By Karalyn Cass, First Mile Care DPP Coach

We spend a third of our lives asleep. While the recommended amount of sleep varies with age, seven hours is considered the minimum for adults over age 18. Yet, according to the CDC, 30% of us are not getting enough sleep at night. This lack of sleep on a regular basis can lead to severe health consequences, including an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. Sleep is also critical for optimal mental health: It enhances mood, reasoning and problem solving abilities, coping mechanisms, attention to detail, and memory.

As a health education specialist with a master’s degree in public health, I know the value of sleep. I’ve suffered from sleep deprivation myself and have developed several tricks to ensure I get enough deep, restful sleep. I shared a few of my strategies as part of the webinar series on “Diabetes Prevention in Action” that First Mile Care is offering in its curriculum for the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP).

It’s not enough to get the right quantity of sleep. You also need good quality of sleep. There are some key indicators for quality sleep as reported in Sleep Health:

  • Being sound asleep at least 85% of the time you spend in bed
  • Falling asleep in less than 30 minutes
  • Waking up no more than once during the night (and then falling back asleep within 20 minutes)
The endless loop between sleep deprivation and weight gain

Sleep also has a powerful connection to weight gain, and loss. Sleep affects two hormones, leptin — which tells your body that you’re full — and ghrelin — which tells you when you’re hungry.

While you sleep, leptin increases. It tells your brain that you have plenty of energy and there’s no need to trigger feelings of hunger or to burn off calories. But when you don’t get enough sleep, you end up with too little leptin in your body, which makes your brain think you don’t have enough energy for your needs. Then your brain tells your body that you’re hungry, even if you’re not.

The purpose of ghrelin is to tell your brain when you need to eat, when it should stop burning calories, and when it should store energy as fat. While you sleep, the level of ghrelin decreases in your body because sleep requires less energy than a waking state does. But if you’re short on sleep, you’ll have too much ghrelin in your system. Your body thinks that there’s a shortage of calories and that you need to eat, so it stops burning calories.

Sleep deprivation also affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood sugar, and causes your body to release less insulin after you eat. A higher-than-normal blood sugar level will increase your risk for diabetes.

Stress can also interfere with sleep. The more sleep-deprived you are, the higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, you have in your body, which in turn increases your appetite. You’ll crave more “comfort” foods high in fat, sugar, and starchy carbohydrates, while your body is prompted to store that energy as fat, especially in the abdomen area. (Read the article by First Mile Care Coach Irazema Garcia on the deadly connection between stress and diabetes, and also Coach Jenny Fowler’s tips for relieving stress.)

Your body restores many functions during sleep that play a role in how much energy you have, as Coach Kathy noted in an earlier article on working out. Lack of sleep can make you feel so tired that you don’t have the energy for exercise or other physical activities. As a result, you don’t build muscle mass or burn enough calories to lose weight. It’s a vicious cycle.

To sleep, perchance to dream

Watch the video of my webinar to learn more about how to develop good sleep practices, or “sleep hygiene.” These can include keeping a sleep routine; setting the right sound, light and temperature; getting comfortable in bed; developing sleep cues or triggers; relaxation suggestions; and when to get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep. Some people may need a combination of practices — they will be individual to you.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for overall wellness to get adequate amounts of quality sleep. Your sleep hygiene practices may vary, but the results will be a healthier YOU.

To learn more about how you can benefit from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, take the prediabetes risk test and get started today!