Zzz … could sleep deprivation be making you fat?

In a recent BBC interview, performance director for GB cycling Dave Brailsford said that perfect pillows (as well as extra round wheels) were responsible for British domination in cycling.

The ‘sleep kits’, designed by leading sport sleep coach Nick Littlehales, can be transported from home, to training camps to the athlete’s village to ensure a consistent sleep environment for athletes. In a nutshell, the special pillows and bedlinen help athletes to recover after training and promote the best and most comfortable sleep position, which in turn can lead to marginal performance gains.  And when there are one hundredths of a second to play with, marginal gains can give athletes the edge.

So what of restful zzz’s for us mortals?  Well according to last year’s Great British Sleep Survey, more than 50% of brits struggle to nod off, with 75% of women reporting sleep issues. The survey, sponsored by sleep organisation Sleepio, also found a significant link between sleep issues and conditions like diabetes and depression.

But it’s not just insomnia that’s bad for our health, according to the Sleep Council a bad night’s sleep can also lead to digestive problems, headaches and of course, just a general grumpy fog.  And, scientists are revealing more and more about the link between sleep and hormones.  It’s during sleep that our melatonin (sleepy and restful) and serotonin (happy and alert) levels balance themselves out, but it’s also during sleep that our appetite hormones regulate.  Too little sleep and your full hormone, leptin doesn’t work as well as your hungry hormone, ghrelin.  So cut back on zzz’s and you’ll more than likely have a bad case of the munchies all day.

We might not all have access to gold medal winning pillows but we can all make small changes to optimise our time in the sack.

1. Routine.  If you struggle to drop off, establish a routine for yourself (just like you do for baby). This will send the right signals to your brain.

2. Cut out blue light. Blue light, from TVs, PDAs and phones can all interfere with our sleep signals (Kindles are ok because they don’t produce their own light) so keep lights low and switch everything off half an hour before bed.

3. Do something to switch off your brain.  Puzzles like crosswords or Sudoku are great for switching your brain off from the day’s stress.

4. Cut down on caffeine and stimulants.  Did you know caffeine has a seven hour half life? Try to avoid caffeine after 2pm to ensure restful slumbers.

5. Take gentle exercise during the day.  Too late at night and you could hype your system up. A brisk walk outside at lunchtime is ideal or a relaxing yoga or Pilates class in the evening.

Here’s an excerpt from a feature I wrote for Bodyfit magazine last year all about yoga and sleep

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