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On Nutrition: Getting Your ZZZZs

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By Barbara Quinn

sleeping_woman(MCT)—It’s a condition of our modern lifestyle, researchers say. We spend long hours in front of computers and televisions. We work early in the morning and late at night. We get jet lag. And we can’t figure out why we can’t lose weight.

There may be a connection, say researchers. Studies are emerging that show a relationship between “partial sleep deprivation” — sleeping less than 6 hours a night — and obesity.

What makes weight go up when sleep goes down? Here are some “potential pathways” by which sleep deprivation may interfere with our ability to lose weight, according to a recent review of this topic in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Disrupted hormones. Hormones that tell us if we are hungry … or not … can be thrown off balance when sleep is disrupted, scientists find. Ghrelin — the “gremlin” hormone that tells us to “Eat! Eat!” — goes up when we are sleep deprived. And leptin — the hormone that signals us to stop eating — goes down.

Cortisol — a “stress hormone” — may also come into play when our usual rhythms of sleep and wakefulness are disturbed, say experts. Elevated cortisol tends to encourage the storage of fat and the loss of muscle mass, even when we are eating less food. Sigh.

Cravings for higher calorie foods. Don’t know about you but when I’m up at night, my first inclination is not for a bowl of salad. Stress hormones tend to encourage our appetite for comfort foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt.

Too tired to exercise. Lack of sleep causes fatigue which makes us not particularly excited about exercise. And lack of physical activity cuts back on our calorie-burning machinery, complicating weight loss efforts even more.

What’s a “partial sleep-deprived” person to do? Stick to a regular sleep schedule, says the National Institutes of Health. Plan a 7- to 8- hour sleep period and go to bed and get up the same time every day if possible.

Avoid sleep-stealers such as caffeine, nicotine, and excessive alcohol.

Eat smaller meals in the evening. Or have a relaxing snack. Tryptophan — an amino acid that helps the body build protein — may help promote relaxation and sleepiness, especially when combined with a carbohydrate-containing food. Some examples: milk and crackers, yogurt and fruit, cheese and bread.

Turn off the computer. Take a hot bath. Relax before you hit the sack.

And remember that sleep time is not wasted time. It’s when the body repairs itself and gets us ready for the next day. That’s something to sleep on.

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.

©2012 The Monterey County Herald
Distributed by MCT Information Services

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