Remember when you were a teenager, and you could easily sleep to noon if someone didn’t wake you? Well, if you’re like most adults, those days are long gone.
I can’t remember the last time I woke up AFTER the sun rose. And I’m not alone. In fact, a third of U.S. adults aren’t getting the minimum seven hours of sleep that experts say we need to stay healthy these days.
But sleep quantity is only one part of the picture. It turns out sleep QUALITY is just as important. It naturally declines as we age with vital sleep stages shrinking over the years. And our modern lifestyle with its high stress levels and poor diet make things worse.
Yesterday, I shared with you one way reduced sleep can be causing harm. Shrinking short-wave sleep cycles interrupt your brain’s natural cleaning schedule and could lead to memory loss and even dementia.
But short-wave sleep is just the start. Rapid eye movement or REM sleep is critical too.
When we’re babies, up to 50 percent of our sleep time is spent in REM. By the time we reach adulthood, experts say we spend 20 to 25 percent of our sleep in REM, and every moment of it is important.
Our brains are very active during rapid eye movement periods. During REM sleep, which happens around three times a night, we dream, process information we’ve taken in during the day, and solidify our memories.
A lack of REM sleep can harm your ability to remember and can make learning new things difficult. But scientists have just uncovered another consequence of not getting enough good quality REM sleep every night.
It turns out it could be affecting our appetites and diet choices.
Poor quality REM sleep can harm your health
The lateral hypothalamus (LH) is an ancient area of our brains that we share with other animals like mice. And it lights up like a Christmas tree during REM sleep.
When we’re awake neurons from the LH influence…
- what foods we choose to eat
In the new animal study, researchers wanted to find out what role the REM activity in this area of the brain plays in everyday behavior. And the results were surprising.
When they used specialized light pulses to suppress the activity of the LH neurons, it affected the mice’s appetites. The critters began to turn up their tiny little noses at their rodent chow and eating less. And the effects lasted for up to four days afterward.
In other words, it appears that REM activity in this area of the brain is vital for regulating appetite.
More research is needed to confirm the connection in humans, of course. But there’s every reason to believe it works the same way in us.
Now an off night with reduced REM here and there likely won’t do most of us too much harm. But continued poor sleep could affect your appetite over the long haul, which COULD have all kinds of unintended consequences on your diet and health. And that’s especially true as you age.
Poor appetite is a common problem for folks in their senior years. Eventually, it can lead to nutritional deficiencies, frailty, and even broken bones. In fact, one study found that 39 percent of hospitalized older adults are malnourished.
4 tips to fix your lack of appetite
So if you’re among the one-third of U.S. adults not getting enough shuteye, it’s time to change that. Shoot for seven to eight QUALITY hours of sleep a night. And you can encourage more REM sleep with a few simple steps.
- Keep it consistent: To make sure you cycle through all the sleep stages, keep your sleep schedule consistent. Try to stick to the same sleep and wake times no matter what day of the week. Experts say doing this can help significantly increase the amount of REM sleep you’re getting within just days.
- Avoid sleep muggers: If you’re caffeine-sensitive, avoid drinking caffeinated drinks and eating chocolate in the afternoon and evening hours. Medications such as decongestants, diet pills, and ironically sleeping aids can all interfere with your REM sleep. And too much alcohol can be a problem as well, robbing you of REM. Stick with a glass at dinner, and don’t drink too close to bedtime.
- Make a move: Exercise is a natural sleep aid, helping to naturally tire you out. Plus, it reduces stress, which can interfere with sleep as well. You don’t have to spend hours at the gym or lift heavy weights either. Just plan in a daily walk after dinner or a dance session during the day to prepare yourself for a good night’s sleep later.
- Create a sleep cave: Make sure your bedroom is set up for good sleep. A good quality mattress, no blinking electronics, some blackout curtains, and a cool temperature can help you get quality sleep.
Fix your REM sleep, and chances are you’ll fix your lack of appetite right along with it.
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