The holiday season is here, and you know what that means: WAY too much food and a six-week visit from Uncle Sleep Loss. With all the cooking, shopping, hosting, guesting, and traveling, sleep is probably the last thing on your mind during the holidays. But, it should be the first.
Sleep loss negatively affects your mood, thinking, and appetite, which can send you into a feeding frenzy that could wreck your holiday spirit. Here’s exactly how the vicious cycle works. Because knowing the offense will help you prepare your sleeping defense.
1. Your brain thinks you have the munchies
Experts say when you’re low on sleep, your body raises the level of an organic compound called endocannabinoid. This lipid actually mirrors the effects of marijuana on your brain, making unhealthy food that much more enjoyable to consume.
2. You can’t tell when you’re hungry or full
Two key hormones, leptin and ghrelin, help regulate feelings of hunger and fullness respectively. But sleep deprivation throws these hormones out of whack, making it hard for you to know when you’re actually hungry or satisfied. As a result, you usually keep eating (and your aunt keeps thinking you actually love her cooking).
3. You crave carby, fatty, sugary foods
You know the oven-roasted green beans are a healthier choice than than the fried sweet potato pie. Even though you have every intention of reaching for the greens, your brain’s ability to make wise decisions becomes more difficult with a lack of sleep, research shows. On top of that, the primal region of your brain desires more rewards—like the ones you get from sugar and fat—when you’re low on sleep. You might as well fast forward to your food coma.
4. You’re more susceptible to stress-eating
While you’re body is equipped to manage short bursts of stress (say, running from a mountain lion), it’s not so good at handling prolonged periods of stress (say, the entire holiday season). When you’re stressed over a long period of time, your body releases a hormone called cortisol, which increases your appetite and motivation to eat. Ask yourself: Do you really want that third piece of cornbread or does cortisol want it?
5. You’re more likely to eat mindlessly
Ever polish off a plate of mashed pots without realizing it? Twelve years ago, a landmark study found that humans make more than 200 food-related decisions daily, and we’re unaware of 90 percent of them. When you add sleep loss to the mix, which impairs your judgement and reduces impulse control, you have a recipe for mindless eating. Eating in groups can also influence you to eat more than you realize. So now you have a legit reason to excuse yourself from the dinner table early.
6. You may raid the fridge at night
It’s no secret that sleep loss can have us looking in the fridge for what we didn’t get in bed. One study showed people ate an extra 385 calories following a night of sleep deprivation.That’s about 1.5 pieces of pumpkin pie, if you’re counting.
7. You might binge-eat
With extended family around, there will be SO many feelings. And when you’re short on sleep, women especially are likely to turn to food as a coping mechanism, research shows. It’s a complex issue that often requires the help of a medical professional, but one thing is for sure: Sleep is the best gift you can give yourself for the holidays. And jewelry.
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