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Caregivers At Risk for Weight Gain

Catching some Z’s can help keep the pounds off

En español | Caregiving is tough, demanding work. It's also 24/7, which means that caregivers often find themselves short on sleep. To compound matters, new research shows that sleep deprivation can cause hormonal changes that increase appetite and decrease the sensation of feeling full. Studies from the University of Chicago and Stanford University in California found that the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin rises in people who haven't gotten enough rest. And leptin, the hormone that signals the brain when you're full, decreases when people don't get enough rest.

Curb cravings

Snack smart, eat fresh. Grabbing a quick snack is a natural reaction to satisfy a hunger pang. But choose wisely. Readily available snack foods may satisfy that empty feeling in your stomach and a craving for something sweet or salty, but most snacks provide unwanted calories and can contribute to weight gain.

Woman looking in refrigerator in dark, How Sleeplessness Leads to Overeating

Sarah Fix/Getty Images

Appetite-stimulating hormones rise in people who haven't gotten enough rest, so caregivers need to sleep better to prevent weight gain.

Instead of a vending machine snack or "out of a box" snack, consider eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains found in oatmeal, bread, brown rice and bran cereal, among others. These foods provide complex carbohydrates that take longer to digest and don't create the sugar highs and lows that might keep you craving for more.

Don't eat or drink empty calories

If, after a sleepless night, you know the day ahead will be busy, try to avoid sugar- and calorie-laden soft drinks and juices. These are empty calories that provide a temporary energy boost but that will ultimately make you more tired and can contribute to obesity.

Choose low-fat dairy

Select low-fat or fat-free dairy products, such as yogurt, milk and cheese, to provide calcium for healthy bones. A cup of low-fat yogurt can satisfy your hunger without adding unwanted fat to your diet or your waistline.

Select quality protein

Include protein-rich foods that are low in saturated fat to maintain heart health and help control your weight. Select nuts, lean meats, poultry and fish to get the protein you need. Unsalted, toasted soybeans are also a good source of protein and are a convenient, tasty alternative to high-sodium snack foods.

Consider portion control

Remember to pay attention to portion control when you're tired. If you haven't had a scheduled "regular" meal all day, you're likely to overeat. So when you finally sit down for a meal, maintain normal-size portions and enjoy!

Change locations

If you're still feeling hungry after you've eaten, drink a glass of water, then get up from the table and leave the room. Changing your environment can help take your mind off food and reduce your risk of overeating.

Get a better night's rest

Caring for another person can reduce the amount of sleep you get each night and disrupt your normal, healthy sleep patterns. Instead of having time for yourself, those few precious hours before bedtime are typically devoted to preparing your loved one for bed. The following suggestions will help you get some much-needed rest:

  1. Create an evening schedule that gives you at least a half hour of downtime before retiring. If possible, change your loved one's schedule by getting him/her ready for bed earlier and encouraging some personal quiet time in his/her room prior to normal bedtime.
  2. Work out a schedule with another family member to take over caregiving duties after dinner, so you have some free time and can wind down before bed.
  3. Go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time each day. It may seem impossible at first, but developing a sleep routine for you and your loved one is important to your health.
  4. Make sure your bedroom is conducive to good sleep: Use room-darkening blinds, keep pets off the bed and out of the bedroom, turn off the bedroom phone ringer, avoid caffeinated drinks after 5 p.m., don't read or watch television in bed, limit daily alcohol intake to one glass for women and two for men, and exercise whenever possible (it's the best remedy for improving your quality of sleep).
  5. If you can't resolve your sleeplessness, talk with your doctor. Sometimes underlying health conditions — in addition to your demanding caregiving responsibilities — can interrupt your sleep. Your doctor can evaluate your health status, as well as discuss other strategies to help you get the rest you need.

This article was previously published by Johnson & Johnson.