Sleep! Are you getting enough?


Not Getting Enough High-Quality Sleep can Lower Metabolism!

I thought it might be timely to write about sleep in the wake of daylight savings throwing some of our bodies into turmoil. Anyone that knows me well knows that I am an extremely early riser that loves early training sessions, however I still struggle with the transition to daylight savings and adjusting the body clock.

Sleep is important for many reasons which include good health and longevity. Not enough sleep can increase our risk factors for many diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and depression.


Did you know that not enough sleep my cause your metabolic rate to slow down and increase the likelihood of you gaining weight?

When we sleep, the body secretes important hormones that regulate energy and control metabolic and endocrine functions.

Sleep deprivation dampens the production of thyroid-stimulating hormones and increases blood levels of cortisol, a hormone that contributes to wakefulness. Growth hormone is also secreted during sleep, which contributes to childhood growth and helps regulate muscle mass in adults.

This means that without sleep the body cannot produce the basic hormonal functions required for the body to operate properly.

Sleep and Metabolism

We are sleeping less than ever before, and it is affecting our health. The average night’s sleep decreased from about nine hours in 1910 to about 7.5 hours in 1975, and in the modern era millions of shift workers average less than five hours of sleep per working day.

Research has shown that this global sleep deprivation trend is having an impact on the obesity and diabetes epidemics.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, about 65 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. Of course, caloric intake is a major factor in rising obesity, but science has proven a link between lack of sleep and weight gain.

One interesting study shows that lack of sleep imbalances leptin and ghrelin, two hormones responsible for the control of feeling hunger and fullness. Ghrelin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract and stimulates appetite; leptin on the other hand signals to the brain when a person is full.

Lack of sleep causes these two hormones to become imbalanced and operate ineffectively. When a person is sleep-deprived, leptin levels drop and ghrelin levels rise; subsequently appetite increases, leaving a person feeling hungry after they have eaten and causing them to crave further calories.

A study conducted on healthy adults sleeping only 4 hours per night for 5 nights showed an average decrease in metabolic rate of 2.6%. Interestingly after a 12 hour sleep their metabolic rates returned to normal.

Sleeping during the day rather than the night may also play havoc with circadian rhythms leaving people such as shift workers at high risk of metabolic issues. A study conducted on subjects whose sleep and circadian rhythms were disrupted found an 8% decrease in metabolic rate. These subjects also showed higher blood glucose levels after a meal as a result of inadequate insulin secretion. Thus, in humans, prolonged sleep restriction with concurrent circadian disruption alters metabolism and could increase the risk of obesity and diabetes.

Sleep is an activity that is as essential to good health as exercise and a good diet. Sleep deprivation is dangerous, and must be addressed quickly to ensure the mind and body function healthily.

If you are suffering from insomnia or have recently been struggling to sleep, it is important that you address the underlying issues quickly, rather than using pills or other sleep aids to mask the real problems.

Practical Tips to help you Improve your Sleep

(These tips are taken from the Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School)

#1 Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, and Other Chemicals that Interfere with Sleep.

Limit alcohol consumption to a maximum of 1-2 drinks (or none at all) and avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.

#2 Turn Your Bedroom into a Sleep-Inducing Environment. A quiet, dark, and cool environment can help promote sound slumber.

#3 Establish a Soothing Pre-Sleep Routine. Ease the transition from wake time to sleep time with a period of relaxing activities an hour or so before bed. Take a bath read a book or practice relaxation exercises. Avoid stressful, stimulating activities—doing work, discussing emotional issues. Physically and psychologically stressful activities can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with increasing alertness. If you tend to take your problems to bed, try writing them down—and then putting them aside.

#4 Go to Sleep When You’re Truly Tired. Struggling to fall sleep just leads to frustration. If you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed, go to another room, and do something relaxing, like reading or listening to music until you are tired enough to sleep.

#5 Don’t Be a Nighttime Clock-Watcher. Staring at a clock in your bedroom, either when you are trying to fall asleep or when you wake in the middle of the night, can actually increase stress, making it harder to fall asleep. Turn your clock’s face away from you.

#6 Use Light to Your Advantage. Natural light keeps your internal clock on a healthy sleep-wake cycle. So let in the light first thing in the morning and get out for a sun break during the day.

#7 Keep Your Internal Clock Set with a Consistent Sleep Schedule. Having a regular sleep schedule helps to ensure better quality and consistent sleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body’s "internal clock" to expect sleep at a certain time night after night. Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine on weekends to avoid a Monday morning sleep hangover.

#8 Nap Early—Or Not at All. Many people make naps a regular part of their day. However, for those who find falling asleep or staying asleep through the night problematic, afternoon napping may be one of the culprits. This is because late-day naps decrease sleep drive. If you must nap, it’s better to keep it short and before 5 p.m.

#9 Lighten Up on Evening Meals. Eating a pizza at 10 p.m. may be a recipe for insomnia. Finish dinner several hours before bedtime and avoid foods that cause indigestion. If you get hungry at night, snack on foods that (in your experience) won't disturb your sleep, perhaps dairy foods and carbohydrates.

#10 Balance Fluid Intake. Drink enough fluid at night to keep from waking up thirsty—but not so much and so close to bedtime that you will be awakened by the need for a trip to the bathroom.

#11 Exercise Early. Exercise helps promote restful sleep if it is done several hours before you go to bed. Exercise can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly—as long as it's done at the right time. Exercise stimulates the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which helps activate the alerting mechanism in the brain. This is fine, unless you're trying to fall asleep. Try to finish exercising at least three hours before bed or work out earlier in the day.

#12 Follow Through. Some of these tips will be easier to include in your daily and nightly routine than others. However, if you stick with them, your chances of achieving restful sleep will improve.

However if you are having sleep issues and find that you fall asleep quickly but then wake up and can’t get back to sleep or if you have trouble falling asleep then I can help you to restore your normal circadian rhythm without the use of sleeping tablets.


I have decided to add a section in my weekly blog which focuses on inspirational people that I am fortunate enough to know. They all have something very special in common – they inspire so many other people who are lucky enough to get to know them. These people radiate health, energy and a spark for living. So I decided to put together a list of questions to find out a few of their secrets.3

This week’s inspirational person – Michelle Cooke     

I have known Shelley for 15 years and her energy for everything in life is astounding. Shelley epitomises health. Shelley is a senior environmental scientist working long hours in a high pressure position yet always finds time for her own health, fitness and friendships. This year Shelley completed her first marathon and Olympic distance triathlon with incredible results. Shelley recently returned from cycling with Bubba’s Bike Lab on their European tour. Since knowing Shelley she has maintained her weight and now at 40 looks like she’s only 25. I asked Shelley what her secrets are….

How do you maintain your current weight?

I have strong preferences for healthy, fresh food and an innate desire to exercise regularly. I am really motivated to be active which also makes me feel like eating healthier food, and try to keep a balance between activity levels and food intake.

Do you use a food diary, journal, count calories or use an app to track your daily diet/exercise?

I have never really kept a diary or counted calories on a regular basis. I used MyFitness Pal for a period of a couple of weeks years ago, as I was interested in approximate energy values of the food I was eating and how this compared to my activity levels. Once I knew how many calories were in my favourite foods I stopped using the App, and used the knowledge as a general guide for making my choices about what to eat and when. I have long held an interest in nutrition, and have good understanding about healthy eating principles. I tend to listen to my body about what to eat rather than being really prescriptive about exact foods and quantities as I think it messes with your head and takes up too much mental energy stressing about what you are ‘supposed’ to do.

By applying principles of healthy eating and having the quantities right for your body and level of activity, life is a lot more simple!



Do you follow a particular diet plan or set of principles? Such as Paleo, low carb high fat, no processed, whole foods, vegan etc.

I have followed a vegetarian diet for around 20 years and this has really shaped my lifestyle, general energy levels and feelings of well being. I incorporate a high variety of whole foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy, legumes, nuts and grains. I don’t believe fad diets are effective and am a big advocate for the good old- fashioned nutrition principles based on science, and common sense. Over the last few years I have become more aware of how easy it is to make my own snacks like protein balls, energy bars for cycling, salad dressings and dips rather than store bought items. With no hidden additives and pretty natural ingredients, they taste better and are much more healthy!

If you over indulge how do you get back on track?

I am a believer in moderation and the 80/20 rule, and I am pretty relaxed about having treats every now and again and when I do I really enjoy it. I read once in the book ‘French Women Don’t Get Fat’ that they indulge at times, but then compensate for any indulgence by eating less in the next day or two. This is a fabulous approach and one I tend to follow.

Eating smaller portions and going for a run later also helps both psychologically and physically!


How do you include "treats" in your diet?

I will often have my homemade protein balls which contain dates and cacao, and a handful of nuts for morning tea, and 2 - 3 pieces of dark chocolate in the afternoon. These are my regular treats, along with a nice strong morning coffee. I find these are a nice little pickup between meals and taste really good, without being too processed or calorie laden.

Another approach I have is that if I really feel like a traditional treat like cake or dessert, I own it and really enjoy it - attitude is everything!

What is the most important thing for you about staying healthy?

How I feel on a day to day basis is really important to me. Drinking plenty of water, eating well and exercising gives me clarity of mind, sense of calm, lots of energy, and makes me happy. Staying healthy and fit provides opportunities to stay active, experience beautiful places, run, and have incredible active holidays like cycling in Europe. I have met some of my favourite and closest friends by living a healthy lifestyle, which I find brings people together who have a common life philosophy. I am able to share things like creating and eating good food, going to markets, travel and running and cycling events. Sometimes all of those things combined, which makes my life feel rich and rewarding.



Do you use any non-diet strategies for maintenance of a healthy weight, if so what do you do?

I keep active most days with running and cycling, even though I have an office-based job I will train most mornings before work and often stretch at home when relaxing at night. So even if I don’t get the recommended 10000 steps of incidental activity done during the day, I know I have been active early on. I couldn’t get through the week without exercise and because I love food I would probably struggle in the weight department!

If you exercise are there any particular strategies that you have found work best for your body?

I love exercise and the only problem is there are not enough mornings in the week to enjoy it all! Running and cycling are my regular activities, and depending on what I am training for I will do a combination of both of those things 5 - 6 days/week. When possible I also do yoga and stretching. Depending on my goals I usually have a training program which periodises the training and sets out whether I do hills, intervals, or an endurance session. A varied program really helps my fitness and keeps it interesting and my motivation levels high, so I also include trail running and occasionally even throw in a triathlon to keep things challenging but most of all fun! Setting goals, training with friends and making a little holiday out of an event is also central to staying motivated, fit, and in a healthy weight range. 

Shelley follows a coaching plan by Bubba’s Bike Lab 
to keep her on track toward her goals.

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