Nutrition Tips with Sarah Keogh - Sleeping for Success

Thursday, 29 March 2018

When it comes to managing weight, one of the easiest steps to take is to lie down. Seriously. Sleep – or lack of it – has more of an impact on your weight than you might think. Studies show us that people who regularly sleep less than seven hours per night are up to 27% more likely to be overweight or obese. One study found that people sleeping less than five hours per night had a 55% greater chance of being over weight. Poor sleep is also linked with increased risk of heart disease and dementia so there are lots of reasons to give sleep a little more priority in our lives.

How much sleep do we need?
Most people need around 8 hours sleep per night. Some very rare people can get by with less but studies find that most people who think they are doing well on 5-6 hours per night are still showing signs of sleep deprivation. These include poorer reflexes and concentration as well as increased irritability.

Good advice is to give yourself an eight to eight-and-a-half hour “sleep opportunity” per night. This means setting aside this amount of time for sleep. So if you are up at 6am then you need to be in bed by 10pm at the latest.

What gets in the way of sleep?
Real life can get in the way of good sleep. Young children, early starts, working late and difficulty falling asleep can all have an impact. But have a look and see if there is anything you can adapt. How late do you stay up watching television? How distracted do you get with your phone or laptop? Do you take time to wind down away from screens before you go to sleep? Even adding an extra 30 minutes per night will have a benefit to your concentration the next day.

Check your caffeine. Any of us with early morning starts know how useful that cup of coffee is to get us going. Caffeine helps to block the chemicals in your brain that make you feel sleepy. This is great in the morning but what about later in the day? If your brain can’t feel sleepy, then how will you sleep? Difficulty falling asleep can be helped by limiting caffeine from early afternoon (from midday if you are over 40…). This includes coffee, tea, green tea, energy drinks and chocolate. You can try herbal teas like chamomile instead – they may take a little getting used to but you’ll find the extra sleep is worth it.

Move More. If you do find it hard to fall asleep or to get a deep sleep, try to get some exercise into your day. This is easier said than done but even a 20 minute walk at lunchtime can help you to be more ready for bed.

Prioritise. Sleep is usually low down our list of priorities but with the benefits it brings, sleep could do with a little more attention. Think about it: better concentration, better mood, more resilient, lower risk of dementia and healthier weight. Lying down might really be good for us after all.

Sarah Keogh
Consultant Dietitian at eatwell.ie