The silent hell-raisers: Sleep & Stress
You’ve set your goal, you’re tracking your food intake, you’re faithfully walking and doing your intervals, you’re pushing some weight around, and you’re all set! Well hold on a second there, girlie. We’re besties, remember? I would never let my best friend walk out of here with only half the advice she needs to see kick ass results! Other programs may leave off at exactly this point, but I won’t do that to you.
The topics of sleep and stress may not be super sexy or even really that interesting at first glance, but once you see what they can do to your weight loss efforts, I think you’ll see why I’m making a whole section for them. Here’s the real deal: weight loss is affected by calories in/calories out, but it’s also highly affected by your hormones. And nothing wreaks havoc on your hormones like super stress and little sleep!
I won’t go science-geek on you (I’m really holding myself back here, people!) but you need to know what cortisol is in relation to stress. Cortisol is a hormone your body (specifically your adrenals) creates when under stress. It’s what allows you the energy to fight or flight. We want a few spikes of cortisol when we’re exercising intensely to help burn fat and then we want that cortisol level to stay relatively low the rest of the time. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t getting spikes due to exercise, but rather a chronic elevated cortisol level due to general life stress (I’m looking at you, boss, kids, bills).
Stress Buster #1: Download, and then actually use, a guided meditation app on your phone. I personally like Breathe and Headspace (both free), but you can choose your own. Commit to a 5-10 minute meditation every day during your quest for the vacation body. You will be amazed what this little change will do to your general level of stress.
Stress Buster #2: I’m one of those women that has 532,981 things going on in my brain at any given time. I’ve learned to take all that chatter in my brain and get it down on paper in the form of lists or outlines. I may have a slight addiction to sticky notes, but we can talk about that later. I’d like you to try this next time you start to feel overwhelmed with all the things you need to do. Write it all down or use the voice memo function on your phone to record your to-do list. Whatever works best for you. And while you’re making that list, make sure you leave a spot for the tasks you can delegate to someone else. Yes, I know you like to do things yourself and not rely on anyone else. That’s why you’re stressed, my dear.
In our quest to get everything done (and to make sure we watch all recorded episodes of the Bachelor before the finale), sleep tends to take a backseat. Which is a damn shame because proper sleep would actually give us the energy the next day to do all the things we say we need to do! Let’s see if this will light a fire under you to get to bed earlier tonight; averaging 6 hours of sleep per night for two weeks makes you function as badly as someone who’s forced to stay awake for 2 days straight (sleep deprivation study published in the journal Sleep). Um, I don’t know a whole lot of working mothers that are getting much more than 6 hours per night!
Scarier still for our hopes of bikini land, when we don’t get enough sleep our “metabolisms don’t function properly” (Michael Breus, PhD, author of Beauty Sleepand the clinical director of the sleep division for Arrowhead Health in Glendale, AZ.) Essentially our hormones go a little haywire. Ghrelin, the hormone that tells you you’re hungry and need to eat, increases. Leptin, the hormone that tells you to stop eating, decreases. Do you see why lack of sleep has you reaching for the candy drawer??
Sleep Help #1: Shut off electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. The blue light emitted from electronic screens is like a neon sign telling your brain that it’s daylight and it should be awake. Turn off those screens and allow your brain to realize that it’s dark outside. You can even install blue light blocking software on your computer to change the light emitted from blue to amber as soon as the sun goes down. The latest Apple iOS update also has this function that you can turn on for all Apple devices.
Sleep Help #2: Commit to making good sleep patterns a family habit. When you make a regular bed time a priority for not only you, but for the rest of the family, you’ll hold each other accountable. TV shows can be recorded, Facebook will still be there in the morning, and you didn’t really need that last glass of wine anyway. Go to bed!
That last tip might seem kinda obvious and therefore lame, but let’s get real. I can give you a bazillion tips to improve your sleep, but unless you actually DO them, your sleep won’t improve. There are many ways we can sleep more each night, but we’re just not doing them. It’s time to hold yourself accountable and make good sleep a priority in your life. Your body is a freakin’ machine when it comes to keeping up with all you accomplish in life, and it’s time to give it the rest it needs so you can keep kicking ass.
It’s real easy to brush off the topics of sleep and stress. Or to “deal with that stuff later”. You can have the diet and exercise all dialed in, but if your sleep is off and your stress levels are through the roof, you’ll make very limited changes to your physique and even worse, dig yourself a hole health-wise.