New Dad? Those Sleepless Nights Could Be Making You Fat.

Being a dad is awesome in so many ways. But it’s not awesome when it comes to sleep.

I have two kids. One’s nine. The other is seven. Though they both sleep through the night now (for the most part), I still remember the year it took for the oldest to start sleeping well.

I remember, because even as a dietitian, I put on weight. Our oldest was up in the middle of the night and when it was my turn to give her a bottle, I was right there with her, mindlessly nibbling.

“I always ask patients whether they are getting restful sleep,” says John Whyte, MD, Chief Medical Officer of WebMD. “Either too little or even too much can often be signs of serious conditions such as depression, thyroid disease, or even multiple sclerosis.”

Conditions, of course, that can affect how you feel long-term, but what about how sleep directly influences you as Dad right now?

Here’s the scary reality: You have a five percent higher chance of suffering from obesity if you are sleep deprived—which is classified as anything less than six hours of sleep a night.

Why? Well, research says that you’ll eat about 300 more calories the day after a bad night’s sleep—and those calories tend to come more from sugar- and fat-based foods.

You see, when you’re fatigued, the hunger hormone ghrelin increases in your body, which may make you more likely to nibble all those extra leftovers on your kids’ plate. And then there’s the way your body processes those extra calories…

“How we sleep can influence what we eat, and vice versa. Sleep deprivation impairs our bodies’ ability to metabolize carbohydrates,” says Brandon Marcello, PhD. “This impairment causes us to crave carbohydrates, but more specifically junk food. Furthermore low-quality, insufficient sleep over long periods alters hormone levels shifting us in a state favoring fat storage.”

The very thing we need so much more of is the very thing we’re negotiating away like some sort of bravado, tough guy “sleep is for babies” mentality.

So how can you improve your sleep as a father?

Cut the caffeine.

Not completely, but by noon. Caffeine hangs out in your body for up to 8 hours and has an additive effect, so even though you may not go to sleep at 8:00 p.m., if you keep slamming energy drinks and coffee all day long, all that caffeine keeps your brain awake, even if you’re physically asleep.

Stop working.

Again, not completely, but when you’re overworked, it’s hard to rest easy. Give yourself some recovery: have a conversation, read a book, or journal.

Power down.

That’s the T.V., the smartphone, the iPad—everything with a screen. One hour before bed is good. Two hours before bed is better. The light emitted from your devices tricks your brain into being more alert and doesn’t allow it to get into the deep stages of sleep necessary for true recovery.

Go slow powering up.

Wait at least 30 minutes before turning on technology in the morning. Your ritual upon rising is just as important as your bedtime ritual. Don’t let the blue light hit your eyes before your feet hit the floor.

All of these tricks can be a challenge, but also could be the difference maker between fighting dad bod and also just generally being productive at home and work.

Sweet dreams, schnookems.

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