Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Trip the Light Fantastic

For many years I have prided (is that a word?) myself on being a true night owl.  I do some of my best work after 10 PM!  Sometimes my workouts even happen after 10 PM...on Sunday I finished my Last Chance workout at 11:30 PM!  There have been MANY nights (including...um...last night) when I stay up til 2:00 AM or later...planning homeschool stuff, blogging, watching TV...usually NOT cleaning, but sometimes even that!  

But the trouble is, I am a homeschooling mom of 3 kids...all of which are up by 7:30 or before, and I need to get our day started, let alone get some jogging runs in 3X a week!  But if I go to bed at 3:00 am, getting up at 7:30 am only gives me 4.5 hours of sleep.  And there is study after study after study of the detrimental effects that sleep deprivation can have on weight loss.  In fact, I wrote a post about it HERE too.

The National Sleep Foundation shows the link between sleep deprivation and obesity in their stats too. 63% of respondants to their poll indicated that they get less than 8 hours of sleep on a regular basis.  72% of those who indicated they get less than 8 hours of sleep regularly also identified as being obese or morbidly obese.  Coincidence?  Clearly not.
(NOTE:  This is not me)

So, feeling convicted on my ongoing 'night owl' tendencies, which leave me sleep deprived, I decided to do some more research about it.  Some new information (or maybe it is not new, but I don't recall reading it in previous studies on the subject) jumped out at me...and it makes a lot of sense.

1 - Weight Loss benefits from Phase 3 & 4 Non-REM sleep.  REM sleep is a time for great brain activity, but lesser muscle activity.  There are four phases of Non-REM sleep.  The first is being in a state of between wake and sleep, where a person can be awakened easily.  Phase two is a slightly deeper sleep than Phase 1, but is still considered a lighter sleep state.  Body temperature typically drops a bit during this phase.  Phases 3 & 4 are deeper levels of Non-REM sleep.  This is a restorative sleep phase, during which the body builds bone, muscle tone and releases various hormones.  What caught my eye as I was learning about this was the building muscle tone thing.  So if I'm not allowing my body to get into Phases 3 & 4 of Non-REM sleep for a longer period of time, then I am cheating my body from the ability to build better muscle tone.  My workouts could be further enhanced by better sleep!  Also, the release of hormones is the body's way of keeping everything regulated.  Healthy sleep aids in that!  Building bone is important too - especially for a gal like me that does not get the calcium and vitamin D I need from my diet (though I do take supplements).  Sleep deprivation from simply not going to bed early enough OR having frequently disturbed sleep (common with sleep apnea and for parents of newborns...) both contribute heavily to the inability of the body to get into all the proper stages of Non-REM sleep (or REM sleep for that matter, which is very important too!).

2 - Hormones affect Weight Loss - and are affected by sleep.  The hormones Leptin and Grehlin control the body's appetite system.  Leptin suppresses appetite (how do I get more Leptin?) while Grehlin increases appetite.  When sleep deprivation becomes chronic (ie - getting less than 7 hours of sleep most nights.  ie - me), then the levels of the appetite-increaser, Grehlin, increase...and at the same time, the levels of Leptin, the appetite suppresser, decrease.  Recipe for destruction...and overeating. 

3 - Natural Light Deprivation - I found this very interesting.  I was reading our Experience Life magazine (I'll admit it...in the bathroom.  TMI?  yeah, probably.) and came across this article about the affect of light and dark on our health and weight.  Our bodies have built in expectations for natural light and darkness...and respond accordingly.

"Since the advent of the light bulb, we’ve been able to brighten our world with the flick of a switch. And what a breakthrough that has been: Artificial light has given us more time to read and learn, work and play. But the ability to keep lights burning 24/7 has also come with a dark side.
Our body’s natural rhythms are connected to and affected by the natural cycles of light and dark. For millennia, humans stayed awake when the sun was up (to hunt for food and protect themselves from enemies), and slept when it set. So, today, while artificially extending our exposure to “daylight” means we can accomplish more, it also puts us out of sync with natural cycles of light and dark — the very cycles the human body got used to during centuries without manmade sources of illumination.
“Our bodies evolved to expect 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark,” says University of Connecticut epidemiologist Richard Stevens, PhD. “Since the advent of electricity, we haven’t been exposed to enough darkness.” Meanwhile, by spending most of our waking hours indoors and away from natural sunlight, we’re also often underexposed to the wavelengths of light that stimulate our natural rhythms."
(excerpt from "Light Rhythms" Experience Life) 

There been a link connecting this disruption in natural light/dark patterns to increased cancerous tumor growth.  In fact, this research is "so conclusive that the World Health Organization has listed night-shift work as a possible carcinogen!"  Obviously the link between disrupted light/dark cycles is also made with weight and obesity.  When I stay up until 3 AM, using artificial light to sustain my late-night activities, I cheat my body of nearly 8 hours of the dark cycle it needs to have a good circadian rhythm for healthy living.  Clearly if I am sleeping more each night, the daily cycle between light and dark becomes more balanced...thus affecting my weight issues for the better, and improving my overall health.  

Several weeks ago I decided that during the Lenten period I would strive to be in bed by or before midnight every night.  I did well for 2 weeks, until a rare date night had me break that effort...followed by another late night with friends.  Since then I've completely fallen off the 'in bed by midnight' efforts.  However my new research is fueling me with new resolve.  I'm confident I'll be in bed before midnight tonight.  I've convinced myself of how vital my sleep and light/dark cycles are to my weight loss and my health.  How about you?


  1. Wow...I can't function past 9 PM, so kudos to you for being a power Mom!

  2. I wouldn't say 'power Mom'...I think I'd have a lot more power, energy, patience, less clumsiness...and hopefully thinner IF I was in bed by 9:00 PM. So it sounds like you are the one who has it right Athena! :)

  3. If it's much past 10, don't try to have a significant conversation with me...just sayin' I can't be held responsible for what happens!

    But, since I'm not doing the 9-5 now and since I don't have kids to homeschool OR send to school (all grown!), I'm seeing my Cinderella tendencies shift a bit . . . tho I still would not recommend an important conversation after 10. :)

    Sleep is one of those things that when I'm getting enough I take it for granted and when I'm not my day is a disaster. Can't imagine it wouldn't have an affect on weight loss (or lack thereof), seems everything does!

    Great post!

  4. Yes, I toss and turn each night due my back pain and have trouble sleeping. It's really weird that I usually can get good sleep with a lot of noise around me.