The Importance of Sleep

A typical morning for many of us begins with hitting the snooze button multiple times until we finally make it downstairs to enjoy our first cup of coffee. We think about everything we have to do that day, but rarely do we consider if we got enough sleep to help us feel rested, healthy and ready to burn calories. Sufficient sleep is a major health factor that can hinder or improve our overall physical and mental well-being.

 

There are many benefits of adequate sleep you may not be aware of. Getting enough rest keeps your heart healthy. Poor sleep increases the release of stress hormones that raise the level of inflammation in your body (such as C-reactive protein), which creates more risk for heart-related conditions. Getting enough shut-eye can also help prevent cancer. Melatonin, a hormone that aids in sleepiness, is also thought to protect us against different forms of cancer. You can help your body produce more melatonin by keeping the bedroom as dark as possible. Lastly, the cells in our body produce high levels of protein during sleep. These protein molecules form the building blocks for cells, allowing them to rebuild and repair (especially after a workout!).

 

In order to receive the full benefits of a good night’s sleep we need, on average, 7-9 hours per night; however, 65% of American adults are not getting the minimum 7 hours per night. Sleep deprivation leads to decreased mind and body function. When optimum sleep is not achieved, short-term side effects include: decreased work performance, poor concentration, slower reaction time and reduced learning capability. Loss of sleep also increases the occurrences of memory lapse, accidents (sleep deprived drivers perform as poorly as drunk drivers), behavioral problems and mood dissatisfaction. Long-term side effects are: increased risk of heart disease, colon cancer, obesity and diabetes. In addition, losing sleep increases stress hormones, which contributes to high blood pressure.

 

Getting enough sleep helps bolster our cognitive learning process. More specifically, learning and memory are often described in terms of three functions. Acquisition refers to the introduction of new information into the brain; consolidation is an established memory; and recall refers to the ability to access the information after it has been stored. Acquisition and recall occur during wakefulness, but research suggests that memory consolidation takes place during sleep. The more adequately we sleep, the more we will be able to learn, retain and recall.

 

Leptin and ghrelin are hormones involved in human energy homeostasis and are both produced in the stomach. Ghrelin is a hormone that relays messages between the digestive system and the brain. It works to stimulate appetite, slow metabolism and decrease your body’s ability to burn fat. Leptin is a hormone that is produced by fat cells. It plays a role in body weight regulation by acting to suppress appetite and burn fat stored in adipose tissue. When we don’t get enough sleep it causes leptin levels to plunge 18% lower than average. This means we don’t feel as satisfied after we eat. Lack of sleep also causes ghrelin levels to rise 28% higher than average. This means our appetite is stimulated and we feel constantly hungry, even after eating. Ghrelin and leptin set the stage for overeating. People that sleep less than 7 hours are more prone to obesity. A Columbia University study revealed that the obesity epidemic is largely being driven by the decreased average number of sleep hours.

 

Here is a checklist of things you can do to have a more blissful sleep and wakeful morning:

  • Maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule, including weekends.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine, such as soaking in a hot bath, reading a book or listening to soothing music.
  • Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool.
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillow.
  • Use your bedroom ONLY for sleep. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions into another room.
  • Finish eating healthy foods at least 2 hours before bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly, and eat healthy. This is very important in regulating sleep hormones.
  • Avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine close to bedtime.

 

Following these guidelines will lead to a healthy and more productive lifestyle. More sleep will make us feel physically and mentally rested, regenerated, replenished and ready to workout harder!