You might be familiar with the impact of poor sleep on your daily routine—feeling drowsy while driving to work, having trouble concentrating on tasks, or having limited patience with your family when you get home. Not to mention your weight. Sleep plays a role in your metabolism, appetite, and even in your food choices. Ultimately, the lack of sleep increases your chances of becoming overweight or obese, which can also affect your Coast Guard career.
What’s sleep got to do with it?
Sleep is vital to restore your body and your mind. Your circadian clock is in charge of your 24-hour sleep/wake cycle. When you don’t sleep well or enough, your circadian clock is thrown off, impacting how you metabolize and digest food. Less than optimal (under seven hours) sleep is strongly linked to weight-gain and obesity. Poor sleep can lead you to crave and eat “energy-rich” foods such as fats and simple carbohydrates. It can also cause you to eat less vegetables and have irregular eating patterns. The relationship between your appetite and food is complex, but possible factors include:
- Increased cravings for food and appetite changes like eating more food, especially high-calorie foods and snacks.
- Longer time awake leading to more time and opportunities to eat, especially carbohydrates and calorie-rich snacks.
- Poor timing of eating, which results in eating later in the evening when your body doesn’t metabolize and digest as efficiently.
- Feeling more tired, which makes it less likely that you will choose to exercise.
- Changes in hunger patterns and fullness hormones sometimes increases hunger.
How to get better sleep
If you’re struggling to get quality sleep, try these 10 tips from the U.S. Army Performance Triad to help build healthier sleep habits:
- Maintain a consistent, regular rising and sleep routine that starts with a fixed wake-up time for when you get out of bed and then expose yourself to light each day. Pick a time you can maintain during the week and on the weekends. Then, adjust your bedtime so you shoot for getting seven to eight hours of sleep each day.
- Create a quiet, dark, comfortable sleeping environment. Cover windows with darkening drapes or shades (dark trash bags work too), or wear a sleep mask to block light. Minimize any disturbances from environmental noises with foam earplugs or use a room fan to muffle noises. If you can, adjust the room temperature to suit you. If you can’t, use extra blankets to stay warm or remove them for comfort.
- Move the bedroom clock so you can’t see it. If you tend to check the clock two or more times during the night, or if you worry that you’re not getting enough sleep, cover or turn the clock face around so you can’t see it (or remove the clock from your bedroom entirely).
- Get out of bed if you can’t sleep. Go to bed (and stay in bed) only when you feel sleepy. Don’t try to force yourself to fall asleep—it will tend to make you more awake, making the problem worse. If you wake up in the middle of the night, give yourself about 20 minutes to return to sleep. If you don’t return to sleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing. Don’t return to bed until you feel sleepy.
- Limit the use of your bedroom space. Remove the smartphone, TV, computer, laptop, etc., from your bedroom. Don’t eat or drink in bed. Keep discussions, especially arguments, out of the bedroom.
- Don’t go to bed hungry. A light bedtime snack (for example, milk and crackers) can be helpful, but don’t eat a large meal close to your bedtime. Also, make sure you empty your bladder before you go to bed so that the urge to use the bathroom doesn’t disrupt your sleep.
- Don’t drink alcohol before bed. Alcohol initially makes you feel sleepy, but it disrupts and lightens your sleep several hours later. In short, alcohol reduces the recuperative value of sleep. Nicotine—and withdrawal from nicotine in the middle of the night—also disrupts sleep. If you need help to quit drinking or using nicotine products, see your healthcare provider for options.
- Stop caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime. Caffeine promotes wakefulness and disrupts sleep.
- Get your exercise in by early evening. Exercise is great—just be sure to finish at least three hours before bedtime so you have plenty of time to wind down.
- Nap wisely but sparingly. Napping can be a good way to make-up for poor or reduced nighttime sleep, but naps can cause problems falling asleep or staying asleep at night, especially if they’re longer than one hour or taken late in the day (after 3 p.m.). If you need to nap for safety reasons (for example, driving), try to take a short nap (30–60 minute) in the late morning or early afternoon (for example, right after lunch), just enough to take the edge off your sleepiness.
Do a sleep self-study
Although these are all best practices and hold true for most people, everyone is different when it comes to their sleep needs. It’s important to understand what works best for you to feel rested and energized each day. One way to build your sleep awareness is to do a sleep self-study to learn your optimal sleep habits. Human Performance Resources by Champ’s sleep diary worksheet can help you to track how long you sleep and things that impact your sleep (such as caffeine, medicines, and exercise), as well as, your energy levels. What keeps you up at night? What helps you feel rested in the morning? When’s the best time for you to go to bed and wake up? Are naps helpful? The exact sleep recipe to get those results might be different for everyone.
What you eat can impact your sleep, but sleep can impact what and how much you eat, adding on the pounds. If you need another reason to get a good night’s sleep, consider this: the lack of sleep can increase your risk for being overweight, negatively affect your health, and possibly have negative consequences on your military life. Follow these sleep strategies to optimize your sleep and reach your weight and fitness goals.