Friday, August 10, 2012

Reason #1 I'm Fat: Sleep Hygiene or Lack Thereof

Studies the past few years have proven that poor sleep hygiene contributes to weight gain in a number of ways.

You may think "it's only sleep," but what sleep really means for us biologically is what needs to be understood more clearly in relation to sleep hygiene, and more importantly, how the lack of sleep is probably the biggest contributing factor to that "obesity epidemic" we are always hearing about.

It's no secret that we are extremely stressed out and spend the majority of our lives working.   According to a study by the National Sleep Foundation, the average employed American works a 46-hour work week and 38% of the respondents in their study worked more than 50 hours per week. It is therefore no surprise to me that in the European countries in which the average vacation time ranges anywhere from 30-40 days annually with a lesser hourly work week that the obesity rate is also lower.  While American women receive approximately 6 weeks of maternity leave, (1/5 of American companies offer no leave whatsoever), some countries offer a full year of paid paternal leave, and some offer job protection for up to 6 years according to this report.

Sleep isn't just something we do because we cannot physically stay conscious any longer.  Sleep is something a body actually needs to repair itself.  We don't regularly leave our cars running in the driveway all night for tomorrow's trip into work when it's low on oil, yet we think nothing of running our bodies almost as long.  Just as leaving a light on shortens the bulb's duration of illumination, leaving our bodies "on" without adequate sleep intervals shortens our life span and deteriorates our health, i.e. our light.

In order to repair itself, a body needs an adequate sleep cycle, 6-8 hours for most of us nightly, to signal the body to create certain hormonal and neurochemical reactions that regulate our weight and mood chemicals.  Adequate sleep allows our bodies to repair themselves and to recover, from repairing our damaged DNA to building tissue and muscle.

Without an adequate opportunity to repair itself, a body becomes so involved in trying to save itself, period, that it cannot focus on it's normal routine of signaling the release of the hormones and neurochemical reactions required to regulate our weight and mood.

Many night owls find themselves reaching for a sugar fix, be it a drink or snack, which obviously contributes to weight gain, but the lack of sleep itself distracts the body from it's natural state of health, which it biologically strives to achieve despite the abuse thrown its way.


Now after covering some of the information above collected from various studies and articles.  Just as I have asked myself what it means to me, you must ask what it means to you, as a fellow obese person.  I'm you perceive a lack of sleep a contributing factor to your enlarging waistline?

I'd also like to vent.  I get frustrated when I hear the overused  "American Obesity Epidemic" and "Our Children are Fat because they eat Fast Food." Really?  Considering the differences in family structure and demands upon them as a unit compared to 50 years ago....this is the ONLY contributing factor to the rise in obesity amongst Americans?  I can argue that tired ol phrase of obliviousness.  Parents, as well as their kids, struggle to even find family time, and most of them are too tired to recognize it when it smacks them in the face. Yet all we hear these days is about how much MORE or harder everyone needs to work and how we need to train our children to be bigger producers or workhorses than we are.  Can they actually scientifically alter the hours in a day to make it happen the way they try to genetically alter cattle so each animal can proportionately feed more people? I mean, come on.  Don't get me wrong here.  I'm a huge proponent for working to support yourself and to attain one's goals, so don't generalize me into a lazy category over this opinion.  You have parents overscheduling children.  They run from this activity to that activity and often even enlist the help of other parents for their crazy busy offspring because they are unable to physically be in two places at once.  These parents are running to these events straight out of work and the only way anyone can eat prior to 8 p.m. is to grab a fast food meal at least a few times a week.  In the past, such a thing was an occasional treat rather than a necessary and affordable quick-fix. If you've followed me so far, I think you get the rest. Moving on...

If you have managed to have or find the time to identify how much time your body needs for peak function, please share.  As I've shared earlier in another post, we are all different.  I think mine is the 7-hour mark.

Let's discuss how different I am compared to all these studies discussing sleep hygiene.  When I was 21 working two jobs (see how lazy I am), running on 4 hours of sleep a night between the two jobs, living on my own trying to make a life for myself, and eating nothing but a Fast Food meal once daily, I was the thinnest I have ever been in my life at 129 pounds and 5'7-3/4". Go figure. Now I'm in my early 40s, spent the last 12 years having babies and working around their needs, got about the same amount of sleep each night, 4 hours nightly, and ate a homemade meal once daily, and I gained 5 pounds per year.  Funny, isn't it?  While I like to joke and say I'm going back to the old days of Fast Food once daily, I know the difference is mainly in that my second job then was as a running sports bar waitress, and while I run after kids all day, my main and only job today is stuck at a desk chained to a computer.  Back then the 4 hours of sleep seemed to be just fine for me.  Over the last few months I decided to make sleep a priority and I'm losing weight and feeling great on 7 hours a night, all while eating 5 to 6 times a day.

While I much preferred how much I could get accomplished once my kids and husband were asleep, even if I had chosen a moment or many of silence in lieu of an accomplishment, I had to get real honest with myself and snap out of the denial I didn't even know I was in.  My denial was in refusing to recognize how much I was harming my health by pushing myself so hard continually, for feeling guilty about not accomplishing something on my mental to-do list.  It is what it is.  Our bodies are machines and all machines burn up and out eventually, some faster than others.  I'm choosing to care for mine a little more than I ever have the first half (hopefully this is half) of my life.  You should do the same. 

If I am an overachiever so willing to forfeit a full-night's sleep, am I really a sluggish or lazy person as society labels me? I don't think so. I'm willing to bet money that I was running circles of accomplishments around all the skinny working moms out there. ;)

What's your take on the sleep issue?


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