Athena Concannon and Dr. Kimberly Schelling Share 6 Tips For Improving Sleep!

This post is sponsored by Tufts Medical Center. All opinions, as always, are my own.

When it comes to fat loss, exercise gets so much attention, doesn’t it? In my experience, many people who are trying to lose weight are quick to hire a personal trainer. Or, if someone’s been at it for a while and their progress has stalled, I find they are quick to think that it’s their fitness that’s insufficient. They want to add more exercise in some way to get things moving again. More cardio! Less rest days!

While training IS important and definitely part of the fat loss puzzle, it’s just that: one piece. And more isn’t necessarily better, especially when it comes to cardio, as cardio in excess tends to lead to hunger that’s up the wazoo and intense cravings. Not so great if fat loss is the goal, right?

When my clients come to me with fat loss as the goal, I make sure we look at the fat loss hierarchy as a whole. There are five main other factors that come into play besides exercise (sorry, gym rats!), and those are nutrition, stress, non-training movement throughout the day, mindset, and SLEEP!

In honor of World Sleep Day today and my recent collaboration with Tufts Medical Center, let’s focus a little bit more on the sleep component of fat loss.

Anjana Rajan, PsyD, Director of Behavioral Health at the Tufts MC Weight & Wellness Center says, “Sleep really can be seen as a significant piece of any weight loss plan, and since it’s ‘a freebie’ we all need, it’s important that you maximize sleep if possible. That is, sleep is not optional!”

I think it can be reallllyyy tempting to sacrifice sleep in order to fit a few extra things into our busy lives… including extra workouts! I myself have been super guilty of this and have admitted in the past that not getting enough sleep used to be my unhealthiest habit.

However, being short on sleep affects EVERYTHING from our mood to decision making to appetite to performance in the gym and more, which is why if we are constantly getting less than seven hours of sleep, it could seriously be hindering our health and sabotaging our fat loss efforts.

For example, have you ever noticed that when we are tired, we tend to crave carbs and comfort food more than usual? This is because when we are short on sleep, our hunger hormone ghrelin increases, causing our bodies to want quick energy. There is also a decrease in leptin, the hormone that affects our feeling of fullness. This is why many of us may feel extra snacky on days we are running on low, like we just can’t stop eating!

In fact, a 2013 study* found that depriving people of sleep for just ONE night changed the way their brains responded to high-calorie junk foods. When the subjects of the study had not slept enough, foods like candy and potato chips were much more enticing than on days they slept enough. Those high calorie foods elicited a larger response in the part of the brain that affects motivation to eat. In addition, the frontal cortex (the part of the brain where consequences and rational decision making happens) suffered a significant decrease in activity. Not only did lack of sleep make junk food more enticing, but the subjects were less prepared to counteract the temptation with their frontal cortex.

My clients definitely notice a significant spike in cravings when running low on sleep, and they find that it’s harder to implement the mindful eating tools and strategies for sure.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults ages 26-64 get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. But over 30% of women report that they sleep 6 hours or less each night! Over time, that creates a huge amount of “sleep debt,” which can be difficult to repay.

So how can you make sure to get enough sleep, and counteract those unfortunate side effects of sleep deprivation? Here are some tips that I recently discussed with Tufts Medical Center Primary Care Boston’s Dr. Kimberly Schelling!

6 Steps for a Better Night’s Sleep

Avoid caffeine after 2pm.

It can sometimes be hard to get past that 2:30 feeling without a caffeine jolt, but caffeine can affect the hormones in our bodies that drive sleep, and therefore delay our natural sleep cycles. Relegating caffeine intake to earlier in the day will keep it from affecting our sleep cycle. Try a quick walk around the block to wake up and re-energize if you need it. Some of my clients also have had success with replacing their afternoon cup of caffeine with a green smoothie!

Minimize alcoholic beverages before bedtime.

Alcohol is another common substance that can affect the body’s natural sleep cycle, making it harder for us to fall asleep or stay asleep when we really need the rest. As tempting as it might be to wind down with a glass of wine before bed, try switching it up with decaffeinated tea.

Be mindful of strenuous exercise close to bedtime.

Exercise is a catch-22 when it comes to sleep. Regular exercise is great at helping us sleep better in general, but this isn’t always the case if it’s too close to bedtime. As always, #AntiPerfectFitness is the philosophy over here, so for those who only have time to work out later in the evening, it’s important to stay well hydrated and potentially save the higher intensity workouts for a day that an earlier time is a little more feasible. Some people find a vigorous workout gives them a burst of energy, which can affect the body’s ability to fall asleep at its normal time. Of course, pay attention to how your body reacts to nighttime workouts and whether or not your sleep seems to be affected.

Establish a bedtime routine.

Once established, your bedtime routine will tell your body to start winding down and prepare for sleep. Perhaps you consider dimming the lights in your home and turning off electronics at least an hour before bedtime. Perhaps after doing that you take a bath, followed by a book, or whatever serves you and your lifestyle the best. Many of my clients like to unwind from their day with some journaling, meditation, and reflection, setting some intentions for the next day before they go to sleep. Whatever your bedtime routine looks like, it should be something you find soothing, peaceful, and relaxing.

Consider your sleep environment.

It helps to keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature and remove or block any distracting lights. Silence or remove technology such as smartphones and tablets from your bedroom or set them to a do not disturb mode. It helps to also limit your bed to sleeping only as much as possible. Going to bed and falling asleep can be a stressful experience for people who have difficulty doing so. Many people who chronically struggle to sleep start getting anxious at bedtime because they fear not being able to sleep. You don’t want to associate your bed with anything but sleep, and should only get into bed when you’re sleepy to cut down on this anxiety. If you enjoy reading or journaling, try doing it in an easy chair or another room prior to sleep.

Check your medications.

Finally, review your medications with your doctor, including over-the- counter medications, supplements, and herbal medications. Your doctor can help you ensure that you aren’t taking anything stimulating prior to bedtime!

Again, sleep is just an important piece of the fat loss puzzle as exercise, nutrition, stress, non-training movement, and mindset. All should work in tandem with each other as one cohesive unit for the best results!

Readers, let’s chat! What are your current sleep habits? How much sleep do you typically get each night? Do you have a bedtime routine or any tips for getting a better night’s sleep? How do you notice you are affected when you don’t get the amount of sleep that your body needs?

If you are working on fitness and fat loss, you may be interested in my 1:1 Fired Up Fitness and Fat Loss program. I help time-strapped women just like you ditch the dieting, break free from the all or nothing approach to health and fitness, and learn to let fitness enhance their lives instead of rule it. Click the image below to learn more about how I might be able to help you reach your wellness goals.

Tufts Medical Center is a renowned not-for-profit academic medical center in downtown Boston. Floating Hospital for Children is the full-service children’s hospital of Tufts Medical Center. Tufts MC and the Floating Hospital offer a full range of services including primary care, OBGYN services in all areas of women’s health, and dedicated pediatric and adult emergency rooms.
Disclaimer: The content provided in this post is intended solely for the information of the reader. This information is not medical advice and should not replace a consultation with a medical professional.

*Greer SM, Goldstein AN, Walker MP. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nature Communications 2013; 4:2259