Scientifically reviewed by CountingSheep.net Team

Written by

Kelly Bension

Kelly is a Performance Sleep Coach who works with athletes, entrepreneurs, and people looking to optimize their rest for ultimate energy and recovery. With a background in holistic health and wellness, she blends ancient principles with modern sleep science to help her clients overcome insomnia, daytime fatigue, and disturbed sleep.

Power Naps – The Secret Weapon for Improving Performance

Just like sleeping at night, naps help to relieve the build-up of sleep pressure that accumulates throughout the day and makes you feel tired. They essentially recharge your battery.


Naps can have a profound effect on alertness, productivity and performance; Whether you incorporate naps into your daily routine or opt for nap when you are overly exhausted. Several research studies indicate that daytime napping may come with big advantages–both psychological and professional. Which is why it’s no surprise that big corporations and businesses are now allowing their employees to nap for better performance and productivity.

Read on to find out answers to the following questions:

How Naps Work?

Just like sleeping at night, naps help to relieve the build-up of sleep pressure that accumulates throughout the day and makes you feel tired. They essentially recharge your battery.

Naps fall into the category of polyphasic sleep, which means that in a 24 hour period, there are multiple periods of sleep. More than 85% of mammalian species are polyphasic sleepers, but we humans have elected to be monophasic sleepers. This means we typically sleep in one chunk of time at night. 

However, it’s estimated that around one-third of American adults aren’t getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night and that sleep deprivation costs U.S. companies  a staggering $63 billion in lost productivity. Making now a great time to reintroduce the daytime nap to adults.

Although this goes against societal norms, some evolutionary scientists believed we are meant to be polyphasic sleepers. In fact, some famous nappers include Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Albert Einstein, Ariana Huffington and Arnold Schwarzzeneger to name a few. 

Type of Naps

Now there are different types of naps, including planned napping, energy napping and habitual napping.

You can also consider naps in terms of their length, like a short power nap of 20-30 minutes or a recovery nap of 90 minutes.

For most working adults, it’s the power nap that has significant benefits for performance without many side effects, like feeling groggy upon awakening.

In a power nap, you’re only entering into the lighter stages of sleep, which make it easier to wake up from while still experiencing rejuvenating effects. It’s estimated that your concentration and attention levels will improve for up to three hours after a power nap and will not interfere with your sleep at night, as long as you’re not doing it too late in the day.

According to NASA, a power nap was found to improve performance by 34% and alertness by 100% for their pilots and astronauts. It’s even thought to be as powerful if not more than a cup of coffee. Now for information sake, a recovery nap of 90 minutes will be a full sleep cycle and will contain deep sleep and possibly REM. This is the right option for people who are severely sleep deprived and also have the time available. For longer naps of over 30 minutes, the chances of experiencing sleep inertia increase, which is the feeling of grogginess and disorientation that comes with waking up out of deep sleep. Although this feeling should be temporary, it can be tough for someone who needs to perform right away. 

Who is a Good Candidate for Power Naps?

Essentially anyone who obtains less than the recommended amount of 7-9 hours on a nightly basis.

These days, it’s common for parents, professionals, entrepreneurs and athletes to fall into this category since they typically have racing minds before bed, take longer to fall asleep, rely on caffeine for energy, spend more time on technology, enjoy the sun less and have early morning wakeups.

People under higher amounts of stress and pressure also experience more fragmented sleep and have a lower sleep efficiency, which is the amount of time spent in bed versus the amount of time asleep. Also, frequent travelers or people overcoming jet lag can improve their recovery and align their circadian rhythm with morning or early afternoon naps at their new location.

For a more detailed review of jet lag and how to overcome it, check out our comprehensive jet lag video. Similarly, anyone who feels drowsy while driving should pull over immediately to a rest area and take a power nap for safety measures. Lastly, shift workers are great candidates for naps, especially when they have them right before their shift and then consume caffeine. This will help them cope with the challenges that come with a nightly work schedule. 

Performance Benefits of Power Naps?

Aside from being a way to check out of your busy life for a little bit, Naps can be extremely beneficial to a tired person at the right time and place. Naps improve mental alertness & reduce drowsiness. They have a positive impact on cognitive performance after a night of partial sleeplessness and improve your abilities for learning, tactics and strategy making.

Research indicates that when a memory, skill or process is first recorded in the brain (especially in the hippocampal region)–it is still “fragile” and easily forgotten, especially if the brain is overloaded with new information to store more things. Napping seems to push memories to the neocortex, the brain’s “more permanent storage,” preventing them from being “overwritten.”

Other benefits include improved alertness and athletic performance immediately upon arising, such as sprinting, shooting and reaction time. Time spent napping helps athletes recalibrate the body and the mind, which enables greater focus and physical strength. For everyone, naps are a great way to reduce stress, and increase confidence. All of which will help amplify your performance levels. 

 When is the Right Time to Take a Nap and for How Long?

Generally speaking, the best time is to nap is between 2-3 PM, which coincides with the natural dip in your biological clock and is a nice way to digest after lunch. You’ll fall asleep easier at this time and it shouldn’t impact your sleep at night. If you nap too late in the day, you will have decreased your sleep pressure and will find it more difficult to fall asleep.

Be sure to set an alarm for 20-30 minutes so that you don’t sleep for too long and also make yourself as comfortable as possible. If you can nap on a bed and in a dark room, you’ll experience greater benefits. At the very least, wear an eye mask and turn all distracting sounds off.

Once you wake up, get in bright light and do some light physical activity to dissipate any groggy feelings.

Naps before an afternoon workout are also a great idea and will help you feel more alert at the gym. If you find that naps are helping you perform better in the afternoon and evening hours, then add them to a consistent schedule. By napping at the same time every day, your body will anticipate the routine and experience even more success with it. 

The Bottom Line

To conclude, the science behind napping has long been established: A nap during the day can lower stress levels, improve your mood and increase cognitive output. And working a power nap into your schedule is often easy because the ideal length is only about 20 minutes. As a secret, even a 10 minute nap can produce positive benefits and be similar to a meditation session. What you should look for is the right amount of time to restore energy without causing too much disruption to your professional duties or nightly sleep.

By doing so, you’ll be following alongside a few amazing companies that have integrated naps into their operations like Google, Zappos, Huffington Post, NASA and Ben & Jerry’s, as well as elite sports teams like the New York Jets, American Olympic Team, Boston Red Sox, and the Baltimore Ravens to name a few. So if this article hasn’t put you to sleep yet, I encourage you to plan your next power nap!

 

Scientifically reviewed by CountingSheep.net Team

Written by

Tamara

A wannabe journalist who somehow ended up as an art historian. She is a gamer, a coffee addict and a sleep aficionado. When she is not researching about sleep and finding out new ways to fight off the insomnia beast, she's spending time with her friends, gaming or visiting local museums.

Benefits of Side Sleeping

Your sleep quality is affected by multiple factors – it isn’t just how dark and quiet your room is or what music you listen to before you hit the hay – it’s how you lay your body down, too. According to science, the best sleeping position is sleeping on your side. Read on to learn why.

Sleeping Positions for Staying Healthy – Sleeping on the Side

Your sleep quality is affected by multiple factors – it isn’t just how dark and quiet your room is or what music you listen to before you hit the hay – it’s how you lay your body down, too.

So, is there such thing like the best sleep position? According to science, the answer is sleeping on your side. In many ways, side sleepers have it better than others with different sleep positions. However, the benefits of side sleep actually depend on which side you prefer. Watch this video and check out our infographic to find out how side sleeping benefits your health.

Side Sleeping Benefits

Benefits of sleeping on your side are directly related to your physiology.

Sleeping on the side allows your spine to remain in its natural and neutral position while particularly sleeping on the left is recommended if you are pregnant, snore or struggle with health conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea. This sleep position is beneficial for snoring and OSA because it helps to open up a crowded oropharynx. Side sleeping is recommended if you have carpal tunnel syndrome because it protects your wrists from pressure during sleep. It also elongates the spine which helps to alleviate neck and back pain.

A recent study shows that the benefits of side sleeping go beyond expected and may boost your brain health.

A study performed at Stony Brook University in New York and published in The Journal of Neuroscience investigated how body posture during sleep affects brain waste removal in mice. The results suggest that sleeping on your side help the brain’s glymphatic system clear waste more effectively than sleeping on the back or stomach.

In order to understand this, we have to explain what the brain’s glymphatic system is, and how our body posture affects it.

The glymphatic system consists of a brain wide pathway that facilitates the exchange of spinal fluid with interstitial fluid, and has the role of clearing interstitial waste from the brain parenchyma. When this waste isn’t cleared properly, we become more prone to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia. The interstitial waste from the brain parenchyma moves into the perivenous pathways and ultimately gets cleared out via cervical lymphatic vessels.

As you know by now, our brain is active the most during sleep and this is the time when the process of brain waste removal occurs. Side sleeping position elongates the spine and allows faster waste clearance. Other sleep positions may slow down this process or result in brain waste retention.

Therefore, by improving the functioning of the brain’s glymphatic system, we can reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia.

It’s important to mention that side sleeping also comes with some downsides such as unwanted skin aging. Studies show that constantly placing one side of your face on the pillow can cause wrinkles, or even lead to saggy breasts. You’re also more likely to disrupt circulation in your arm, because of the pressure of your body, and wake up with an uncomfortable, tingling pins and needles feeling (also known as paresthesia). Side sleepers typically toss and turn in sleep more often than back sleepers, which may lead to less restful sleep.

Sleep on Which Side is Better, Left or Right?

As mentioned, sleeping on the left or right side has its advantages and disadvantages.

Left side sleeping

Left side sleeping is recommended for:

However, left side sleeping may put a strain on your internal organs like the pancreas, kidney and spleen, along with the heart. When sleeping on the left, the internal organs in the thorax can shift, and the lungs may weigh heavily on the heart. This increased pressure may impact the heart’s function, potentially worsening heart strain in heart failure. The heart may respond to the increased pressure by activating the kidneys, increasing urination at night.

Right side sleeping

Right side sleeping is especially recommended for heart health. Some scientists think the age-related preference for right-side sleeping is an instinctive, protective response for the heart, and studies show that people with heart failure tend to avoid sleeping on their left sides.

Based on the science, there are four major reasons why you may want to consider sleeping on the right.

Patients with atrial fibrillation often report that they experience fewer arrhythmias when sleeping on the right side, however, there is still no research that could confirm this.

Right side sleeping is not recommended for:

If you are an overall healthy person, it’s healthier to sleep on your right side and avoid putting unnecessary strain on your major internal organs. Right side sleeping is also beneficial if you struggle with a heart condition. However, if you are sleeping for two, or struggle with OSA and GERD, left-side sleeping is more recommended.

Quick Tips for Sleeping on the Side

To minimize the disadvantages of side sleeping, it’s important to get a good pillow and a good mattress.

The ideal models are the ones that support the natural alignment of the body. When lying on your back, your body is properly aligned when an imaginary horizontal line that goes through your ear to the rest of your body is completely parallel. When you lie on your side, the horizontal line running through your nose should be in line with the rest of the body.

Once you have a good pillow and mattress, sleeping with some extra pillows may enhance the health benefits of sleeping on the side.

How to sleep with 3 pillows:

So, why is this important? As a side sleeper, apart from keeping your spine properly aligned, you must also keep the right and left side of your body as symmetrical as possible.

For example, crossing the left upper leg over the right lower one is not recommended as it would cause the left upper knee to drop and the left hip to be rolled forward, causing your lower spine to twist which may result in lower back pain.

Instead, keep the legs bent at the knee, one on top of the other so that the lower leg can support the upper one. Putting a pillow between bent knees will re-center your body, and hugging a pillow will help to support the upper arm and leg. If you have large hips, and there is space between the waist and the bed when you lie on the side, put a rolled towel underneath to prevent your body from sagging downward.

Wrapping up

Side sleeping is one of the most popular sleep positions worldwide; however, if you prefer to snooze differently, you shouldn’t force yourself to sleep on the side. The same goes if you prefer right side over left and vice versa. Sleeping is a personal experience, and you will benefit the most from it if you snooze in a position you find most comfortable.

Now it’s your turn.

What do you notice about your health when you sleep in different positions? Comment below

Scientifically reviewed by CountingSheep.net Team

Written by

Kelly Bension

Kelly is a Performance Sleep Coach who works with athletes, entrepreneurs, and people looking to optimize their rest for ultimate energy and recovery. With a background in holistic health and wellness, she blends ancient principles with modern sleep science to help her clients overcome insomnia, daytime fatigue, and disturbed sleep.

Jet Lag – How it affects cognitive and physical performance?

Wanna beat jet lag? Watch this video to learn how jet lag affects your physical and cognitive performance, how to avoid it and how to overcome it quickly.

Anyone who has traveled across multiple time zones has undoubtedly experienced jet lag. The extreme daytime fatigue and feeling wired at night can wreak havoc on your body and brain, especially when you’re unfamiliar with how jet lag works and feel unprepared for it.

Fortunately, jet lag is health scenario that you can prepare for and should. In this video, we’re going to discuss:

We’re going to talk about light exposure, naps, caffeine, nutrition and more.

It’s time to get performance ready. Lets dive in.

Jet Lag – Symptoms and Causes

Jet lag is a recognized sleep disorder that is experienced after rapid travel across multiple time zones (also known as transmeridian travel). The American Academy of Sleep Medicine defines jet lag as a syndrome involving insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness following travel across at least 2 time zones.

The symptoms that are most common include:

These symptoms happen because your body’s circadian rhythm is no longer being synchronized to the local time. The internal sleep-wake cycle is out of phase with the local light-dark cycle, causing drowsiness or arousal at “inappropriate” times.

For example, if you leave New York on a flight at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, and arrive in Paris at 7:00 a.m. Wednesday, your internal clock still thinks it’s 1:00 a.m. That means you’re ready for bed just as everyone around you in Paris is waking up.

Your sleep schedule is primarily modulated by exposure to light and secretion of melatonin, which is secreted in the pineal gland for 10-12 hours in the evening and helps to induce sleep. Light inhibits secretion of melatonin and stimulates arousal. This is controlled  by the “master clock” in your brain that uses light exposure to coordinate all the workings of organs. Interestingly enough, your organs also operate on their own clocks, which means this desynchronization affects more than just sleep, but also body temperature, blood pressure, hormone regulation, hunger levels and hunger times.

Generally speaking, jet lag symptoms usually persists for 1 day for each time zone crossed until the body realigns its circadian clock. Symptoms are likely to get worse or last longer the more time zones that you’ve crossed.

Yet not all travel is created equal.

Traveling west is easier on our body than traveling east. For example, if you travel west across nine time zones, it would take approximately 8 days to recover. However, if you cross nine time zones going east, the recovery would take more than 13 days.

This happens because your circadian rhythm runs on a slightly longer than 24-hour cycle. It’s about 24 hours and 15 minutes to be exact and your body has an easier time lengthening the day versus shortening it.

What kind of sleeper you are may also affect how severe jet lag symptoms are for you. If you’re a morning-type person that prefers to wake up early, you may have less difficulty flying eastward, while “evening-type people,” who prefer to wake up late, have less difficulty flying westward (3)

High performers with rigid sleeping habits may also experience greater symptoms than those who are more flexible with sleep. Being so dependent on your routine, means you’re going to have a harder time adjusting and must really plan ahead.

How Jet Lag  Affects Physical Performance?

So let’s see how jet lag actually affects physical performance?

Jet lag has been shown to cause a decrease in:

In a study by Northwestern University, researchers looked at Major League Baseball data from more than 40,000 games over the course of 20 years. What they found was that traveling more than two time zones affected player performance in subtle but detectable ways. During games where a team traveled from West-East, there was a calculable difference in hitting, running, and pitching performance.

When it comes to sports, west coast teams consistently beat east coast teams during evening games.

Cognitively, jet lag has a profound impact. Mood and complex mental performance tasks deteriorate almost immediately with sudden changes in circadian rhythm. Travelers will experience a general loss of motivation, mental clouding and feelings of agitation. Which coincides with an increase in cortisol levels after long flights. It’s even been known to cause lapses in memory and learning because of possible hippocampal deficits.

What is Social Jet Lag?

You may have heard of the term social jet lag. It shouldn’t be confused with “standard” jet lag. Social jet lag is not caused by traveling. It is actually a more severe type of sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s circadian rhythm is not in sync with our normal social time. For instance, time that should traditionally be spent being active or sleeping does not align with the biological clock of the affected person. People who are struggling with this particular condition actually have delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD) or advanced sleep-wake phase disorder (ASWPD). Symptoms of these disorders are similar to jet lag. The patients regularly feel tired, sleepy, and have problems with focusing. Social jet lag can also happen to people who work almost every day of the week.

Jet Lag Prevention Tips

Now you can’t avoid jet lag completely, but you can make things easier on yourself by not fighting it.

The best ways to do this are typically behavioral versus pharmacological, and when done correctly can save you precious time and energy at your new destination.

Wrapping Up

As  mentioned, it’s not possible to totally beat jet lag, especially with large time differences, but with proper preparation you can minimize it’s effects and even use it to your advantage.

If you find this video useful, share it with someone who is planning a long distance trip soon and tell us what you think in the comment section below. 

Also, check out the references used to create this article.

References

 

Scientifically reviewed by CountingSheep.net Team

Written by

Tamara

A wannabe journalist who somehow ended up as an art historian. She is a gamer, a coffee addict and a sleep aficionado. When she is not researching about sleep and finding out new ways to fight off the insomnia beast, she's spending time with her friends, gaming or visiting local museums.

Sleep and Weight Loss – Why isn’t your exercise working?

Does sleep affect weight loss? Studies show that if you’re trying to lose weight, the amount of sleep you get may be just as important as your diet and exercise. Keep watching this video to find out how exactly lack of sleep undoes your exercising efforts.

Your workout routine and diet are perfect, and even your heart is in the right place. Still, no matter how hard you work to lose weight, you struggle with the process and can’t get the body you desire.

The worst thing is that someone else who follows the same program GETS the desired results.

When you talk, you find out that both of you share a common approach to weight loss:

Yet, there is a difference between you two. You are the one that continues to struggle. You can’t maintain your focus. You have a hard time controlling your hunger, always crave sweets, and despite your biggest efforts in the gym, you don’t achieve the same results as someone else following the same fitness and dietary plan.

What is the problem? Why isn’t your exercise working?

Maybe you don’t know how to train properly. Maybe you lack the willpower or maybe it’s genetics and there is nothing you can do about it.

There is definitely an answer to your question, and there is definitely a solution for your problem.

Most likely, your problem is lack of sleep.

Studies show that if you’re trying to lose weight, the amount of sleep you get may be just as important as your diet and exercise. Keep watching this video to find out how exactly lack of sleep undoes your exercising efforts.

How Does Sleep Control Your Diet?

Most people who are trying to lose weight believe that a healthy weight loss revolves around eating and movement. Simply put, to look better you need to eat less and move more. However, that’s not so easy to do, and also not the most important thing.

Between living your life, working, and exercising, you’re probably forgetting to sleep enough. Or even worse, you don’t realize that sleep is the key to being rewarded for your diet and fitness efforts. Let’s take a look at some epidemiological research that found the link between sleep and weight gain.

Several studies have been conducted looking at the correlation (degree of association) between body fat and sleep. The results of the research indicate an inverse correlation – less sleep is being associated with more body fat[1], and that is further associated with more fat mass gain over time.[2]

According to the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, sleeping less than 7 hours per night can reduce or even undo the benefits of dieting.[3] When our bodies receive less than adequate rest, the amount of fat loss is cut in half. Due to hormonal imbalance, you also become hungrier, feel less satisfied after meals, and lack energy to exercise.

You may be thinking this is correlation research, and therefore it’s not conclusive. However, there is also a persistent relationship between less sleep time and greater fat mass. The link persists even after controlling the possible confounding factors.

For example, in a study published in the Journal Sleep Medicine, researchers have excluded the possible confounding agents, and concluded that the association between lack of sleep and weight gain persists even after controlling demographic, lifestyle, work and health related factors.[4]

We should also mention that researchers have found out that shorter sleep increases expression of genetic risks for high body weight. At the same time, longer sleep duration may suppress genetic influences on body weight.[5]

How Sleep Deprivation Affects Weight Loss

So, how exactly sleep deprivation affects weight loss? Try to remember how you feel when waking up after a bad night of sleep. Do you feel exhausted, dazed, and even confused? Maybe a bit grumpy? If you do, you should know that your brain is not the only one – your metabolism and especially fat cells feel the same way too.

When you are sleep deprived, your body experiences “metabolic grogginess”. The researchers from the University of Chicago came up with this term after observing that due to lack of sleep, the body’s ability to properly use insulin becomes completely disrupted.[6]

Epidemiological research shows a strong correlation between abnormal sleep patterns and metabolic syndrome.[7] Lack of sleep over time leads to insulin resistance, hypertension, diabetes type 2 and obesity.[8]

Reducing sleep for only 2 hours daily can lead to a state of insulin resistance in otherwise healthy persons within a week.[9] Reducing your sleep time for 4 hours affects your metabolism so severe that insulin resistance can be developed only after one single night.[10]

So, why is insulin important for weight loss?

Insulin is a peptide hormone that regulates your body’s ability to process food into energy. Insulin resistance is a very bad thing for weight loss, because when insulin is functioning well, fat cells remove fatty acids and lipids from your blood stream and prevent fat storage. If you are insulin resistant, the lipids will circulate in your blood stream, which leads to producing more insulin. Eventually, the excess insulin will start storing fat instead of using it. This is how you not only become fat, but also increase your chances of getting diabetes.

Apart from insulin, sleep deprivation affects 3 other hormones related to weight gain:

The mentioned hormones are disrupted due to lack of sleep which results in making you feel constantly hungry and therefore hindering your weight loss efforts. Here is how.

Hunger is controlled by two hormones: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is a hormone that is produced in your fat cells, and which tells your brain when you are full. Ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone and the more you produce it, the more you stimulate hunger while at the same time reducing the amount of calories you burn and increasing the amount of fat you store. To successfully lose weight, you need to control leptin and ghrelin, and as almost every other hormone in your body, these two are also significantly influenced by sleep.

Research shows that lack of sleep increases hunger, and particularly depresses leptin while at the same time increases the amount of ghrelin you produce on a daily basis.[11]

Poor sleep is also linked to changes in serotonin levels – a hormone that significantly influences your appetite. Lack of sleep increases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and activates the reward centers in your brain that trigger a need for serotonin. Serotonin is often released by consuming fat and carbs, so this is why you may be constantly craving for sweets and junk food.

So, briefly explained, cortisol makes you want food more, while sleep loss also causes your body to produce more ghrelin. A combination of high ghrelin and cortisol basically shuts down the areas of your brain that leave you feeling satisfied after a meal, meaning you feel hungry all the time—even if you just ate a big and heavy meal.

The hormonal imbalances caused by lack of sleep we just mentioned above, result in an internal battle that makes it almost impossible to lose weight even if you do everything the right way.

How Sleep Loss Sabotages Your Exercising Efforts

As everything we mentioned isn’t enough, sleep loss also sabotages your gym time. No matter whether you want to lose weight or gain muscle, in order to lose fat, you need muscles. Why? Because muscles are the enemy of fat, and they help to burn it.

However, lack of sleep is the enemy of muscle, and studies have shown that sleep deprivation reduces protein synthesis (your body’s ability to make muscles) and causes muscle loss.[12]

Even short term deprivation may completely undo your exercising efforts. According to research, long-term sleep deprivation, may result in higher fat mass gains (due to insulin resistance), while short term sleep deprivation appears to hinder fat loss attempts by reducing the percentage of weight loss that is actually fat mass.

In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2010, sleep deprivation adversely affects nutrient partitioning during weight loss. Nutrient partitioning is all about where the energy from the nutrients you take in goes, and whether the calories from those nutrients are burned as fuel, stored as fat, or taken up by muscle tissue to build new muscles. The degree to which each takes place depends on a variety of factors, including genetics and hormonal influences, particularly insulin.

If you are on a weight loss diet, reducing your sleep by 3 hours will result in a rather unfavorable nutrient partitioning effect or simply explained, you will be losing more weight from lean mass than fat mass.[13]

Lack of sleep will also make your body harder to recover from exercise. In order to repair your muscles, your body needs to produce growth hormones and growth hormones are particularly produced in slow wave sleep. Studies show that, in case of sleep deprivation, the body compensates for the lack of GH during the day, and that overall daily exposure to GH is left not significantly different.[14] However, that’s when cortisol comes in to mess things up even more.

Cortisol (which is triggered by sleep deprivation) also slows down the production of growth hormones.[15] So, when you are sleep deprived, the already reduced production of growth hormone is further slowed down by high cortisol levels in your body. When you’re suffering from slept debt, this makes everything you do more challenging, especially your workouts. So, if you’re someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy exercising, this will make it almost unbearable.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, the connection between sleep and weight gain is very hard to ignore, and getting proper night’s rest is equally as sticking to your workout routine and diet.

With our hectic schedules and lifestyles, it may be very hard to get the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night. However, the least you can do is to make sure that one night of bad sleep isn’t followed by a few more. It doesn’t seem like much, but you’re at least off to a good start. Take a look at the resources we found to create this article and let us know your experience in the comments below!

Resources

[1] Yi S, Nakagawa T, Yamamoto S, Mizoue T, Takahashi Y, Noda M, Matsushita Y, Short sleep duration in association with CT-scanned abdominal fat areas: the Hitachi Health Study. International Journal of Obesity, 2013. available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22349574 “Shorter sleep duration is associated with higher BMI, WC and SFA in men”

[2] Hairston KG, Bryer-Ash M, Norris JM, Haffner S, Bowden DW, Wagenknecht LE, Sleep duration and five-year abdominal fat accumulation in a minority cohort: the IRAS family study. Journal Sleep, 2010. available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20337186 “In this minority cohort, extremes of sleep duration are related to increases in BMI, SAT, and VAT in persons younger than 40 years old.”

[3] Insufficient Sleep, Diet, and Obesity. Ann Intern Med. ;153:I–28. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-153-7-201010050-00002 available at https://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/746253/insufficient-sleep-diet-obesity

[4] Di Milia L, Vandelanotte C, Duncan MJ. The association between short sleep and obesity after controlling for demographic, lifestyle, work and health related factors. Sleep Medicine, 2013. available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23419528 “After adjustment of several confounding variables, a significant association between short sleep and obesity was obtained, but there was no association between short sleep and being overweight.”

[5] Watson NF, Harden KP, Buchwald D, Vitiello MV, Pack AI, Weigle DS, Goldberg J., Sleep duration and body mass index in twins: a gene-environment interaction. Journal Sleep 2012. available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22547885 “Shorter sleep duration is associated with increased BMI and increased genetic influences on BMI, suggesting that shorter sleep duration increases expression of genetic risks for high body weight. At the same time, longer sleep duration may suppress genetic influences on body weight.”

[6] Kristen L. Knutson, PhD,1Karine Spiegel, PhD, Plamen Penev, MD, PhD, and Eve Van Cauter, PhD, The Metabolic Consequences of Sleep Deprivation, Sleep Med. Rev. 2007 available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1991337/ “…chronic partial sleep loss may increase the risk of obesity and diabetes via multiple pathways, including an adverse effect on parameters of glucose regulation, including insulin resistance, a dysregulation of the neuroendocrine control of appetite leading to excessive food intake and decreased energy expenditure.”

[7] Najafian J, Toghianifar N, Mohammadifard N, Nouri F, Association between sleep duration and metabolic syndrome in a population-based study: Isfahan Healthy Heart Program. Journal of research in medical sciences: the official journal of Isfahan university of Medical sciences, 2011 available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22091310

[8] Knutson KL, Sleep duration and cardiometabolic risk: a review of the epidemiologic evidence. Best practice & research. Clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 2010. available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21112022

[9] Broussard JL, Ehrmann DA, Van Cauter E, Tasali E, Brady MJ, Impaired insulin signaling in human adipocytes after experimental sleep restriction: a randomized, crossover study. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2012 available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23070488 “Sleep restriction results in an insulin-resistant state in human adipocytes. Sleep may be an important regulator of energy metabolism in peripheral tissues.”

[10] Robertson MD, Russell-Jones D, Umpleby AM, Dijk DJ, Effects of three weeks of mild sleep restriction implemented in the home environment on multiple metabolic and endocrine markers in healthy young men. Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental, 2013 available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22985906

[11] Benedict C, Brooks SJ, O’Daly OG, Almèn MS, Morell A, Åberg K, Gingnell M, Schultes B, Hallschmid M, Broman JE, Larsson EM, Schiöth HB, Acute sleep deprivation enhances the brain’s response to hedonic food stimuli: an fMRI study. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinoloy and Metabolism, 2012. available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22259064%20%20 “…acute sleep loss enhances hedonic stimulus processing in the brain underlying the drive to consume food… These findings highlight a potentially important mechanism contributing to the growing levels of obesity in Western society.”

[12] Janne Grønli, Jonathan Soulé, and Clive R. Bramham, Sleep and protein synthesis-dependent synaptic plasticity: impacts of sleep loss and stress, Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 2013 available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3896837/

[13] Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Schoeller DA, Penev PD, Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity 2010 available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20921542 “The amount of human sleep contributes to the maintenance of fat-free body mass at times of decreased energy intake. Lack of sufficient sleep may compromise the efficacy of typical dietary interventions for weight loss and related metabolic risk reduction.”

[14] Spiegel K, Leproult R, Colecchia EF, L’Hermite-Balériaux M, Nie Z, Copinschi G, Van Cauter E., Adaptation of the 24-h growth hormone profile to a state of sleep debt. American Journal of Physiology. Regulative, integrative and comparative physiology, 2000 available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10956244

[15] Madhusmita Misra, Miriam A. Bredella, Patrika Tsai, Nara Mendes, Karen K. Miller and Anne Klibanski, Lower growth hormone and higher cortisol are associated with greater visceral adiposity, intramyocellular lipids, and insulin resistance in overweight girls, American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2008 available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2519763/

Scientifically reviewed by CountingSheep.net Team

Written by

countingsheep

Co-founder of Counting Sheep and Sleepaholic

Melatonin Risks

Melatonin is a sleep aid that is easily accessible over-the-counter and cheap – seems like the simplest and fastest solution for your sleep issues. Also, it’s natural, so that means it’s safe to use it, right? Unfortunately, things are never this simple. In this video, I will help you understand all the ins and outs […]

Melatonin is a sleep aid that is easily accessible over-the-counter and cheap – seems like the simplest and fastest solution for your sleep issues. Also, it’s natural, so that means it’s safe to use it, right? Unfortunately, things are never this simple.

In this video, I will help you understand all the ins and outs of melatonin, how it works in your body, and if taking its synthetic form can really help you sleep better. At the end of the video, I will recommend 3 natural and safer alternatives.

Watch this video before reaching for another melatonin pill!

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycles. This hormone is naturally produced by the pineal gland. However, in its synthetic form, or as a medication, it is used for the short-term treatment of sleep issues such as insomnia, jet lag or shift work.

Evidence that melatonin supplements are beneficial for sleep is unclear. Despite claims by supplement manufacturers, melatonin has shown mixed results as a treatment for any disease. It is not recommended for children, for women trying to get pregnant or breastfeeding mothers.

Two studies conducted in 2017 showed that melatonin helps you to fall asleep only 6 minutes faster, and stay asleep only 7 minutes longer.  Total sleep time in some participants wasn’t affected by melatonin pills at all.

How does Melatonin work for Sleep?

Melatonin’s main job in the body is to regulate sleep-wake cycles. Whenever the sun goes down, and the temperature starts to decrease, your body begins producing more melatonin, which signals the body to prepare for sleep. Light decreases melatonin production and signals the body to prepare for being awake. The human body naturally produces enough melatonin for sleep on their own. As we age, and especially once we reach age 54, natural melatonin secretion significantly decreases.

Without melatonin, it would be impossible for us to sleep in a normal and healthy way. However, this doesn’t mean that putting melatonin in a bottle and selling it in a form of a pill will help you solve your sleep issues. On the contrary, if you use it for a prolonged time, it may hurt your sleep, rather than improve it.

Before I explain to you why taking melatonin is a bad idea, I have to mention that you can easily buy these pills over-the-counter in the US and Canada. However, in the UK it is a prescription-only medication, and it is not FDA-approved for any use. In Australia and Europe, online sources and some studies we found suggest that melatonin is approved as a sleep aid only for people over the age of 54. (Just a brief reminder, after the age of 54, our natural melatonin production significantly decreases) However, other online sources indicate that you can obtain melatonin over-the-counter in Australia and some European countries such as Hungary and Netherlands.

Shouldn’t we be worried about these tight regulations in other parts of the world? It’s definitely something to think about.

Now, back to our main topic – although sold as a supplement, you should never forget that melatonin is still a hormone. It cannot replace or help with natural production; on the contrary, it can only further inhibit it.

How exactly? We naturally produce only 0.25mg of melatonin, and melatonin pills come in doses of 3mg which is 12 times higher than normal. When we are overdosing our bodies with melatonin, our body has to react and somehow get rid of all that excess. That’s where SCN comes in.

The suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) is a tiny region of the brain in the hypothalamus responsible for controlling circadian rhythms. The SCN, functions as a master circadian pacemaker controlling the timing of the sleep-wake cycle and coordinating this with circadian rhythms in other brain areas and other tissues to enhance behavioral adaptation.

The suprachiasmatic nucleus contains a bunch of different neurons that circulate back and forth to the different areas of our brain. The SCN also has melatonin receptors that circulate back and forth to the pineal gland and help regulate melatonin secretion. Normally, the signals from the receptors would be sent to the pineal gland in response to the environmental light/dark cycle. However, when we take melatonin pills (remember the dose is 12x higher than natural production), we instantly trigger a reaction, because the melatonin receptors in the SCN become overloaded. So, what happens next is that the receptors will signal the pineal gland to stop producing melatonin because we already have enough of it.  

This is how melatonin supplements inhibit natural melatonin production, and this is how you become dependent on it. By continuing to use melatonin you put your body in a negative feedback loop.

You might be thinking, okay natural production is slowed down, but I can regulate it with pills. However, doing so, you are also throwing off balance other hormones in your body. Let’s see how.

Homeostasis

Our body and hormones work like a finely-tuned machine. Hormones are responsible for key homeostatic processes in the body such as control of blood glucose levels and control of blood pressure. Throwing off only one hormone out of balance (in our case melatonin), will mess up the entire body and normal regulation of the internal conditions within cells and organs. The body always has to be in perfect hormonal balance. For example, if your testosterone levels reduce, estrogen levels may increase to restore the balance. The same happens when you use melatonin. When it goes high, another one is needed to balance it all out somehow.

When you have higher doses of melatonin in your body than needed, this means your body will need much longer time to clear it out. This also explains why you have a hangover effect when you take it. The sad thing is that some people are so used to this effect, that they don’t even know anymore how their life looks without it.

Is falling asleep only 6 minutes longer and staying asleep 7 minutes more than usual really worth all these risks and effects? Really not.

Also, the point of the entire story is that taking melatonin to induce sleep when the sleeping problems are not caused by a lack of it creates an opposite reaction. When there is too much melatonin in the brain, the synapses will become less responsive, which will cause more sleeping problems. In that case the effect of melatonin will be minimal – on average, you will get 8 minutes more sleep per night, and fall asleep on average 7 minutes faster. To really solve your sleep problems, you have to know what is causing them and address those.

Now back to homeostasis.

How Melatonin Affects other Hormones?

Scientists are not sure how exactly melatonin affects other hormones in our body, but new studies, aiming to find out more, are being conducted every day — according to research, overdosing leads to drowsiness and reduced core body temperature. Very large doses have adverse effects on the performance of the human reproductive system.

In experiments conducted by Japanese researchers and the University of California, Berkeley, was found out that melatonin switches on a recently discovered hormone called gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone (GnIH). GnIH has been found to have the opposite effect to the key hormone priming the body for sex – gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). Over time, switching off GnRH causes the gonads – testes and ovary – to shrink.

The good news is that the results of the study were observed on birds, but it is not unlikely that it doesn’t affect humans. We should be concerned because if melatonin can do this to one neuropeptide system, chances are high it can do it to any other.

Alternatives to Melatonin

So, what should we use instead of melatonin? Is there some natural sleep aid that is safe, and that can really help us to sleep better? Out top 3 alternatives are magnesium, theanine, and glycine.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant that blocks the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, and as a result, produces a calming effect. On a chemical level, magnesium activates the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the system responsible for getting you calm and relaxed.

It regulates neurotransmitters, which send signals throughout the nervous system and brain, and also supports the production of the hormone melatonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. GABA is the neurotransmitter responsible for quieting down nerve activity. It is the same neurotransmitter used by sleep drugs like Ambien. By helping to quiet the nervous system, magnesium prepares your body and mind for sleep. So, instead of taking a shortcut, and using synthetic hormones, you should help your body naturally produce more melatonin.

L-theanine

L-theanine L is an amino acid that is found in tea leaves. L-theanine promotes relaxation and facilitates sleep by contributing to a number of changes in the brain, such as boosting GABA levels, lowering the levels of excitatory brain chemicals, and enhancing alpha brain waves.

The biggest benefit of this substance is that, at the same time, it increases chemicals that promote feelings of calm and induce sleep, while also reducing levels of chemicals in the brain that are linked to stress and anxiety.

L-Theanine helps to restore your wake cycle meaning you won’t have to worry about the hangover effect in the morning. The supplement doesn’t disrupt the natural stages of your sleep, and doesn’t produce a sedative effect; simply a relaxing one.

Glycine

Glycine (also known as 2-Aminoacetic Acid) is an amino acid and a neurotransmitter. The body produces glycine on its own, and we also consume it through food. This amino acid aids sleep by decreasing your subcutaneous temperature and cooling the body down. By reducing the body temperature, melatonin and GABA levels go up, which induces sleep and helps to improve its quality. Glycine also increases serotonin levels, and serotonin is vital for promoting the natural production of melatonin.

So, there were 3 different ways to fall asleep faster and stay asleep without using melatonin and becoming a hormone pumper.