Fit Nation: Sweet dreams for better health, weight loss

Fit Nation team member Erica Moore practices yoga in a rare moment of calm, seeking a more balanced life.

Story highlights

  • Erica Moore, 35, says she gained weight because she worked too much and slept too little
  • Feeling burnt out after a work assignment in India, she switched positions to give her more time for herself
  • She realized she was sleep deprived and has made three concrete changes to get more rest and they are working

Six CNN viewers have been selected to be part of the 2015 Fit Nation triathlon team. They'll race alongside Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon in September. As they train the six will share their stories about their Fit Nation experience.

(CNN)"You can sleep when you're dead," I've told myself while answering work email in the middle of the night.

To combat the previous night's loss of sleep, I'd go to bed at 8 p.m. the next night, only to find myself wide awake at 1 a.m.
    The ping-pong of sleeplessness leaves me disoriented and cranky.
    I wore my crazy work hours like a badge.
    "I worked 60 hours last week," I'd say tiredly, but with a secret glee that this must mean that I was the best at what I was doing.
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    My disregard for a healthy work/life balance showed my dedication and loyalty to work.
    This imbalance fed others in my life: How could I possibly go to the gym? I have work to do. I don't know how to fall asleep naturally. I'll have a drink or two before bed to "help" me fall asleep. Since I didn't shop for groceries on Sunday because I slept all day, on Tuesday, I had to order takeout.
    A year and a half ago, I returned from my second long-term assignment in India and felt pretty burnt out.
    With the help of my boss, I found a new role within my company. This was a role that allowed me to develop a healthy balance between doing good work and living a good life.
    So I started leaving work at 5 p.m. I worked from home on some days. I filled my free time with dozens of new hobbies.
    But I still wasn't getting regular and consistent sleep.
    I'd seen the news reports that said insomnia can hinder weight loss. But I still held on to those late nights, which were now filled with knitting and "Law & Order" reruns instead of work.
    "How could I do it all if one-third of my day was spent sleeping?" I wondered.
    Fast forward to our Fit Nation kickoff weekend.
    Paul Kriegler, corporate dietitian for Lifetime Fitness, led a nutrition workshop for our Fit Nation team.
    When the discussion of sleep came up, I listened even more intently as he explained the havoc that sleeplessness can wreak on our bodies, our blood sugars and our metabolism.
    I left that weekend determined to tackle my insomnia head on.
    I decided on three simple behaviors that I could change immediately:
    1. Do not drink alcohol at home
    I used this as a crutch to get to sleep for many years. But while that drink might knock you out, you're not getting restful REM sleep and a few short hours later, you're right back where you started: awake!
    2. Set a consistent bedtime
    I decided to go to bed at 10:30 every night, including the weekends. The first few days were weird, but by the third night, my body was used to winding itself down around 9 p.m.
    3. No screens an hour before bedtime and no cell phone in the bedroom
    I spend most of my days planted in front of a computer. If I'm not working, I'm surfing the Internet or watching a movie online.
    My eyes and brain are constantly stimulated.
    Unplugging an hour before bed allows me to have a conversation with my boyfriend without distractions. I read a few chapters in a good book or I knit a few more rows on my latest sock project.
    It's been nice having this time for reflection and to quiet my mind right before bed.
    Banishing the phone from the bedroom means if I roll over in the middle of the night, I simply wait for myself to fall back asleep instead of reaching for the phone and scrolling through Instagram.
    I'm at the end of the third week and I have to tell you, I'm now sleeping through the night!
    I feel energized and excited to start the day.
    I've got energy for workouts and cooking.
    I feel great. And I look forward to bedtime each night.
    Sweet dreams at last.