rested.
The amount of sleep a person needs is individual, so it could be six hours for you and nine hours for someone else. Once you know your hours, set your bed and wake time each day. Of course, there will be the occasional late nights (we all have to live a little). On those late nights, still wake up at your normal wake time and then go to sleep a little earlier the next couple nights until you make up the hours you lost. You heard me right, sleep can be made up!

Strategy 2: Break the snooze button habit!
It feels so good hitting that snooze button and knowing you have 30 more minutes in bed, doesn’t it? But that snooze button is a big cause of slowing down and even potentially halting weight loss! 

Once you hit snooze, your REM sleep is done and you will only stay in light sleep, which does nothing for recharging your body or mind. It's basically wasted sleep. You're much better off setting your alarm later and waking up right when it goes off so you can make sure you are getting the best quality sleep.

Strategy 3:  Sleep in a quiet and dark environment
Since you sleep in roughly 90 minute cycles, you'll go back into light sleep multiple times through the night. If you sleep with the TV on or any noise that changes in volume, it will wake you as you re-enter light sleep, interrupting your sleep cycles. You can always use a noise machine since that is one constant noise. If you like falling asleep with the TV on, just set a timer for it to go off in 30 minutes.

Sleeping in a quiet environment is only part of the equation. You also want a dark environment. Your sleep hormone is melatonin, and it's released in the dark and inhibited in the light. The more natural melatonin your body can release, the better quality of sleep. So keep those lights off and shades drawn!

Strategy 4: Create downtime
We live in a fast-paced world and we are pulled in multiple directions. That non-stop hustling can make it difficult to relax before bed. If you ever have struggled to fall asleep or wake up in the middle of the night with your mind racing, creating downtime before bed will help you greatly improve your quality of sleep. Some great examples would be taking a bath, reading, listening to music, watching a movie or taking a casual family walk. You can try anything that relaxes you and helps bring you down from the day.

Strategy 5: Ditch the booze
Alcohol fools many people. They think because alcohol relaxes them and helps them fall asleep, it's good to drink before bed. Big mistake! Alcohol may initially help in falling asleep, but it causes major interruptions in your sleep cycles. If you're having a drink at night, make sure it's at least two-three hours before you go to bed.  

Note: Mark Macdonald is a health and fitness expert, the CEO of Venice Nutritionand author of “Body Confidence

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