"It sounds logical that if you aren't sleeping well, you might be eating more to compensate for the time you're awake and bored," says Jessica Alexander, spokesperson for The Sleep Council, when HuffPost UK Lifestyle asked her about the latest sleep study published by Science Daily.
According to the study, which was conducted by the psychology department of the University of Pennsylvania, healthy adults with late bedtimes and chronic sleep problems may be more susceptible to weight gain because they are likely to consume more calories.
The study, which appears in the July issue of the journal SLEEP, was conducted in the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. It looked at 225 healthy, non-obese individuals, ranging in age from 22-50 years.
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Build time into your day for a bedtime routine-we are more like dimmer switches than ‘on-off switches’ so we need time to unwind. This may include a warm bath, a hot milky drink/chamomile tea and listening to some relaxing music or an audio book.
Pull your socks up
Wear socks to bed. Cold feet = a poor night's sleep. Due to the fact that they have the poorest circulation, the feet often feel cold before the rest of the body and studies have shown that wearing socks reduces night awakenings.
Use sunlight to set your body clock
As soon as you get up in the morning, go outside and get some fresh air for 10 minutes. The bright sunlight (or any bright light) tells your body’s natural biological clock that it’s time to wake up and that same clock will then be set to tell your body it’s time to go to sleep about 14-16 hours later.
Don't change your bedtime. You should go to bed and wake up at about the same time each day, even on the weekends! This will help your body to get into a sleep rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep and get up in the morning.
Change your bedding once a week and dust regularly. Fresh crisp sheets will help you get a better night’s sleep and clearing excess dust can help minimise any irritation in the airways, which could disrupt sleep. Review your bed linen for a better night’s sleep and choose sheets that feel comfortable against your skin. Research carried out by Lenor has shown that 74% of people surveyed slept drastically better on freshly washed bed sheets.
If you're too warm it can lead to a fitful night's sleep. Your body works hard to regulate your temperature while you're asleep, so help it along with cool, breathable cottons and keep the room cool at 16-18 degrees centigrade. If you share your bed and like different temperatures consider buying two separate duvets.
Exercise to sleep
Regular exercisers have better quality sleep. Aerobic exercise in particular has a significant impact on sleep particularly when it’s done in daylight so try to integrate exercise into your life by moving throughout the day eg getting off the bus one stop early, taking a walk in your lunch break etc.
Set yourself a technology cut off time
Computers, mobiles, smart phones and TVs all over stimulate our minds and ruin sleep, so try to turn them off at around 9pm. Where possible keep them out of the bedroom.
Room and bed sheet fragrance
Fragrances can set the tone of the room and generate a calming effect which will induce better quality deep sleep leaving you more rested, energetic and alert the next morning. Filling the bedroom with lavender or chamomile scents around an hour before bedtime will create the proper atmosphere for relaxation, sleep or romance. Try washing your sheets in fragrant Lenor fabric softener or alternatively place a few drops of relaxing aromatherapy oils on your pillow.
Sleep in complete darkness or as close to that as you can. There also should be as little light in the bathroom as possible if you get up in the middle of the night. As soon as you turn on the light, your body will immediately cease all production of the important sleep aid melatonin which regulates the sleep-wake cycle.
An interesting finding was that those who spent only four hours in bed from the hours of 4am to 8am for five consecutive nights gained more weight than those who were in bed for 10 hours.
Clearly there are two separate groups however - those who choose to stay up late and those who are suffering from sleep problems. If you are choosing to stay up late - and a key reason for most people is that they are watching TV until the wee hours. In 2011, a study found that people who stay up late tend to have poorer eating habits and a higher BMI (Body Mass Index).
Putting on a few pounds may not seem like a big deal, but if you are tipping towards an overweight size, it can increase the risk of sleep apnea, which is a common sleep disorder that severely impacts the quality of sleep. It is a condition that causes interrupted breathing during sleep and subsequently leaves you with little energy to do much during the day.
So how much sleep should you have? Last year, findings revealed that 8 hours could be an unnatural amount of sleep, with the BBC publishing a report about historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech, who drew together a report drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks.
Professor Colin Espie, co-founder of Sleepio and professor in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the University of Oxford says: "The number of hours’ sleep you need is as individual as your shoe size. Don’t assume you need the often-quoted 7-8 hours; in fact, a shorter sleep may mean a better quality sleep."
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For those who struggle to sleep at all. the answer is more complex. Jessica advises: "There isn’t a quick fix and you have to start by looking at your day time and waking habits. A lot of people do that by keeping a sleep diary. If you are finding that you can't sleep properly, a more immediate solution might be - like anything to do with eating - to plan in advance. Keep healthy food to snack on, and also look at your eating habits, as that may be part of the solution to improving your condition. If you have foods that help release serotonin, that in turn releases melatonin which helps you to sleep."
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