When people try to get fit, the main factors they pay attention to are diet and exercise. Believe it or not, diet and exercise are just a part of the factors that determine whether or not we achieve our goals. One of the most underestimated factors in the health and fitness equation is sleep.Today I’d like to focus on what you should and should not do, if you’ve gone for several days – or even just one day – without getting enough sleep.
What should you do and what should you avoid, when you are not sleeping enough?
1.What should your breakfast choices be, if you aren’t getting enough sleep?
Come to think of it, we are not the same people throughout the day – at least not on the biological level. If you follow my posts you are already familiar with circadian rhythms and the 24-hour cycle that determines which hormones are secreted at different times of the day, as well as which factors set this biological clock. To make a long story short, our body temperature is lower at night, but in the morning our cortisol (our stress hormone) levels rise so we can wake up and move out of our sleeping state. On the other hand, during the second half of the day cortisol levels have to be lower and our body temperature peaks.
If you haven’t read my post about heating and cooling foods, do it now and then keep reading here. You know how, by choosing heating and cooling foods depending on which part of the day it is, you can maintain your metabolism and the balance in your body (remember extracellular fluid?).
What happens, when we aren’t getting enough sleep?
When we aren’t getting enough sleep, our extracellular fluid is unbalanced and you will also notice that you feel colder during the first half of the day, perhaps your extremities are colder, which indicates that your nervous system is overloaded. When your body gives you these signals, it means it needs more salt and carbohydrates.
What do many people do? They either have no breakfast at all and only have a cup of coffee with a lot of milk (usually low-fat), or they, especially women, have a jar of yogurt or just fruit. All of these fall within the cooling foods category, which means that you give your body exactly the opposite of what it needs and you reduce the concentration of your extracellular fluid even further.
Usually, this strategy makes you lose control of what you eat later in the day and especially in the afternoon and evening, and overconsume foods that contain carbohydrates and fat. But usually, when you get to that point, you choose the foods you least of all want to eat – chocolate, cake, a muffin, a sandwich, pizza.
That is why, if you had a sleepless night, the best thing you can do is, first of all, to have breakfast and second of all, to prepare one that contains a healthy source of carbohydrates and fat or even a sweet and savory combination. This helps the body balance this extracellular fluid, lower cortisol levels and raise your body temperature. I guarantee you that this strategy will decrease your carbohydrate cravings during the second half of the day, it will help you feel more energetic and, naturally, you will make mindful choices about food.
Here are two breakfast suggestions:
The most filling oatmeal recipe
For example, one of my favorite breakfasts of this kind is the following (adjust the amounts according to your sex and physical activity level):
50 grams oatmeal
1 tsp honey
6 walnut halves
2 marinated dried tomatoes
2 tbsp cheese curds (can be replaced with feta cheese)
You can also add a pinch of parmesan.
It may sound strange, but anyone who ever tried it falls in love with the taste and fullness they experience.
2.How can you change the type and amount of exercise you do?
One of the main mistakes we make in our diet and exercise plan is that we turn it into something static, i.e. the workout must always happen at the exact same time and on the exact same day and we must always eat the exact same amount of food. Actually this is not true and even though having a structured routine is a good thing, it is important for us to be flexible, especially when our body signals us that it need us to be.
One of the worst things you can do, when you’ve had a long, sleepless night (or several), is to go to the gym and have an exhausting workout. This is usually followed by one of the evenings, when you would say: “I am an emotional eater.” In fact, this is not emotional eating, but once again it is due to the fact that you are giving your body the opposite of what it needs.
Lack of sleep leads to fatigue and to nervous system overload. Heavy exercise further increases stress in the body and adds to your fatigue. The body actually needs energy, but we take away more of the energy it has. This way the body loses energy, but its main goal is to survive – consequently the fastest way to get this energy is through food. That is why we lose control of our diet, but this is very easy to avoid – by skipping this workout.
And I am not telling you to sit around all day. I am a supporter of physical activity as a source of energy, but physical activity has various levels of intensity. From experience I can say that on days like these, instead of a high-intensity workout, you could do yoga. I love yoga, because depending on how you feel, the practice can be quite demanding, but it can also be considerably less intense and relaxing. This way, firstly, you will get some exercise, secondly, you will spend time with yourself and it will be a kind of meditation, and thirdly, the worst thing that could happen is you will feel better without stealing energy from your body.
So if you didn’t get enough sleep, be active, but choose a form of activity that will calm your body and your mind and won’t put even more stress on them.
3.What more can you do to feel better despite the lack of sleep?
Another frequently underestimated factor is light.By now you are probably sick and tired of reading how important light is and that it is one of the main factors that help set our biological clock.. But this is very important and very true! Light is one of the main sources of information for the body as to what part of the day it is and what the body needs to prepare for. When we aren’t getting enough sleep, this sends the wrong signals to our biological clock, because all the restorative processes which happen during sleep in the body cannot happen.
That is why we need to help our body set its biological clock and that happens when we spend enough time outside. Sunlight varies during the different parts of the day. Light frequency is a signal and information to the body. So if we aren’t getting enough sleep, we should spend some time outside, in the sunshine, while it is still morning and also spend some more time outside around noon and in the afternoon. This way we will keep reminding the body throughout the day what time of day it is. The other important thing is going to bed earlier and not spending too much time in artificial light which will worsen our inability to sleep even more.
And last, but not least, if your lack of sleep is due to the fact that you stay up late, doing something “important”, don’t forget that fatigue is an enemy of productivity and that sometimes it is better to go to bed earlier and get up earlier than to stay up late.
If you liked this post and found it helpful, feel free to share it with your friends. It might be the different point of view they need. Thank you!