There are a couple oft-cited “epidemics” in America, one being obesity, and the other inadequate sleep. Unfortunately, it’s not just attention-grabbing headlines: according to studies, over one third of Americans are obese, and one third don’t get enough sleep.
The closeness of these two figures may be more than coincidence. A growing body of research shows a strong association between sleep deprivation and weight gain. In a meta-analysis that encompassed 634,511 subjects, both male and female, ranging in age from 2 to 102, researchers found a consistent increased risk of obesity among those who don’t sleep enough.
So what role does sleep loss play in weight gain—and, on the flip side, can quality sleep help with weight loss?
Before a bunch of unhealthy food can cause weight gain, you first have to make the decision to eat that unhealthy food. And there’s a great deal of evidence that sleep plays a major role in deciding whether or not you indulge.
Sleep deprivation dulls activity in the brain’s frontal lobe, which is the region responsible for decision making and impulse control. So when a coworker offers you a donut, you take it, rather than eating the yogurt you so dutifully packed.
What’s more, being overly tired actually makes your brain more interested in junk than you’d normally be. This is because sleep deprivation lights up your brain’s reward center, leading you to seek “pleasurable, rewarding experiences”… such as the nefarious donut mentioned earlier.
In one study from Berkeley, participants rated the desirability of certain foods both when they were well-rested and then again after sleep deprivation. In the state of sleep debt, the amygdala portion of the brain (which is involved in emotions, pleasure and appetite, and an important part of the brain’s reward system) was highly activated. Participants consistently rated unhealthy, high-calorie foods as more desirable than they had when they were well-rested.
The research bears out in real life, too. Sleep-deprived Japanese factory workers are more likely to snack between meals, eat out, and not eat vegetables; Americans who don’t sleep enough consume more sugar and have less variety in their diet; in Germany, inadequate sleep is associated with increased fast food consumption.
And to top it all off, sleep-deprived people also eat bigger portions. Bottom line: sleep helps you resist temptation and make smarter food choices.
Fatigue and fullness
So say you’re sleep-deprived and you splurge on two (okay, three) slices of pizza at lunch. At least you’ll be full for a while and not eat anymore waistline-expanding goodies, right?
Well, maybe not.
Short sleep disrupts the balance of your hormones, including leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is often referred to as the “satiety hormone,” causing you to feel full and suppressing appetite, while ghrelin triggers hunger and plays a large role in initiating eating.
When you’re not well-rested, your leptin levels plummet and your ghrelin levels rise; one study found that subjects who slept for 5 hours had 15.5% lower leptin than those who slept a full 8 hours, and 14.9% higher ghrelin. This means that you’ll not only be eating less healthy, more caloric food—you’ll also feel hungrier and seek food more frequently.
Sleepless and stress-full
Among the many benefits of proper sleep is that it can reduce stress, which, in turn, can help reduce your weight. How? It comes back to another hormone—this time, cortisol.
Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress, and its levels are closely tied to our natural sleep/wake cycles. So when those cycles get disrupted, so do those levels, causing a spike in cortisol in the bloodstream.
This spike doesn’t just make you feel stressed out. Cortisol causes fat to be stored around the organs (especially visceral organs, which translates to belly fat), and also causes fat cells to become larger. Studies have shown that elevated cortisol can cause increased belly fat even in otherwise slender individuals.
You know how not sleeping well makes you feel groggy and lethargic? Well, turns out your metabolism feels pretty much the same way.
When you’re well-rested, your metabolism is a well-oiled machine, efficiently processing the calories that you consume. On the flip side, when you’re in a state of sleep deprivation, your groggy metabolism can’t keep up with your food intake. What causes this breakdown? It all comes down to insulin.
See, insulin plays an important role in helping our body convert sugar into energy for our cells. When our body can’t properly use insulin (insulin resistance) that sugar remains in our bloodstream and eventually is converted into fat. This is the case for those who have diabetes—and, research shows, for those who aren’t getting enough sleep.
One study showed that after just four nights of short sleep, subjects’ ability to respond to insulin decreased by 16%—a difference comparable to that between the cells of obese vs. lean people—and the insulin sensitivity of their fat cells dropped by 30%. The latter is particularly important because fat cells play a crucial role in storing and releasing energy. Meanwhile, insulin resistance in the brain means that insulin can’t do its job of reducing hunger cues.
One report put it in stark terms: “Chronic sleep loss can reduce the capacity of even young adults to perform basic metabolic functions, such as processing and storing carbohydrates or regulating hormone secretion.”
As if your metabolism wasn’t getting a big enough blow from the insulin resistance, there’s this: sleep deprivation reduces the production of thyroid-stimulating-hormone, which is an essential player in proper metabolism. Ouch.
Too sleepy to sweat
Anyone who has tried to slim down or get into better shape knows the importance of regular exercise, as well as how tough it can be to get into a workout routine. To the surprise of exactly nobody, not getting enough sleep makes it much more difficult to achieve this.
It’s intuitive—when you’re tired, you don’t want to go exert a bunch of energy. And studies show that subjects with sleep problems report a significant reduction in their levels of physical activity. What’s more, the increased ghrelin and decreased leptin levels associated with sleep loss mean an overall reduction in energy expenditure.
And if you do drag your tired butt to the gym, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle to keep yourself there for a full workout. Sleep deprivation increases your perceived exertion and increases the likelihood that you’ll cut your sweat session short.
Sweet dreams for good genes
Your lifestyle is a huge factor in determining your weight, but the fact is that genetics also play a role. This can be super discouraging to those who are working hard to eat right and work out but still can’t lose the weight because of a genetic predisposition to a higher BMI.
However, research shows that adequate sleep can reduce the influence your genetics have on your weight. In a study of identical twins that looked at BMI, genetics, and lifestyle factors including diet, exercise, and sleep habits, they found that the BMI variations in those who slept adequately were less dependent on genetics. However, those who slept less saw 70% of their BMI variations come from hereditary factors.
The final word
From the food you choose to eat, to how your body processes that food, to your workouts, to the relative impact of all of these components, sleep influences every aspect of your weight. Diet and exercise may get more press, but science has made it increasingly clear that sleep is the essential third pillar of fitness.
So if losing weight, getting fit, or just maintaining a healthy BMI is one of your resolutions, getting enough shut-eye needs to be as well.
Interested in the latest ways a good bed can help you sleep? Read more here.
Who doesn’t love a good night’s sleep, let alone an entire month celebrating it? That's why we're publishing a month's worth of tips to help you sleep better with only minor changes to your daily life. Here's to Better Sleep Month, and to sleeping your best year-round. You deserve it.
Better Sleep Month Tips
Sleep Tip #1:
When sleeping on your back or side, a medium height and slightly firm pillow works best to support your neck and head. On your stomach, a soft, flat pillow is best. Quality pillows are designed to keep your spine aligned while you sleep, which can mean more comfort and more sleep.
Sleep Tip #2:
By mid-afternoon, you feel the crash coming, and you reach for another cup of coffee. Caffeine is a proven stimulant, and that afternoon pick-me-up may be keeping you up longer than you’d like. Limiting your caffeine intake to before 2 pm gives your body time to calm down before bedtime.
Sleep Tip #3:
Falling asleep with the TV on or using your phone while in bed don’t seem like a big deal, right? Wrong, actually. The blue light from electronics suppresses your body’s natural production of melatonin. By cutting off all electronics 30-60 minutes before bedtime, your body naturally knows it's bedtime.
Sleep Tip #4:
Set a bedtime routine. Repeating it every night will put your body on a consistent schedule, making it easier to get up and go to sleep.
Sleep Tip #5:
Outside light can shine into your bedroom, preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep. Too much light makes your body think it’s time to wake up by interfering with your circadian rhythms. Investing in blinds or curtains that are designed to block out those lights puts you in charge of your sleep schedule again.
Sleep Tip #6:
Our body temperatures naturally decrease at night and produce melatonin, telling us it’s time to sleep. Keeping the bedroom cool helps that process happen faster, which can help you fall asleep faster. Recommended temperature is between 60° and 68°F.
Sleep Tip #7:
Working out during the day gives you the boost of energy to make it through the rest of your day. Doing so in the evening helps tire you out, so long as you complete your workout a couple of hours before turning in. By bedtime, your body is ready for rest. Working out a few times a week may even negate the need for an afternoon nap. But, hey, if you want to take a short nap, obviously, we approve.
Sleep Tip #8:
A small snack before bed isn’t a bad thing if you choose the right one. Greasy foods make you sluggish in the morning. Sugary foods, particularly processed ones, raise your blood sugar and energy levels. Foods like cherries, tomatoes, walnuts, olives, barley, strawberries, and milk contain melatonin, which can help you fall asleep.
Sleep Tip #9:
Your bedroom should be a sanctuary, a place for you to relax and reconnect with your partner. Having distractions in your bedroom (cute as they may be), makes it less peaceful because your focus is not on resting anymore. Cuddling and storytime are great. Working, gaming, jumping on the bed, dog tricks ... not so much. Give yourself the space to retreat, unwind and rest.
Sleep Tip #10:
That middle-of-the- night wakeup call that cannot be ignored, getting you out of your warm bed and then making it hard to fall back asleep. Just like kids are limited on consuming beverages close to bedtime, you should do the same. Uninterrupted sleep is the goal year-round, not just during Better Sleep Month.
Sleep Tip #11:
A hot bath or shower is a good feeling after a long day’s work. The hot water helps relax your muscles and puts your mind in bedtime mode. Doing so about two hours before bed gives your body temperature time to cool down. Adding some aromatherapy can enhance your relaxation.
Sleep Tip #12:
The walls make the room. Bright colors may look nice and energizing, but they don't create the best ambience for sleeping. Your bedroom should be inviting and peaceful. Painting in neutral, calming colors can promote sleep.
Sleep Tip #13:
Sleeping with your socks on may not sound alluring, but it could help you fall asleep faster. Warming your limbs increases dilation of the blood vessels, telling your body it's time for bed. Wearing socks that aren't too thick and are made from natural fabrics works best.
Sleep Tip #14:
Chamomile has many health benefits, but the most common is for sleep. It is a relaxing, non-caffeinated herb. Drinking a small cup of chamomile tea before bed can help ease pain and get your body ready to sleep.
Sleep Tip #15:
That cocktail or glass of wine before bed may help you get to sleep, but it may also be the reason you can't sleep through the night. Alcohol can disrupt your REM cycles. Avoid drinking any alcohol 3-4 hours before bed and drink more water instead. Don't drink any beverages right before bed, though, as noted in Sleep Tip #10 above.
Sleep Tip #16:
Aromatherapy uses the healing powers of scents to balance your mind, body and spirit. Pure essential oils are diffused into the air or rubbed on pressure points to help you relax, relieve stress, and promote better sleep. Some popular scents with calming effects include lavender, chamomile, ylang-ylang, and jasmine.
Sleep Tip #17:
In with peace. Out with drama. Meditation sounds easy enough, right? Thinking about tomorrow’s to-do list or worrying about a problem can keep you awake night after night. Being able to completely clear your mind can help you sleep better. Find a quiet place where you can spend time meditating before you go to bed.
Sleep Tip #18:
Smoking has quite a few health risks, and your sleep is one of them. Because nicotine is a stimulant, smoking throughout the day keeps nicotine in your system, making it harder to wind down and stay asleep through the night. The only good news on this subject? From the moment you stop smoking, your body goes into healing mode.
Sleep Tip #19:
Living in a city can be nice and convenient. And loud. Or maybe you have an air conditioner blasting outside your window or a snoring spouse. Noise interferes with sleep. Listening to the sounds of nature can be relaxing and helps to block outside noise without disturbing your sleep. You can also try soft music or white noise.
Sleep Tip #20:
“Five more minutes,” she says as she hits the snooze button. Those five extra minutes can be doing more harm than help. If you fall back asleep, when the alarm goes off in five minutes, you will be groggier than you were before. And if you set it repeatedly, you're robbing yourself of extra sleep for those minutes. Set one alarm and get into the habit of getting up as soon as it goes off.
Sleep Tip #21:
Scary, suspenseful or emotional movies or books should be avoided at bedtime. Leave the thrillers and murder mysteries for earlier in the day or a weekend afternoon. Not to mention, lighted screens are bad for sleep, as noted in Tip #3. Instead, find a book that is a lighter read (or a book you’ve already read), so it's a little easier to put down at bedtime.
Sleep Tip #22:
Naps. Just the word brings joy. But most of us struggle with knowing how long is too long. If the nap is too short, you wake more tired than before. If it's too long, you may be too awake for bedtime. 30 is the magic number. A 30-minute nap can help you feel refreshed and get you through the rest of your day.
Sleep Tip #23:
The arrangement of furniture and objects in your bedroom can affect your quality of sleep as well as your energy when you wake. Following the principles of feng shui can help you relax and also change your perception of your bedroom into one of a peaceful retreat.
Sleep Tip #24:
As you sleep, your body works to regulate your body temperature. All- natural sheets allow better circulation. Organic sheets are also all-natural but made to higher, healthier standards. There are many fakers trying to imply they're organic, so look for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) seal. Sheets made with synthetic fabrics tend to trap heat and sweat, which can breed bacteria and lead to sleeping hot.
Sleep Tip #25:
Wearing a sleep tracker to bed can tell you how many times you tossed and turned, plus how long you were awake throughout the night. Tracking your sleep is easy, with many trackers on the market to choose from, and can help you make the necessary changes to get a full night’s sleep.
Sleep Tip #26:
Acupressure is similar to acupuncture but less invasive. It involves applying pressure on the body or massaging certain points to help with various ailments. Practitioners believe it balances energy and health, helps with circulation, and relieves pain. Using essential oils during acupressure can enhance its effects and the experience, too.
Sleep Tip #27:
It's not fair when your partner is fast asleep and you're wide awake because of his or her snoring. We have a solution that is better than kicking them out of the bedroom. Sleeping at an angle of 7°-8° or higher helps with snoring. Elevate with pillows or an adjustable power base. This position is also good if you have acid reflux.
Sleep Tip #28:
Going to bed with tomorrow’s to-do list and other things that are stressing you out can keep you up at night. Writing things down can help you let them go or remember what needs to get done tomorrow. Keep a journal near your bed so you can write everything off your mind and sleep peacefully.
Sleep Tip #29:
There are many natural remedies that are thought to improve sleep, though more study is needed to conclusively prove cause and effect. Other than chamomile, herbs that may help you get some shuteye include valerian root, lavender, lemon balm, hops, passion flower and St. John's Wort.
Sleep Tip #30:
A messy bedroom is the last thing you see at night and the first thing you see in the morning. Cleaning your bedroom can be therapeutic. Having a space that is clear of clutter helps you avoid the stress caused by visual overload, helps you to feel like your room is under control and puts your mind at ease.
Sleep Tip #31:
Better Sleep Month has been all about giving you a month's worth of useful tips to help you sleep better. Sometimes, though, poor sleep can be the result of an underlying medical condition. Speaking with your doctor can help diagnose the problem. The sooner you find out what is wrong, the sooner you can be on your way to getting the great sleep you deserve.
Both as a neurobiologist and human, I love REM sleep.
REM sleep is a special stage of sleep. When we are asleep, our bodies and brains cycle through different kinds of sleep every couple hours. At the beginning, the cycles contain more deep sleep and slow wave sleep, both of which help reset the body and mind. Healing happens best in deep sleep, and both get the brain to calm down, clear itself, and make room for new memories and experiences the next day. These stages can be very refreshing, especially after a hard day’s work, but they’re not what I’d call fun.
In REM, the many different brain bits rehearse whatever they thought was the most salient part of the day, and nothing says all the bits have to agree. For example, when I enter REM, one part might focus on a moment I stumbled, another part might go over an experiment I need to plan, and yet another could be thinking about the tasty lunch place I found. I won’t be aware of what each region is doing, but the part of my brain that stitches together all my senses during my waking hours is still trying to make a coherent reality. And the awareness that arises from that mishmash has given rise to religions and prophecies, and less grandly for myself, nightly entertainment. This is the non-reality in dreams; mine are vivid.
The dreams of a neurobiologist. Much like anybody else's.
I know, as a sleep scientist, that everybody experiences sleep differently. I do not know how universal my experience is, but I share it here in the hopes that it might inspire those who are not yet REM enthusiasts. I experience all of my senses, and get a robust emotional ride. I have experienced terror and exuberance and even fallen in love in my dreams. When I was little, I used to have nightmares of being chased, and would wake up afraid to go back to sleep. It took me into my teen years to wake up one night, angry at being chased more than scared. I remember thinking “this is my dream. I get to win.” I went back to sleep, beat up the monster chasing me, and have felt more aware of my dreams since. I wonder how that works, and how common that is.
That is why I track my sleep. I’m my own guinea pig for many projects, only because getting good sleep data is too expensive and too invasive at present for me to do it at a large scale. My colleagues and I use a mixture of sensors, hormone assessments, and careful logging to build models of sleep that allow us – more and more with each experiment – to predict biological changes from sleep stages gathered by wearable devices.
The current state of sleep tracking.
Right now, most sleep trackers seem a little gimmicky, and that’s because they are. But it’s not their fault. The spring bloom of sleep trackers and wearable devices we are currently seeing is our society realizing that sleep is an important part of health, and trying to find a way to start learning about what sleep actually looks like. Since no one knows what the right approach for getting those data will be, there are a lot of experiments going on. Some are done by publicly-funded scientists like me. Some are done by companies hoping their device will be the one. And some are done by citizen scientists. But all of us together are feeling our way into sleep, and each experiment brings the subsequent ones closer to being really helpful. Sleep is in part a response of the body and brain to what is happening to it in waking life, so eventually we might be able to learn all kinds of sleep patterns with predictive medical applications.
I have used multiple sleep tracking devices over the years for my research, including more than one model of EEG – a mesh of electrodes recording electrical brain activity from my scalp. I have learned that my REM decreases in the days before I get sick, and that when I’m healthy I get about 40% of my night in REM, as compared to 10-20% for most people. Maybe that gives me room for a lot of big dreams.
I think that one day, sleep will be a vital part of how we track our health and take care of our loved ones as they grow and then age. In the meantime, learning about sleep gets me out of bed each day, and getting REM is enough fun to bring me back each night. I encourage you to try and share some of my sleep joy. Track your sleep or journal your dreams. Or share your sleep experiences with friends and learn about theirs. We all spend a lot of time sleeping. We ought to make use of it, and to enjoy it!
Dr. Benjamin Smarr studies the temporal structures that biological systems make as they move through time. An NIH research fellow at UC Berkeley, his work focuses on understanding how physiological dynamics like sleep, circadian rhythms, and ovulatory cycles are shaped by the brain, and how disturbances to those cycles gives rise to disease. Dr. Smarr is also an advocate for scientific outreach, and routinely gives public lectures and visits K-12 classrooms to help promote the idea that by understanding the biology that guides us, we can live more empowered lives.
There are a number of questions that an interviewer typically asks a potential candidate for a position.
- “What relevant experience do you have?”
- “Do you work better collaboratively or on your own?”
- “What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?"
An increasing amount of data indicates that it would behoove hiring managers to add another question to their standard list: how well do you sleep?
At first glance, it may not seem as relevant as a question about their skill set or a gap in their resume. But when it comes to the quality of work that employers can expect day in and day out, sleep quality matters. A lot.
We’ve already written about how high-quality sleep can fuel your career success. So if the potential work benefits of great shut-eye didn’t inspire you to step up your sleep game, we’re here now to discuss the inverse. Because the negative effects of sleep deprivation on your work life should make bedtime the most important agenda item of your day.
A Recipe for Disaster
On the extreme end of things, the consequences of sleep deprivation can be seen in the nuclear disasters at both Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Sleep deprivation also contributed to the Exxon Valdez oil tanker accident, as well as the explosion of the Challenger. A 2004 report also showed that sleep deprivation plays a significant role in medical errors. However, lives need not be at stake for poor sleep to wreak serious havoc on your work life.
You Make Poor Decisions
When you’re sleep-deprived, your prefrontal cortex doesn’t work well, which impairs a whole host of complex functions. Chief among them is the ability to make decisions. According to one study, sleep deprivation “impairs decision-making involving the unexpected, innovation, revising plans, competing distraction, and effective communication.” Yikes. That means it’s harder to make decisions in general, and nearly impossible to make quick decisions when things don’t go exactly as planned (which, let’s be real, they rarely do).
There are no jobs that don’t require decision-making, whether it’s about who to delegate responsibility to, which marketing strategy to choose, or what product features to add. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that our work lives are just a series of decisions large and small. Which means that if you’re not well rested, it will affect every minute of your workday.
You Can’t Focus
Part of the impaired ability to make decisions likely has to do with the fact that it’s a lot harder to focus when you’re sleep-deprived (after all, how can you make a choice when you can’t concentrate long enough to consider the options?). This lack of focus also means that it takes a heck of a lot longer to complete tasks, destroying your workday productivity. So working longer and sleeping less is a bad strategy for productivity.
You’re Bad with Numbers
After a poor night’s rest, don’t expect to be a stellar—or even decent—number cruncher. In one study, subjects who had gone 35 hours without sleep performed significantly worse than their well-rested counterparts on arithmetic problems and had much less brain activity in the prefrontal cortex. And this one doesn’t just apply to mathematicians! Quantitative thinking plays a role in most jobs, whether it’s reviewing financial numbers, analyzing marketing statistics, handling payroll and expense reports or managing inventory.
You Can’t Read People
The prefrontal cortex is also responsible for moderating social behavior. When this part of your brain isn’t firing on all cylinders, you’re less able to make jokes or appreciate humor. You also have a harder time reading other’s emotions: which quickly becomes a problem in any work environment requiring any sort of collaboration or human interaction.
Sleep deprivation makes you markedly worse at conflict resolution. In fact, you’re more likely to exacerbate the situation, as those who are sleep-deprived are more inclined to bicker and express negativity.
This also means that you’ll probably have a bad attitude overall – which certainly isn’t going to help you climb the ladder. Rather than tackling new projects with energy and enthusiasm, when you haven’t slept well, you’re far more likely to see a task as a burden and grumble your way through.
You Take More Sick Days
One of the physical side effects of sleep deprivation is that it does a number on your immune system. This, of course, means that you’re more susceptible to catching a cold or worse, keeping you out of the office. And while we all get sick from time to time, racking up sick days is certainly not the way to career success.
The workday equivalent of Catch 22
What’s most ironic about all of this is that work, more often than not, is one of the main contributors to sleep deprivation. Whether it’s late nights, early mornings, or workplace stress making you toss and turn, your office life can follow you to your bed. In fact, a study by the National Sleep Foundation suggested that a lack of workday productivity caused by sleep deprivation led people to continue to do work at home at night. This led to further sleep deprivation, thus creating a vicious cycle.
It can be a tricky dynamic to navigate, but what’s important to remember is that, no matter how much pressure you feel to stay up and get to inbox zero, you’ll be a much more valuable employee the next day—and much more pleasant coworker—if you click shut down and get some shut-eye.
The new path to success?
Work hard, play hard. It’s part of the American lexicon and embedded in our collective conscience. But if you want to get ahead, it’s becoming increasingly clear that you should also sleep hard. We suggest you start tonight.
Last week I found myself down for the count with the flu. Yuck. It wasn’t like a truck ran over me. It was like a whole fleet of trucks. My nose felt like a hot air balloon was pumped up inside and straining to get out. My eyes itched. And my infamous attack sneeze was unrelenting. It comes on like a $135K Tesla. 0-60 in a half a second, then it explodes. Not fun.
So here’s the thing. Being an optimist, I never for one second considered how great my bed might be when I’m sick. But it merits a totally overused word: awesome. Awe. Some. And then some.
Outsmarting your runny nose
No sleeping flat, where all the nasty stuff could take up residence in my lungs and maybe lead to pneumonia. No propping myself up with pillows that inevitably pop out, compact, or wedge into a sweaty uncomfortable shape. Nope, I raised the head of my bed up to about level 40, put my softest pillow under my head and actually slept most of the night on my back. Just to repeat; I didn’t toss and turn, endlessly coughing with a throbbing forehead… my usual flu modus operandi. Instead I slept. On my back. Quite the achievement for a side sleeper, btw.
Sleeping better with the flu
Another thing. Those charming aches and pains you get with the flu. They hurt me a lot less when I retreated into my bed. I scooted over to the soft side of my mattress (the other side is medium) and pulled my duvet up under my chin. And I felt like those foam springs cuddled everything that was sore. Even though I never nap mid-day, I crawled into bed in the early afternoon, too heavy-headed to draw the shades. I put the bed in Zero Gravity and slept for several hours.
I’ll lay a little science on you now. The experts agree. Sleep is something that’s proven to be good medicine for the flu. And according to Scientific American in their blog post, “Can a good night’s sleep prevent a cold?,” there’s also overwhelming evidence that great sleep helps to prevent colds and flu. So the more you know about sleep, the more amazing it is. For practically all aspects of your health.
So, to sum up. I know I work for Reverie. Read this with a jaded eye if you must. But, as most people here know, I am a truth teller, lol. Can I say I actually enjoyed the flu? No. That would be ridiculous. But I was way, way less miserable with the flu in my Reverie bed. Based on plenty of personal experience with flu and sinus infections, I honestly think I cut my downtime in half. So when I think of reasons I love my new bed, I’m filing this one under #grateful.
Part of an ongoing series where our in-house blogger shares her personal experience with our products.
We think of sleep as the most relaxed state our bodies can reach—and, for the most part, that’s true. Yet there are exceptions. One of the biggest ones is a phenomenon that is the epitome of non-relaxation. It’s characterized by tension and destruction that somehow slipped its way into the chilled-out world of sleep: bruxism.
What Is Bruxism?
If you’ve never heard of bruxism, you’ve likely heard of its more common name, teeth grinding. The condition, however, refers to not only grinding but also unconscious gnashing and clenching of the teeth (oh, the drama!). Doing this in your sleep (sleep bruxism) is considered a sleep-related movement disorder, a class of conditions that occur near or during sleep and affect the quality of your shut-eye.
Nighttime bruxism, which afflicts 8% of adults, can also have repercussions on your waking life. It can lead to tension headaches, damaged teeth, disorders in the tempromandibular joints (TMJs), and receding gum lines. Not to mention all the side effects that come with inadequate sleep. When it’s severe enough, the sound of grinding can also create sleep issues for your partner. Not exactly a soothing lullaby.
There’s evidence that those with nighttime bruxism grind their teeth during periodic arousals of the cardiac and respiratory systems during sleep. These arousals trigger increased muscle activity (in this case, in the jaw) and can happen up to 15 times a night. What makes someone more prone to this is a complicated question.
What Causes Bruxism?
There’s not a general consensus, but the cause is likely different from person to person. Possible causes of nighttime bruxism include abnormal tooth alignment; acid reflux into the esophagus; and use of certain anti-depressants or stimulants like coffee, alcohol, tobacco, and some illegal drugs.
Research also suggests that those with other sleep disorders like sleep apnea or snoring are more likely to suffer from teeth grinding. In fact, one study showed that sleep apnea is the highest risk factor for bruxism in the general population.
However, the most common cause—to which about 70% of bruxism cases can be attributed— is anxiety and stress. When daily stressors are not addressed head on, the body still needs to process that emotional strain. Think about your body’s reaction when something upsetting or stressful happens: you tense up, perhaps clenching your jaw and pressing your teeth together. Those with bruxism experience this while they’re asleep, as a response to concerns that go unaddressed while awake.
How Do I Know If I Have It?
Self-diagnosing bruxism can be tricky, since you’re asleep when it happens. However, here are some signs that indicate it could be an issue:
- Flattened, fractured, or chipped teeth
- Tooth sensitivity
- Pain, fatigue, or soreness in the jaw
- Headache, especially in the temples
- Your partner notices the sound of grinding or clenching.
How Do I Treat My Bruxism?
If you think you are might have bruxism, your first step should be to make an appointment with your dentist or doctor. Explain the symptoms you’ve been experiencing and anything in your life you think could be relevant (new stressors, a change in sleep patterns).
In many cases, your dentist will recommend a mouth guard to keep your teeth separated at night (with the added bonus of reducing any cringe-inducing sounds for your partner). There are a number of different mouth guards to choose from, but most dentists will recommend the hard, custom-fit guard, since it’s both smaller and more effective at preventing grinding.
If you have an associated sleep disorder, your teeth grinding will likely improve after you address the other issue. In one study, those suffering from bruxism and sleep apnea saw an improvement in both conditions when only the latter was treated.
For almost every case of nighttime bruxism, however, stress management is a smart idea. Good sleep hygiene, meditation, and more proactive ways of dealing with life’s stresses can be enough to treat bruxism without any medical intervention. Plus it has the added bonus of making your days more enjoyable as well. So take some time to relax during your days. You and your partner are likely to escape the grind and enjoy more restful nights.
So you climb into bed late at night, snuggle up next to your already-sleeping partner, and he immediately yelps. Cold feet strike again. An age-old nemesis to cuddling. Especially now that winter is upon us.
Cold feet are common and often accompanied by cold hands. Which begs the question: what’s putting the chill into so many of us? As with much of life, the answer is, “it depends.”
Reynaud’s is a common condition which causes cold feet and hands. The human body naturally reacts to colder temperatures by going into heat conservation mode. Your body’s priority is to protect your organs, which are essential for life and kept functioning by the larger blood vessels. In extreme cold, the body is designed to sacrifice the outer extremities first in order to keep the organs functioning. Obviously, that means the feet and hands. With their smaller blood vessels, they are more susceptible to cold. In people with Reynaud’s Syndrome, that reaction gets amped up. Their small blood vessels are more sensitive than normal to fluctuations in temperature, overcompensating in cooler temperatures and sometimes also in warmer temperatures. Women are five times more likely than men to have Reynaud’s Syndrome, but thankfully, it is not usually serious.
Why women are more likely to have cold feet
In women, all aspects of the body, including the blood vessels, are influenced by estrogen. Fluctuations in estrogen can affect the blood supply to the hands and feet. In addition, there’s body composition as a factor. For better or for worse, women have 10% more body fat than men. This keeps our organs protected, and also helps to protect babies in the womb, but it also means that it’s slightly harder for the body to push blood to the outer surface of the skin.
More serious causes
Other more serious underlying conditions can cause cold feet and hands. Among them is atherosclerosis, i.e., a symptom commonly related to heart disease. With atherosclerosis, plaque builds up in the arteries, causing decreased circulation to the feet. Another potential cause is hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid). Hypothyroidism mainly affects women, causing cold feet and a myriad of other related symptoms. If you are over 50 and your cold feet are a relatively recent development, it may be worth a trip to the doctor to see if atherosclerosis is the cause. In the case of hypothyroidism, this can come on at any age. Other symptoms include difficulty losing weight, thinning hair, bloating, muscle pain, constipation and sluggishness in the morning. Again, it’s worth a trip to the doctor if you’re experiencing any of these.
Assuming you don’t have a more serious underlying condition, the remedies are simple and few. Light exercise can help temporarily increase blood flow to extremities. But the most practical advice is to rethink socks. Decide socks are the new sexy and embrace them. Think of them with the love many of us feel for shoes. With that in mind, we took to Etsy to find some beautiful handmade socks, and also to support individual artisans. Here are our five favorite pairs. We wish you a cozy winter, from head to toe.
Lacey, pretty, handmade in Bulgaria. Climb into bed with style. Wool and acrylic. From Krassy’s Knittings. Approximately $47 including shipping to the US.
Colorful, boho, handmade, groovy. A total statement sock, and a pretty one at that. Made by My Peruvian Treasures. Approximately $30 including shipping to USA.
Soft, pink, girlie. Warm wool with a gorgeous raspberry ombre. Fall head over heels. From Wool Magic Shop, approximately $30, USA shipping in.
Soft, cable-knit wool socks, made to order by Adarada in Latvia and shipped to the USA for approximately $30, all in.
According to the artisan, these are “toasty warm,” and won’t sag. Plus the colors are just yummy. Virgin wool and nylon. By Susan’s Timeless Knits, approximately $38, including shipping within US.
The NHL started its season. If you follow hockey, you know that it’s one of the most challenging and grueling sports to play. Night after night, it’s lots of checking, slamming into the boards, falling onto hard ice and a gonzo pace that never lets up for the entire game. To paraphrase the old Ginger Rogers line, hockey players do everything baseball players do, but with full contact and on skates.
One can only imagine the effect on the body, even for young healthy guys. Combine it with a vigorous road schedule, and that kind of pounding would create a strong need for sleep. Over the summer, Reverie gave Steven Oleksy, a defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins, one of our Dream Supreme Sleep Systems. Oleksy, who runs a competitive hockey league over the summer, has been sleeping on it ever since.
How has his journey to great sleep been going?
Frankly, Oleksy’s journey has been short. Upon trying our bed in at our showroom outside of Detroit, he was impressed. “I’d never been on a sleep system before. I could feel immediately that it was a custom bed,” says Oleksy. And then, when his bed was delivered at home? “The very first night, I noticed a huge change in my sleeping patterns. I didn’t set an alarm clock and hopped right out of bed at 7:30am, ready to go. My legs felt great!” (Oleksy says it so enthusiastically, the exclamation point had to be added for honesty.)
The very next day, he told a friend the bed “was life changing.” Within the first few days, he noticed other things, too. He began falling asleep fast and sleeping soundly instead of restlessly. “I didn’t even dream,” he says. He also doesn’t wake up groggy any more, rendering his snooze button irrelevant. Oleksy used to suffer from sore throats in the morning. He thought the elevation of the Zero Gravity position, which he sleeps in and loves, helped with better drainage. (Another possibility might be our all-natural latex hypoallergenic mattress; it repels dust mites and bacteria, which thrive in other kinds of mattresses.)
A job where sleep is crucial
Great sleep is important to any athlete, but especially to a hockey player. On game days, their schedule involves a busy morning with breakfast at the rink, reviewing video, a short skate and stretching. All this happens before noon. Then most players head back home or to the hotel to nap for 2-3 hours in preparation for the evening’s game. Then it’s back to the rink in the late afternoon to work out, stretch some more and talk strategy. The game follows, with dinner afterward along with a debrief. And then it’s back to the hotel, usually around midnight. A long day, with sleep sandwiched in the middle and also capping off the day. It’s that important to performance.
One of the biggest sleep challenges a hockey player faces is after the game. “It’s a super physical and intense game,” Oleksy says. “It’s hard to wind down. And often, it’s even harder at home, when I have other people and responsibilities to take care of.” He finds the massage feature and the soft light of the under-bed nightlight are little luxuries that help him fall asleep.
Oleksy says “what sets you apart at every level of the game is how quickly you can recover.” And he thinks his Reverie bed really does help. “Those little aches and pains? They don’t bother me much or at all anymore.” Sleeping better maximizes his workouts, improves his mindset and minimizes the effects of constant travel.
A measurable difference
Every year, hockey players take assessment tests for power, endurance, etc. This year, Oleksy had his highest scores ever across the board, which he attributes in part to sleeping better. He is also very fastidious about taking care of himself. He eats healthfully and never drinks alcohol, with one exception … if it’s from the Stanley Cup. “It’s my job to stay in shape,” he says seriously. “I’ve noticed that when I don’t sleep properly or am up late, I tend to make bad decisions, especially eating worse.”
Lately Oleksy has been loving our new Nightstand app. “It’s great,” he says. “It has so many capabilities.” He’s now programming his own sleep routines, with various massage settings and positions of the bed set to run automatically.
He thinks anyone could benefit from the bed, primarily because everybody needs great sleep. “They’ll wake up, ready to go.” And he thinks it would be great for anybody who suffers from back or shoulder pain. Of course, we love that he’s also been talking up the bed to his teammates, telling them, “If there’s one investment to make, this bed is worth every penny.”
About life as a Stanley Cup champion
A genuine and humble guy, Oleksy says his philosophy of the game is that he wants “to be the hardest working guy out there.” He is grateful to have achieved every hockey player’s dream by having been on a team that won the Stanley Cup. And he’s trying hard to cherish every moment of being a champion. “Nobody can take that away from me.” Rather than be annoyed, he’s grateful to the fans who say “hi” and ask for autographs.
Asked about the Penguins’ chances of repeating as Stanley Cup champions this year, he shows he’s learned a bit about the media and interviews, however. He modestly declines to make any prediction. “It’s always hard to tell,” he says, nonchalantly. “We should be competitive.”
Got it. Continue to sleep well, Steven, and good luck. Your friends at Reverie will be rooting for you.
Whether you love yoga, hate yoga, or just don’t understand what all the fuss is about, chances are there’s one pose you love. We’re talking about the pose we all know is coming after an hour or so of twisting, balancing and stretching your body. It’s the well-deserved rest that is the culmination of each class: savasana.
For those who don’t know, savasana is also called corpse pose, and it involves, well, lying still like a corpse. On your back, with your eyes shut, arms at your side with palms up, and muscles relaxed. And it feels amazing. So utterly relaxing and luxurious that it’s not unheard of for yogis to drift off to sleep right there in class.
And this is no accident—the relationship between yoga and sleep is well-documented. The findings can help you improve the quality of your shut-eye—in the bedroom, not the yoga studio (though no judgment).
Rest assured, yoga is good for sleep
Numerous researchers have looked at the relationship between yoga and sleep from various different angles. The basic conclusion of all of them is this: yoga improves sleep. Here are some of the subtler and more specific takeaways:
- Insomnia relief. Insomnia is a real issue—one that affects 10-15% of American adults. Yoga may offer some real relief. In one study of insomnia sufferers, the subjects were trained in and then performed a simple daily yoga practice for eight weeks. At the end of the clinical intervention, they reported improved quality of sleep, shorter time to fall asleep, and longer duration of sleep overall.
- Heat it up to sleep it off. If you’re a fan of heated yoga, good news: the practice could help you chill out more easily come bedtime. In a study of Bikram practitioners, subjects reported fewer sleep disturbances on days they practiced yoga as compared with non-yoga days.
- Benefits for cancer patients. A study of 39 patients with lymphoma compared a control group with a group who practiced Tibetan yoga daily for three months. The results showed that those in the yoga group reported significantly better subjective sleep quality, faster sleep latency, longer sleep duration, and less use of sleep medications.
- Not just for the young'uns. Mindfulness meditation, a practice of its own right but one that is closely tied to yoga, has been shown to improve sleep quality in older adults with moderate sleep disturbances.
Why sun salutations help you snooze
There are a number of ways in which yoga is known to improve sleep (and likely more that haven’t been studied yet). One of the biggest factors is also the most obvious: stress reduction. The physical release caused by stretching and twisting muscles, coupled with a focus on deep breathing, makes yoga the perfect exercise for chilling out—not to mention the fact that yoga studios are specifically designed to be serene environments. Over the long-term, regular yoga practitioners can even lower their level of the stress hormone cortisol, but the short-term relaxation effects can be felt immediately. Plus, the mindfulness your instructor encourages throughout class can significantly reduce psychological stress.
Calming the racing mind
Mindfulness has also been shown to target a particularly insidious (and insomnia-inducing) brand of stress: rumination. Think of rumination as that brain-on-a-hamster-wheel phenomenon that keeps you awake at night. Perhaps because of overall stress reduction, or because it improves the brain’s ability to focus on one thing, mindfulness helps put the kibosh on these unproductive patterns of thought so that you can get to sleep.
Besides relaxing the mind, yoga can also help bring about physiological changes that promote sleep. This is because yoga and meditation initiate the parasympathetic response—the “rest and digest” nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s unconscious actions like digestion and sleep. You can increase this effect by focusing on poses like forward bends and spinal twists that promote blood flow to the abdomen.
For those whose sleep is impeded by physical pain, yoga can also provide a solution. Targeted poses help relax tight muscles and work out knots. And the mental benefits of yoga can alleviate physical pains you can’t work out. By increasing cognitive and emotional control, yoga reduces pain perception and allows you to more easily stop fixating on negative sensations.
And then there’s the fact that yoga is, well, exercise. Exercise is an essential part of good sleep hygiene, as it helps promote healthy sleep-wake cycles (as long as you’re not working up a sweat right before bedtime). The physical fatigue also makes it easier to fall asleep when you crawl into bed at the end of the day.
Step up to the mat
Yoga can seem intimidating to those who don’t have a regular practice. But it shouldn’t be. In fact, yoga is one of the most equalizing types of exercise. You can do it anywhere, with no equipment. At its core, yoga teaches us that there is no “perfect” version of a pose—whatever version your body can do is perfect for you.
And if you’re already deep into your practice, feel good about choosing a fitness path that improves your mind, body…and bedtime.