In my last blog I talked about our natural digestive rhythms and how they can help you naturally maintain your weight. I explained why eating a large lunch and small dinner can help you lose weight independent of your caloric intake. There is another important daily cycle recognized by ayurveda that also helps you fight fat – your sleep cycle.
Sleep has a direct impact on weight. In fact, studies show that people who are chronically sleep deprived tend to have a higher BMI (body mass index). There are several reasons for this. Getting adequate sleep helps to normalize other impulses, such as appetite, making it easier to follow healthful choices. Sleep naturally fights stress and therefore reduces stress hormones that cause weight gain, such as cortisol. Also, if you sleep early you won’t get the midnight munchies, which can derail any diet.
All sleep is not equal. The deepest sleep occurs during the hours of 10pm-2am. If you miss these hours of sleep, your body does not make it up later in the night. The deep sleep obtained during this time helps you feel clear-minded, rested and energetic—allowing you to focus on healthy choices throughout the day. Have you noticed that you make your most unhealthy choices at times that you are tired and stressed? This is a result of the release of stress hormones. Setting an earlier bedtime will prevent fatigue and stress from interfering with your weight goals.
What is the magic behind 10 p.m.? You have an internal clock lodged deep within the brain that regulates your sleep – the pineal gland. The pineal gland receives information about the sun through your eyes via the optic nerve. As the sun sets, the pineal gland is able to sense the change in light transmitted through your eyes and it begins to secrete a hormone, melatonin, to prepare your body for sleep. Exposure to bright light prevents the secretion of melatonin and darkness promotes it. Typically, within one to two hours after the sunset, you will begin to feel drowsy as the melatonin levels rise. This is the body’s signal to go to sleep. By midnight, your melatonin levels have peaked and there is a gradual decline in melatonin levels after midnight.
At 10 p.m., your body goes through a transformation following the rise in melatonin production. This transformational phase of sleep is associated with an increase in the “internal” metabolic activity that is responsible for the repair and restoration of your body. A reduction of your mental and physical activity is necessary for this 10 p.m. shift to occur. If you are still awake, the “second wind” phenomenon occurs at 10 p.m. because there is a rise in mental activity and energy at this time. However, the true value of the “second wind” can only be experienced if you are asleep by 10 p.m.
Typically, if you miss the 10 p.m. bedtime, it will take much longer to fall asleep. The quality of sleep will also be less refreshing and there will still be a sense of fatigue in the morning. Even adjusting your bedtime from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m. will make an enormous difference in the quality of your sleep and enhance your feeling of wakefulness the following day. The reason for this is that you are taking advantage of the natural wave of neurochemistry that is already well on its way before 10 p.m. and you get the added support of the metabolic changes that occur at the 10 p.m. mark. Remember, sleep is just like investing in the stock market – timing is everything!
If you are currently falling asleep well past 10 p.m., make it a goal to sleep earlier by 15-30 minutes each week until you hit the 10 p.m. goal. If you are also waking up after 6 a.m., it is important to wake up 15-30 minutes earlier as you work on sleeping earlier to help you achieve a normal sleep cycle. As you make this shift in your sleep cycle, you’ll see how much easier it is to stay on track with your diet and exercise during the day. You will also say goodbye to the midnight munchies.