How did you sleep last night? How many hours did you get? Did you wake up feeling refreshed and bounce out of bed this morning, or did you hit the snooze button repeatedly until you were running really late?
Sleep is a hot topic of conversation, at least in my world. When you train lots of new mums and run sessions early in the morning like I do, it stands to reason that much of the conversation revolves around sleep! I have to admit, I’m constantly impressed by the mums who rock up to training, having had little or no sleep, but still manage to smash out a great session (or even an average one – because frankly just showing up should qualify them for some kind of award!).
But of course poor sleep isn’t restricted to those with young kids and if you’re
not getting enough (sleep, that is!), it can be all-consuming – and for good reason. Sleep affects so many aspects of your health and wellbeing – from your mood, to your body fat levels, athletic performance, cardiovascular health, stress and anxiety, memory, cholesterol, blood pressure and other inflammatory diseases. It can even impact your life expectancy.
And crucially, it’s often the missing piece of the weight loss puzzle for people who are doing everything else right – if your food and training are on point but you just can’t shift those last few stubborn kilos (especially around the belly), then sleep – the quality or the quantity – could be the culprit.
The reason has to do with your hormones. You know when you’re tired and all you want to do is eat carbs and sugary foods, but no matter how much you eat you still feel hungry?! It’s because your hunger hormone, ghrelin, increases when you’re tired and the hormone that makes you feel full, leptin, is suppressed. So it’s a double whammy.
Obviously if you’re a sleep-deprived new mum there’s not a lot you can do to change things in the short term – other than wait it out until your bub (eventually) starts to sleep for longer periods! Adding protein and a source of good fats to every meal will help curb your hunger – but at least knowing what’s going on inside your body when you’re completely exhausted means you understand why you’re hungry all the time and might be finding it tough to lose your baby weight!
For everyone else, there are measures you can take to optimise your sleep. If you’re finding it hard to get to sleep, or your quality of sleep isn’t great, you can try a few of these suggestions: avoid caffeine in the afternoon; limit alcohol (it can affect your quality of sleep); have a warm bath before bed (try adding Epsom salts as a muscle relaxant); take a magnesium supplement; exercise (especially outdoors) in the morning so you’re exposed to sunlight first thing, which helps to regulate your body clock; dim the lights in the evening to help you wind down; stay off phones and tablets at night as they stimulate your brain activity; sleep in a cool room and wear socks to bed (they can increase circulation to your extremities).
If you’re still struggling to switch off and wind down at night (or to stay asleep through the night) then a melatonin supplement could also help.
As to the age-old question of how sleep much is enough? Well, it depends on the person, but 6-8 hours seems to be ideal. Just don’t mention that to any new mums!
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