We all know the frustration of a sleepless night. We toss and turn as our minds take this most inopportune time to dissect and analyze everything from the minor tiff we had with a friend to the pile of unfinished work awaiting us in the morning. We also know how crummy we feel the next day after that lousy night’s sleep. Lethargic, slow, grumpy, and irritable. And while an occasional sleepless night is normal, the chronic lack of sleep and poor quality sleep can have a profoundly negative impact on our health. An impact far deeper than just feeling sluggish and grouchy for a day.
When it comes to health, wellness, and weight most people tend to focus on their diet and exercise, managing their stress, and not smoking. But one of the most important pillars of SUSTAINABLE health is often overlooked. SLEEP!
Sleep plays such a crucial role in our health that we cannot afford to let it take a back seat. Yet when life gets stressful and time gets tight it is often the first healthy habit we start to ignore. When there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day we trim our sleep time by staying up late or setting the alarm a little earlier. And the quality of our sleep is impacted by stress, emotions, diet, health, and activity level. It’s time to make sleep be a top priority in your self-care!
WHY DO WE NEED SLEEP?
Sleep plays a critical role for both our physical and mental health and wellbeing. Sleep is a complex, active state where are bodies have a chance to restore, process, and grow. Researchers still have a lot to learn about why we need sleep and what is happening as we slumber, but here are a few things we do know for sure.
ENDOCRINE SYSTEM : Your body’s endocrine system is responsible for producing hormones that effect almost every function of your body including growth and development, metabolism, mood, sleep, immunity, sexual function, and reproduction. Research is showing that sleep deprivation is tied to imbalances in our hormones. Because hormones play such an important role in almost all aspects of our health you can see why sleep is so important to healthy endocrine function.
BRAIN FUNCTION : Adequate sleep is needed for learning, memory, and performance. Researchers from Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine, have demonstrated that during sleep our brain processes and consolidates memories allowing us to learn from what we experience during the waking hours.
MUSCULOSKELETAL : Researchers are still learning about how sleep effects muscle metabolism. Sleep deprivation has been linked to increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone that can lead to muscle breakdown) and low levels of testosterone and Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (hormones that can contribute to muscle growth and repair). Research suggests that during sleep your muscles repair themselves and grow. Athletic performance has also been linked to quality of sleep.
PSYCHOLOGICAL : Not only does lack of sleep make it more difficult to cope with life’s daily stressors, it also has a significant link to much more severe psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety.
IMMUNITY : There is a significant interaction between sleep, inflammation and the immune system. Adequate amounts of good quality sleep is needed to maintain your immunity.
WEIGHT : Remember those pesky hormones and how sleep interferes with healthy levels? Well the hormone imbalances from lack of sleep can also affect your weight. Lack of sleep raises the hormones that increase your hunger and slow down your metabolism. Leptin and Ghrelin are two hormones that play a significant role in your weight, hunger and metabolism. And poor sleep can put these guys out of whack. Leptin is a hormone that helps keep your body weight stable. It tells the body that you are full. Low leptin levels signal your body to take in more energy and you begin to feel hungry. Ghrelin counterbalances the effects of leptin. It’s the hunger hormone. High levels signal the brain that you need more energy and it makes you hungry so you eat more. Imagine these hormones on a seesaw. You want ghrelin to be on the upside, and leptin on the low side, keeping your hunger, metabolism and weight in check. But studies show that lack of sleep does just the opposite. Leptin rises, ghrelin falls and you get hungry.
By now, I’m confident you’ve caught onto the fact that sleep is way more than just a “beauty rest”. It is a fundamental key to health, well-being, and keeping your weight in check. If you or a loved one ride’s the “insomnia train,” tune in for the next few weeks as we give you our top 10 tips for a blissful night’s sleep and discuss what foods to include in your meal plan for restful slumber.
Taheri, S., Lin, L., Austin, D., Young, T., & Mignot, E. (2004). Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index. PLoS Medicine, 1(3), e62. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0010062
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Ong, J. C., Manber, R., Segal, Z., Xia, Y., Shapiro, S., & Wyatt, J. K. (2014). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Insomnia. Sleep, 37(9), 1553–1563. http://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.4010