Hey, you! Yeah, you, person reading this hunched over his computer at 3AM: get off the computer and go to bed, you silly night owl! (Note: For all you people reading this during normal-people hours, the above statement doesn’t apply to you. Keep reading anyways, because some knowledge is about to get dropped.)
Most people don’t need a scientific study to know that lack of sufficient, restful sleep has a number of negative consequences -- increased irritability and stress, dulled reaction times, higher sensitivity to illness, and so on.
Here’s something you might not know: it’s making you fat. In fact, if we want to get specific, not only is it making you fat, but it’s also making you more susceptible to cardiovascular and metabolic disease, obesity, diabetes, and God knows what else. Really, that list alone should be sufficient to scare you into your pajamas.
Here’s the science behind it:
Let’s say you get a full night’s rest. During that night, your body produces leptin, a hormone that tells your body it’s in a state of relaxation, minimal energy is being spent, and there’s no need to search for calories. Throughout the course of your restful sleep cycle, another hormone called ghrelin is produced and properly regulated. You wake up, refreshed and ready to go.
In the alternate scenario, you toss and turn until 4 in the morning, unable to sleep. You produce inadequate leptin, signaling to the body that it needs energy ASAP. To compensate, your body goes haywire and decides to overcompensate with ghrelin. A ghrelin buffet -- an embarrassment of ghrelin, if you will.
Fun fact about ghrelin: it signals to your body when it needs more energy (i.e. calories). Too much of it and you feel like you could eat a horse.
This really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Our bodies are incredibly complex, interdependent ecosystems, and every aspect of our health, whether it’s sleep, diet, exercise, or mental well-being, has been shown, time and time again, to feed into each other. Somehow, though, prioritizing sleep seems to fall on the bottom of list when we’re crossing off the checklist to the Newer, Healthier You.
Here are some tips to make sure you get to bed on-time and get amazing sleep, leaving you bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and (mostly) ghrelin-free in the morning.
- Set an alarm for 30 minutes before your desired bedtime. Use this trigger to force yourself into getting ready for bed at an appropriate time -- even when there’s half a season of House of Cards left waiting in your Netflix queue.
- Have rituals centered around going to bed. Sip a cup of chamomile tea, take a hot shower, curl into bed with a book. Whatever it is, do it consistently. Every day. In the same order, if possible. Eventually, these actions will signal to your body that it’s time to settle into dreamland and you’ll naturally start getting sleepy.
- Make your bed your sanctuary. In the same vein as the above, if all you associate with your bed is sleep, then your body will naturally understand that when you climb into bed, it’s time to sleep. Simple as that.
- Exercise, preferably in the day.
- Avoid using electronic devices for at least 30 minutes before you go to bed, ideally for longer. No, a quick scan of Facebook before bed isn’t going to kill you, but the blue light emitted by your device screens is shown to suppress natural melatonin production -- which means you’re more likely to wake up tired and cranky. If it’s completely unavoidable, install an application that tempers or blocks this blue light, such as F.lux.
- If you’re the type of person that stays up tossing and turning or you’re still getting adjusted to a regular sleep schedule, consider taking melatonin supplements. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone, which helps regulate our sleep and wake cycles. (We do not recommend taking melatonin for regular long-term use. There’s a chance it could affect your body’s natural melatonin production, and no formal studies have been conducted showing the potential effects of sustained usage.)
- Last but not least—in the words of a wise children’s book author Adam Mansbach, go the (bleep) to sleep. Sweet dreams.