It’s a bank holiday weekend here in Belgium this weekend meaning I have this blessed Monday off work. It also means I gave myself permission to sleep in this morning and have a nice, looooooong, relaxing savasana at the end of my yoga practice. Right now, I just feel amazingingly rested and so good in my body, not really wanting to do much at all and just enjoying this languid feeling that also comes with a healthy dose of peace of mind!
Feeling so at peace with myself, though, I felt compelled to share the importance of sleep with you, because it has a huge effect on how we eat and how we feel about ourselves which in turn can also affect how we eat. A bit like a vicious circle that’s being reinforced through both physical and emotional triggers. Feeling tired will start it all off! Why? Well, let’s break it down…
Firstly, if you are tired your body usually craves energy. As the body is usually focussed on short-term survival, it will focus on those energy sources that bring immediate results independent of long-term effects. The energy sources that your body knows bring immediate results are foods with refined sugar or caffeine or both. Sugar directly brings the blood sugar levels up, so increasing alertness and awakeness; caffeine works through the adrenal hormones to bring blood sugar levels and heart rate up, so getting rid of the feeling of tiredness. Unfortunately, though, these measures to help us get through the day are not sustainable and even within the same day we will go through sugar crashes (which I am sure all of you are familiar with) and sugar highs based on what we eat. Over the years, the constant sugar highs and lows cause wear and tear within our body leading to extra pounds and chronic diseases like Type 2 Diabetes.
Take away #1: sugary foods and caffeine reinforce the vicious circle of bad dietary choices and feeling not at home in your own body when you are tired. Tiredness is a physical trigger to eat more, more often and less healthy.
Secondly, when you have not slept enough your hormones are out of balance. Particularly, the hormones associated with feeling satisfied after a meal are lower, so you need to generally eat more to get the same feeling of satisfaction that you would have with a smaller portions on days on which you have slept more (fun fact for geeks like me: the hormone is called leptin). Not only that, though: ghrelin levels (ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone) are higher meaning you are hungry more often and much sooner after a meal than you usually are which leads you to eat overall more than you would on days when you are well rested. Over time, this adds to extra energy in our body to be stored in fat cells.
Take away #2: an imbalance in your hunger and satiety hormones causes you to eat more and more often on days when you are tired than on days when you are well rested. Tiredness is a hormonal trigger to eat more, more often and less healthy.
Thirdly, … and I do apologize for the bad news, but the hormone story comes with double whammy… other hormones associated with your emotional wellbeing are affected which in turn affects the way you think about yourself (i.e. it affects your nervous system). You tend to have less mental resistance and feel more emotional: feelings of not being worthy and an increased lack of self-confidence are more likely so leading you to overeat, comfort eat or eat like in a trance. Can you feel the pounds piling on over time, so causing you to think even more badly about yourself?!
Take away #3: having less mental resistance you are less likely to be able to defend yourself against sub-conscious messages of not being worthy, so triggering comfort eating episodes. Tiredness is an emotional trigger to eat more, more often and less healthy.
In a world in which most of us are chronically sleep deprived, because we do not allow us to sleep as much as we need to, constant tiredness can have a serious effect on our short-term and long-term health. Do you recognize yourself in any of the above scenarious? I know that I do: indeed, all of the above are really likely to happen to me if I am not careful, but what I appreciate most about getting the sleep my body needs is that my head messes much less with me when I am rested. Who is with me?