There’s something unparalleled to the maintenance of a balanced circadian rhythm, otherwise known as a sleep-wake cycle. It is now established that a night’s sleep should span between 7 to 9 hours on average and that guiding our body into an autonomous sleep pattern is key to staying alert and energised throughout the day, as well as a good night’s sleep. Another fundamental part of our daily routine that is also navigated by our surrounding light is a dietary habit. It seems that weight loss and gain is intertwined within our sleeping patterns and light consumption in complex and intricate ways.
There are two hormones at play when it comes to the regulation of hunger: ghrelin and leptin, both of which are sensitive to sleep. The nature of ghrelin is to stimulate appetite, while leptin decreases the sensation of hunger. When the body is deprived of sleep, the level of ghrelin spikes, at the same time leptin levels drop, leading to an increased sensation of hunger. Essentially, not getting the right light at the right time jeopardises the restorative sleep we need, and in turn, the body desperately works to replace the energy that is missing with high fat foods.
Alongside the imbalance of hormones, there is a second factor at play: sleep deprivation stimulates a process in the body that increases the level of endocannabinoid in the blood. High levels of this lipid tricks the brain into making food more enjoyable – working in a similar way to some recreational intoxications – especially in the evening, and with a particular preference to high fat foods. It was found that individuals whose lifestyle supports persistent sleep deprivation consume twice as much fat a day than those who maintain an average of 8 hours of sleep every night.
The web between the foundational aspects of our life, namely sleep, food and light are linked in perhaps subtle but immense ways. Understanding your surrounding light throughout the day will help ensure your sleep quality is raised, and regular sleep will benefit your lifestyle in myriad aspects, from eating habits, to your body weight and energy levels.
It may sound like a monumental commitment to regulate one’s life, but come to think of it, we are creatures of habit, and our modern world has been developed to accommodate just that. Work starts at the same time daily, and meals are eaten relatively at the same time every day, so why shouldn’t our sleep pattern synchronise with this habitual rhythm too. The rise and set of the sun not only marks what we consider day and night, but also navigates our body to operate rhythmically – let’s make sure we follow rather than negate this.