A few years ago, I decided to stop drinking to give my body a reset — and I ended up not drinking for about a year and a half.
There were so many benefits, but one in particular stands out: my quality of sleep.
I’ve always had an easy time falling asleep and regularly sleep an average of 8 hours. But with the elimination of alcohol, my quality of sleep drastically improved.
One of the collateral benefits of this quality sleep was not constantly feeling like I was “starving” and grabbing a bunch of starchy comfort foods to feel full.
And, obviously, one of the collateral benefits of that was weight loss.
If you’re frustrated by not being able to lose weight around the middle, I want you to consider the amount of quality sleep you get.
We’re all so quick to blame belly fat on carbs, alcohol, or menopause, but maybe we should start with our sleep habits.
So Why Don’t We Sleep Enough?
We’ve all heard about the benefits of quality sleep, so why is it so easy for us to ignore the fact that we don’t get enough?
I don’t think it’s because we’re oblivious or hell-bent on sabotaging our health. It’s because our culture is set up to reward being stressed, overworked, and burned out.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that culture paints people who prioritize their sleep as lazy.
We’ll juice all day and run marathons — but we won’t even allow ourselves to take a nap when we’re tired.
I think this is especially true for women, who feel like their work never ends (and it doesn’t) and who tie their worth to their caretaking abilities.
I think it’s time to start taking care of ourselves — which starts with getting enough quality sleep.
Even if you don’t agree with anything I just said, it’s worth establishing a better sleep schedule if all you want to do is lose weight around the middle.
And here’s why:
- Even slight sleep deprivation raises your levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), and cortisol promotes fat storage, especially around the midsection.
- Lack of quality sleep decreases the amount of leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full, and may increase ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel hungry.
- Lack of sleep makes you feel more irritable, which makes you more likely to say “whatever” and eat what’s in front of you — and also more likely to keep refilling your wine glass at the end of a long day feeling irritable.
- Not getting quality sleep exacerbates depression, which can lead to emotional eating.
- Lack of sleep makes you more likely to crave carbohydrate-rich foods. (Nothing against a good carbohydrate — just the unhealthy ones.)
Now for the reasons that it’s hard to get quality sleep:
- You go 90-to-nothing all day, stressed to the max, and find it hard to wind down.
- You try not to eat much during the day and eat a huge meal right before going to bed.
- You drink alcohol right before going to bed.
- You go to bed with your phone or your laptop, staring at a screen that wakes your brain up.
- You pride yourself on your ability to not need much sleep. (Spoiler: scientific research has established time and again that getting at least 7 hours of sleep is a requirement.)
How to Get Quality Sleep
If you’re currently doing any (or all) of the above — and if you want to start shedding some weight around the middle — the most important thing you can do is to establish an effective bedtime routine.
Here are 6 ways to do it:
1. Check your laptop at the door. Looking at a bright screen, whether it’s your laptop or your phone, stimulates the brain rather than relaxes it. So reading from a screen before you turn off the light is actually making it harder for you to go to sleep. Bring a book instead.
2. Create a relaxing vibe. Light a scented candle, listen to some meditation music, or even do 5 minutes of meditation. Do some journaling. Do not bring your day planner and remind yourself of all the things you didn’t get done.
3. Turn the air down. Studies show that a chilly room promotes sleep and that it’s hard for the body to get into deep sleep when it’s too warm. Between 65 and 67 degrees is ideal.
4. Don’t eat heavy foods or drink alcohol 3 hours before bedtime. If this is hard for you to do, at least switch to a light snack like fruit or a piece of cheese. If you eat a big dinner, try to do it earlier than usual. Stick to one drink instead of two (or three or four).
5. Get new bedding. Experts say you should replace your pillows every year, your mattress every 5 years, and your bedding at least every two years. If you’re sinking down into the middle of your mattress every night and you’ve had your pillows since the early 90s, it’s time for some new bedding.
Treat yourself to some beautiful sheets or a new comforter. And consider a featherbed — it’s heavenly!
6. Exercise regularly. Studies show that people who do moderate to vigorous exercise get better sleep than those who don’t. Aerobic exercise seems to increase the amount of deep wave sleep you get, so try going for at least a brisk walk each day.
If you’re already thinking of all the reasons that are preventing you from getting good sleep, here are the biggest objections and some solutions:
- Problem: Your partner snores.
Solution: Get some earplugs or a sound machine. Or get a divorce. (Kidding!)
- Problem: You have small children.
Solution: Ask your partner to help you at night so you can go to bed earlier, or take a nap during the day when your kids do.
- Problem: Your work requires you to stay up late.
Solution: Create focus blocks during the day where you can work undisturbed and get far more done in less time.
Sleep Is Nonnegotiable for Good Health
Ignoring the fact that you don’t get quality sleep is a mistake.
Sleep debt — the amount of sleep you miss on a given night — accumulates, which means that if you get less than an hour than you should each night, you’ll have 7 hours of a deficit at the end of the week. Which means you would have to add another night to the week to make up for it.
Instead of constantly cutting carbs, calling your stomach your “wine baby,” or lameting the fact that you’re in menopause, start with establishing an effective sleep routine.
Because the size of your midsection is related to the amount of quality sleep you get — and so is the quality of your life.