published Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Eight ways to improve your sleep each night

Staff photo illustration by Dan Henry
Staff photo illustration by Dan Henry
Tips for improved sleep

1. Get exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime.

2. Get at least 7 hours of sleep per night.

3. Make healthy food choices.

4. Keep a schedule of when you go to bed and wake up.

5. Create an environment conducive to sleep: dark, quiet comfortable and cool.

6. The bedroom should be for sleep, not for work.

7. Avoid caffeine and alcohol near bedtime.

8. Finish eating 2-3 hours before bedtime.

Source: National Sleep Foundation

It's a vicious cycle.

Disturbed sleep can lead to weight gain. Meanwhile, being overweight can lead to sleep disturbances.

So which comes first: the fatness or the fatigue?

"No question the two are inextricably linked," said Dr. Gabe Tallent, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Erlanger Health Systems. "It's a very complicated process of which we've only discovered a small portion of the physiology behind it."

The increased neck circumference in obese people -- more than one-third of adults in the United States qualify as such, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- can lead to a blockage of the pharynx and cause sleep apnea.

Being heavier can also cause more joint problems and pain, which can impair sleep, said Chattanooga sleep disorders specialist Vincent Viscomi.

On the other hand, insufficient sleep can lead to weight gain.

"The more disrupted sleep or lack of sleep, affects some different hormones involved with weight regulation," Viscomi said.

The primary hormones related to sleep and weight are leptin and ghrelin. Ghrelin, a hunger hormone, increases appetite. Leptin, a satiety hormone, gives a feeling of fullness. According to the National Institutes for Health, a shortened sleep cycle is associated with increased ghrelin and reduced leptin.

"The more sleep you get, you can change this ratio," said Viscomi.

According to a recent editorial published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, in a 2010 study participants slept either 5.5. or 8.5 hours, and all reduced caloric intake by 680 calories per day. Those who slept 5.5 hours lost 55 percent less body fat than those who slept 8.5 hours.

And what about that theory about not eating too close to bedtime?

Viscomi noted the presence of some controversy, saying that "some people argue back and forth about whether a calorie consumed is a calorie consumed."

There are divergent opinions on whether eating close to bedtime affects metabolism, he said, though he thinks that it does, explaining that because metabolism drops during sleep, the calories consumed close to bed time don't have the chance to be burned off and they move into the fat cells.

"It's better if we can evenly spread out (calorie burning)," Viscomi said. "Eating too close to bedtime does lead to more weight gain."

Tallent agrees.

"As you're digesting the food, the calories get into your blood system," he said, "and some of them can be consumed or burnt."

With less energy spent during sleep, fewer calories are burnt.

Much of the problem of insufficient sleep, and increased weight, can be attributed to lifestyle, Tallent said. Instead of eating small, frequent meals, for example, we tend to load up on calories a few times a day, he said.

Our timing is also off.

"We eat too late, we eat too close to bedtime," Tallent said. "You definitely need your sleep for correct metabolism."

Contact Holly Leber at hleber@timesfreepress.com or (423) 757-6391. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/hollyleber. Subscribe to her on Facebook at facebook.com/holly.j.leber.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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