The Too Good to Be True Key to Better Health and Weight Loss
“Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care… Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast.” ~William Shakespeare
One of the most important things you can do to improve your health, your happiness and drop some pounds is surprisingly easy. In fact, when I tell you what it is, you might think that sounds too good to be true.
And usually “too good to be true” is just that.
But not this time.
If it Sounds Too Good to Be True…
Spend any time on the internet, listening to radio or watching TV and you will likely be overrun with weight loss “miracles” that sound too good to be true. From Dr. Oz's weight loss miracle green coffee bean extract to programs that promise you will lose 20 pounds in 20 days, we see these claims all the time and most of us have learned to tune them out.
Sure it would be great to take a pill and lose 20 pounds, but we know it doesn’t work. It’s “too good to be true” and just like my mom told me (and yours probably told you), “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
But what if I told you one of the most important things you could do to improve your health and get your weight loss on track was go to bed? Would you believe me?
The Importance of Sleep
Getting adequate sleep may be one of the most under-recognized—and most important—factors in weight loss. Although sleep is essential for good health and well-being, getting enough sleep is often viewed as a weakness in our “There’s time for sleep when I’m dead” society. The problem? Without adequate sleep, death will come sooner than you’d like.
Here is a story about one of my favorite patients and the power sleep can have on your health and weight.
Virginia was a patient I saw early in my career and is best described as delightful. When we first met, her blood pressure was out of control despite taking five blood-pressure medications. Although she only weighed 180 pounds, at 4’ 10” her “weight to height ratio” or body mass index (BMI) was in the morbidly obese range (38 kg/m2).
As I was gathering her history, I was concerned she may have sleep apnea and asked if she snored. Virginia’s husband laughed because her snoring regularly kept him up at night.
I recommended that Virginia see a sleep specialist. After a sleep study, she was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea and started on treatment. Her sleep immediately improved, and she discovered she was feeling much better. She had more energy than she had in years and her symptoms of anxiety and depression were much improved.
Because she felt so much better, she started exercising and watching what she ate. As she noted, “without even trying” she lost 40-pounds in a year and felt like she was “reborn”. Ultimately, she only needed a small dose of one medicine to keep her blood pressure within a healthy range.
Virginia was the first patient to teach me the importance of sleep in health and weight loss, but she wasn’t the last. Poor sleep is rampant. Studies show that people are having more difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep than ever before. In fact, experts estimate that almost half of us aren’t getting the amount of sleep our bodies need and the CDC has called poor sleep a national epidemic.
A good night’s sleep is proven to help you feel better, lose weight and avoid serious health problems. While an occasional sleepless night is probably not harmful, chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk for obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and depression. It has even been shown to lead to early death.
Now that I know how critical sleep is for weight loss, one of my first questions for a patient who wants to lose weight is, “How is your sleep?” I get some quizzical looks at first, but I’ve learned if you aren’t sleeping well, it is nearly impossible to lose weight.
No matter what your health goals, adequate sleep is essential.
Here are the strategies my patients have found to be most helpful in improving sleep.
Five Tips for Better Sleep
Make it a priority. With busy lives and long to-do lists, sleep can seem like an unnecessary luxury. Don’t be fooled! Adequate sleep will allow you to be more efficient and productive. It will improve your health and mood, set the stage for your successful weight loss plan (like Virginia) and has even been associated with a higher income!
Create a pleasant sleep environment. A soothing sleep atmosphere including comfortable mattress, pillows and blankets with a dark, cool and quiet room can make all the difference. Don’t let the bedroom turn into the family room or your office. And if your pets are keeping you up, it may be time to move Fido out of the bedroom at night.
Make a bedtime routine. An inviting bedtime routine such as reading (nothing work-related) or perhaps meditation, relaxation therapy or prayer before bed is a powerful sleep aid. You may also benefit from consistent sleep and wake times.
Assess your caffeine use. Some people can drink caffeine right up to bedtime and have no problem falling asleep. Others are slow metabolizers and caffeine, even early in the day, can negatively affect sleep at night.
Limit screen time. The light from electronic screens has been shown to decrease your natural melatonin release and interrupt your sleep cycle. Put away all electronic screens (smartphone, computer or television) 30 to 60 minutes before bed.
If you have tried all the above and still have problems with sleep, contact your doctor to make sure there are no other issues contributing to your sleep difficulties. It is also important to talk to your doctor if you have signs of sleep apnea such as loud snoring, episodes of not breathing during sleep or excessive daytime sleepiness.
And the beat goes on,
R. Todd Hurst, MD, FASE, FACC