The famous Harvard Nurses Health study observed women over a 16-year span and noted that lack of sleep lead to weight gain. Women who reported sleeping fewer than 5 hours per night were 32% more likely to gain more than 15 kilograms or 2 stone 3 pounds over that span of years. That’s on average 1 kilogram or 2 pounds per year more than those who slept longer each night.
These results surprised researchers and their initial thoughts were that women who slept less eat more but when the results were analyzed the opposite was found to be true and the women sleeping less were actually eating less.
Research appears to suggest that this sleep less weight gain phenomenon may in part be due to the hormone melatonin or rather lack of it. Melatonin is the hormone of sleep, which is produced when daylight starts to fade.
Melatonin is not only responsible for helping us to sleep but is also a powerful anti-oxidant. It also regulates the release of another hormone leptin, which is an important regulator of appetite and therefore weight gain.
As we age so does the production of our hormones and melatonin is no exception. Blood levels of melatonin in the elderly are about half those of a younger person. As our daylight starts to fade around dusk our brains begin to produce melatonin and its levels continue to rise until it peaks at about 2am or 3am for older people and then starts to decline as the sun rises.
Light of any type but especially blue wavelengths will stop the production of melatonin and lack of it will stimulate fat storage. It is therefore important for us to maximize the production of melatonin.
- Aim to get at least 7 hours of quality sleep each night.
- Block out all light and sleep in a dark room. If you are unable to block all the light from your room with black out blinds a sleep mask is a good quick cheap alternative.
- Have a bath before bedtime, ideally your body should start the night slightly warmer and cool down as you fall sleep. Your cooling body triggers the production of melatonin.
- You may need to supplement your body’s production of melatonin. Melatonin supplements are widely available for sale on the Internet and health food stores. There are no studies or research available to date to suggest that supplementing with melatonin, in the short-term, poses any risks to health. Never take more than 3 mg of melatonin per evening.
- Research has found that lavender oil can help you unwind and send you off to sleep. Invest in some quality organic lavender essential oil. Sprinkle a couple of drops over your pillow at night before bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol, as it is a big sleep disruptor. As little as one glass of wine is enough to disrupt your REM sleep, which is your most restorative sleep phase.
- A cup of Valerian tea an hour before bedtime I find really helps you unwind. Try Clipper teas ‘Sleep Easy’ which contains Valerian. Valerian is believed to have a sedative and anxiolytic or anti-anxiety effect on the body.
- Here’s a fun way to wind down of an evening. Half an hour before bedtime or earlier if you wish turn all your electric lights out and replace with candles as candles do not emit blue light. Play some relaxing, soothing classical music and let your mind drift away.
The idea is to wind down not to fall asleep with your candles burning so be mindful of this fact. If you don’t trust yourself to stay awake please don’t burn candles.
If you don’t like the idea of taking melatonin as a supplement then cherries are a natural way of supplementing your melatonin supply. Research into tart or sour cherry juice as a bedtime drink showed that it improved sleep for those who took it, compared with those who were given a substitute drink.
The ready to drink cherry juice Cherrygood contains Montmorency cherries which research has shown are packed with health benefits which may help consumers achieve a good nights sleep. Tart cherries are one of the few known food sources of melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain and released in the body by pineal gland.
US studies conducted at the University of Texas Health Science Center found Montmorency cherries contained 13.5 Nano grams of melatonin per gram, much higher than the amount normally found in our bodies. Research also shows that drinking cherry juice can reduce known markers of inflammation, as the drink is a powerful anti-oxidant, helping to repair heart damage poor sleeping patterns may have caused.