Sleep Deprivation Is Making Us Fat. Why This Statement Ruffles My Feathers!

Dutch traditional oliebollen and clockThe more research I do on some of the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation, particularly in the area of shift work health, the topic of weight gain keeps popping up over and over again.

However every time I read this statement – “sleep deprivation is making us fat” or something similar, it actually ruffles my feathers!

Of course for those of you who know me, I’m actually a fairly placid and unflappable kind of person so it takes a fair bit to ruffle my feathers.  However when it comes to understanding what’s making us sick and overweight, I don’t believe it’s the sleep deprivation.

If anything, its the chronic fatigue and tiredness which goes hand in hand with sleep deprivation which ultimately affects our choices, our behaviour, our judgment and ultimately our decisions.

In his book, Lights Out, T.S. Wiley mentions how ” obesity … heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are caused by short nights, by working ridiculously long hours, by literally, burning the candle at both ends, and by the electricity that gives us the ability to do it.”

Whilst there are elements to this statement which I agree with (particularly as there’s strong research linking stress with obesity) I’m not entirely convinced it’s all about sleep deprivation.  Quite simply, it doesn’t mean it’s the cause of the weight gain.

Sure, there are certainly different hormones at play (serotonin, dopamine, tryptophan, melatonin, ghrelin, leptin – to name a few), along with other metabolic changes, but there doesn’t appear to be enough research on the behaviour.

By behaviour I’m referring to – why we do what we do (or not do) when we’re sleep deprived.

Because let’s face it, whenever we’re feeling tired, exhausted and overwhelming fatigued (AKA a shift worker) we’re more than likely going to eat highly refined and processed foods, pre-packaged foods, take-away foods, and foods which contain large amounts of sugars and preservatives.

And this is what causes us to gain weight.

Not the lack of sleep, but instead the poor food choices and behaviours that coincide with chronic sleep deprivation.

So please don’t throw in the towel and think as a shift worker you’re resigned to a life of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other chronic health conditions.  I’ve spent 18 years working shift work and I’ve managed to avoid all of these so called “chronic health conditions associated with working 24/7”, although it hasn’t been an easy journey that’s for sure.

It’s about learning to accept that a certain amount of fatigue is always going to be a part of your life for as long as you continue to work 24/7, (sorry, there’s definitely no Magic Pill that’s going to turn you into an Energizer Bunny any time soon!), and recognising those times when you’re feeling overwhelmingly tired and fatigued.

This will help you to make better informed choices and decisions, which will lead to healthier behaviours.

So the next time you reach for a can of coke, McBurger or a cheese-cake, ask yourself this question:

“Is this really what my body needs?  Or am I choosing to eat this because I’m bored and/or too tired to cook?”

At the end of the day, our bodies are all very unique and come in all different shapes and sizes.  However when it comes to weight gain and obesity, in most cases it’s not the sleep-deprivation that’s making us fat, but rather our behaviour as a result of being so fatigued that’s having the biggest influence of all.

Sleep Deprivation: Why Getting 5 Hours or Less Sleep A Night Is Just Like Being Drunk!

As shift workers we’ve heard it all before – in order to feel healthier and have more energy, we must get more sleep.

But when you work crazy and irregular hours like we do, it’s certainly not an easy thing to do.

However in my quest to help you to become a much healthier and happier shift worker – I want to make sure that you fully understand just how important sleep is.

You see according to research, most adults need between 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.

But what exactly does “need” mean?

Consider this:

If you’ve been awake for 17 hours straight, then your performance is equivalent to that of someone who has a blood alcohol-level of 0.05%?

Now that’s the legal blood alcohol limit for driving in many countries around the world!

So, getting 5 hours or less sleep a night (as many of us do far too often) – is just like being drunk.

Need more proof on how sleep can save your life?

Studies in Canada revealed that when clocks were put back at the start of daylight savings – there was a dramatic fall in the number of road accidents.

Pretty scary isn’t it?

So whatever you do – don’t make your sleep deprivation worse by running on little sleep day after day, week after week, year after year.

Stop and take stock of your sleeping habits right now.

Allowing your bodies to get at least 7 hours a sleep a night on a consistant basis is a BIG ask for anybody – and especially so if you’re a shift worker.

But even if can just manage to do it a couple of times a week – then it’s certainly better than not being able to do it at all.

Having Problems Sleeping? How An Open Window And Cotton Pyjamas Can Add Hours To Your Sleep!

If you’re having problems sleeping then welcome to the wonderful wide world of shift work! Thanks to the crazy and irregular hours that we work, getting a good night’s sleep can certainly be one of hardest things to achieve. And we all know that sleep deprivation is certainly not good for our long term health.

So are you one of these poor souls that spend countless hours tossing and turning in your bed trying to get off to sleep? Do you unwillingly stare at the ceiling as you try and nod off into the Land of Zeds? Or perhaps you just glare at your ‘smiling’ alarm clock as it sits innocently on your bedside table, ready to let out that piercing ‘da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da!’ – at a far earlier time than any human being should have to endure might I add!

Well if any of these scenarios are sounding familiar to you, then I might just have the solution for you.

Have you ever thought that your pyjamas might be one of the reasons why you’re not sleeping properly? Or that your bedroom might be to blame because it’s just so incredibly stuffy and suffocating in there, that even a highly trained NASA astronaut would struggle to breathe in such an oxygen depleted environment?

Confused? Well let me explain.

Firstly, let’s discuss what you’re wearing (or not wearing), to bed at night. Because for most of us, when we buy clothes to wear we try our darndest to ensure that we look good and that they’re comfortable to wear. Fairly common sense you would agree? So why is it then, that so many shift workers neglect their wardrobes when it comes to sleeping attire?

Now I’m not talking about wearing the most expensive, highly fashionable sleepwear that you can buy. After all, most people aren’t even going to see you or even care about what you look like in bed. OK well somebody might, but just like so many women around the world go out and buy expensive shoes to wear- comfort does not always come first.

But if you’re serious about wanting to get a good night’s sleep, then you’re going to have to change your thinking – and therefore your shopping behaviour.

You see, ideally your bedclothes should be made of cotton so that your body can essentially ‘breathe’. If you’re wearing synthetic fabrics to bed, then don’t expect to get a good night’s sleep because it can raise your body temperature and cause you to wake up.

So throw away the fancy pyjamas (or just keep them for special occasions) – and go and buy some more ‘practical’ pyjamas that are made of natural fibres.

Now the next thing that I wanted to talk about was your window. And I’m certainly hoping that you have at least one in your bedroom, and one that you can safely keep open during the night because I cannot over-emphasise the value of fresh air on your health and your sleep.

This is particularly important if you suffer from insomnia (blimey, shift work AND insomnia – you must be a walking zombie). But as insomniacs tend to breathe very shallowly when they sleep, they tend to rebreathe their own stale air. Now that is definitely not good for your health.

The circulation of fresh air throughout the bedroom at night is one of the best ways of ensuring a restful night’s sleep. Some people actually find the presence of an air ioniser in the room can also help improve the quality of their sleep, so it could be worth considering if you do suffer from insomnia quite badly.

And finally, it’s important to realise that over-sleeping can be just as bad as under-sleeping (yes I know I’m talking to shift workers here), but if you over-sleep in an airtight room without any fresh air, then you can wake up feeling like you have a hangover the next day. And I don’t know about you, but waking up suffering from a hangover when you haven’t had a single drop of alcohol the night before can certainly be very soul destroying!