It’s the most stressful -oops I meant WONDERFUL- time of the year. In some ways the holidays can seem more stressful than wonderful. All of the shopping, planning, parties, Santa visits and wrapping going on can drive our stress levels up and our hours of sleep way down. Unfortunately, stress and sleep problems can wreak havoc with our weight and appetite, and with all the sweets and treats at our fingertips, it can be a recipe for disaster. Why are sleep an stress so influential to our waistlines? In short -HORMONES.
Two main hormones that greatly influence our weight and eating habits are ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin stimualtes appetite and Leptin controls our ability to feel full. When you have fewer than 7-8 hours of sleep, Leptin levels go down and Ghrelin levels go up. This is when cravings kick in. These cravings are naturally directed at high fat and high carbohydrate foods. That alone can lead to weight gain.
Restricted sleep can also cause other problems such as a change in glucose metabolism causing us to store more fat and burn calories less effectively. It is during REM sleep that most calories are burned while we rest, and if we have too little or interrupted sleep, our REM time is cut down significantly. People who sleep less have been found to have higher body fat percentages, and even if they lose weight, they lose less actual fat than they would if they had better sleep.
There are many reasons why someone may not be sleeping well, but stress, especially this time of year, can be one of the biggest reasons. A certain amount of stress is good for us. This is call U-stress. However, most of us get way beyond that level, and that is when it begins to negatively affect our health and waistlines. When I pinpoint wastelines, I mean that literally. When we are stressed our cortisol level (yet another hormone) increases. It causes our metabolisms to slow down, increases our cravings for fat and sugar, and increases fat storage in the abdominal area. Scientists are not exactly sure why the abdominal area is targeted here, but that fact alone makes stress bad for our health. Abdominal fat is the most dangerous fat b/c of it’s correlation to heart disease and diabetes.
Stress and lack of sleep can make weight loss, and even maintenance seem impossible. However, if we just take a deep breath and develop some strategies, we can find more ways to get our sleep in and lower our stress level – even during this busy season.
1. Set a targeted bed time each night – your kids have a bed time and so should you! Try to relax at least a few minutes before you try to go to sleep.
2. Plan and prepare. This is a hard one for me b/c I am a little free-spirited and don’t love schedules, but it does cut down on the stress which gives me more sleep. Making lists are imperative for success I believe.
3. Declutter your bed! Constantly moving a pile of laundry on and off the bed each night creates stress!
4. Recognize emotional eating. How many times has your child’s tantrum driven you to chocolate? You are not alone! Step back and reconsider – it’s just not worth it.
5. Do your best and then let go! This is a hard one for moms. You will not get every craft made or every cookie recipe baked -and that’s okay.
This truly is a wonderful time of year if we let it, and it starts by taking care of ourselves.
Sleep more, stress less and you will weigh less!