Sleep well… to lose weight!

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No, this is not one of those quick fix “do these six things and you will lose 10 pounds” gimmicks. Here are six practical habits, when followed diligently, will help keep you on track for your weight loss plan and sound sleep at night which will in turn help you lose weight.

Sleep and weight are inextricably related. Without a good night’s seep, the body can’t function optimally the following day. Consistently poor sleep makes one vulnerable to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, an ageing skin and weight gain. Sleep affects your hunger and appetite by altering the hormones leptin and ghrelin, increasing cravings, especially for ­sugary high carb, high fat food, and confuses the body by making it incapable of distinguishing between hunger and fatigue. Poor sleep compromises the decision-making ability in everyday life… from finalising a deal to choosing between a good quality meal and junk food. So getting a good night’s sleep should be top on your priority list.

 

Here are some simple habits to be followed as your night ritual for better sleep:

  • Stay moving after dinner for at least 20 minutes
  • Plan your meals for the next day
  • Plan your schedule for the next day
  • Take a warm bath
  • Write a gratitude journal
  • Meditate or use a relaxation technique like deep breathing.

 

Stay moving after dinner

Most people collapse in front of the TV or even head straight to bed soon after dinner. Not the best idea. Instead why not take a walk around the house, take the dog for an outing or do some chores for about 30–60 minutes after dinner to keep your body moving. Even something as simple as cleaning the closet/pantry, or rearranging your books  is sufficient to keep you on your feet and moving. Your blood sugar stays under control when you are active post-meal rather than being sedentary.

 

Plan your meals for the next day

Meal planning is one of those things that needs a lot of thought and attention and is often disregarded. When you try to plan your meals in the early morning rush, due to shortage of time and the stress factor, you will not make the best choices. It is also likely you may find at the last minute that you do not have necessary ingredients to make the soup or include enough vegetables/fruits for the day.

When meals are planned ahead, even if it means doing basic prep the previous day, it leaves you a lot of time the next day for you to get ready for work or send your children to school.

For example, if you eat oatmeal for breakfast, prepare it by soaking it overnight in a bowl with chopped fruit, some almond milk and leave it in the fridge for the entire family to pick up for breakfast. Just add a handful of seeds/nuts and some date syrup to sweeten, if needed, and breakfast is ready.

Keeping cooked beans in the fridge, ready to throw into a salad, or chopped veggies, stored in separate containers in the freezer, helps ease the morning rush.

Very often the night sleep is affected by anxiety about the next day or even the concern of having to wake up half-an-hour early to prepare a meal. Take the stress out of the morning routine by at least partially preparing the previous night.

 

Plan your schedule for the next day

Have a plan ready. When will you get to work? When will you cook? When do you plan to exercise? When do you plan to catch up on mails? What will you do with free time?

Most often we get carried away by the gathering momentum of the day, having no clear agenda in place. Of course, things may not go exactly as planned, but at least you have a plan to stick to with the necessary flexibility as and when necessary.

People who don’t get things done are the ones that drift along with no real strategy in mind. You may get caught unawares over a couple of hours with nothing to do for instance. This is the time you will tend to snack mindlessly. Plan a catch-up with a friend you haven’t seen in a while instead, catch up on your mail, or go for a walk. Have a plan.

Late evening is a good time to ideate for the next day. It could just be a brief note in your ‘reminders’, which you refer to the following day. Doing this gives you a sense of closure for the day gone by with hope and purpose for the next day.

 

Take a warm bath

Taking a warm bath before bed has been found to be relaxing and beneficial for a good night’s sleep. The drop in body temperature after a warm bath is conducive for good sleep. The bath should be 1–2 hours before sleep and needs to be not more than about 10 minutes according to a study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews by researchers at the University of Texas, Austin. They have analysed several studies done on ‘warm baths before sleep’. A warm bath before bed helps people fall asleep more quickly and sleep deeper.

 

Write a gratitude journal

Research from the field of Positive Psychology has shown that writing a gratitude journal every night can improve sleep. Spending just 15 minutes writing down things that you are grateful for through the day is great for good quality sleep. Expressing gratitude, even if only in a journal, is related to having more positive thoughts, and fewer negative ones, especially at bedtime. It prevents ruminating about negative feelings. This in turn is associated with falling asleep faster and sleeping longer and better. Spend a few minutes in bed writing the journal and putting down at least three things you are grateful for every night.

 

Meditate or use a relaxation technique

Finally, as you lie in bed with your eyes closed, instead of letting your thoughts wander into chaos, get into a mindful, meditative state with deep breathing. Focus on just the breathing. Your mind will tend to wander and thoughts will creep in. Bring the focus gently back to your breath and watch it get deeper and slower. Meditation and mindfulness have been found to reduce stress and deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which calms you down and as a result helps you get a good night’s sleep.

The author is a lifestyle medicine physician and can be contacted at sheela.nambiar@gmail.com. www.drsheelanambiar.com

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