One of the most important aspects of healthy living that is often overlooked is the significance of getting an adequate amount of sleep. When the good Lord made our bodies to require that we spend almost one third of our lives doing one thing, you know it must be important. Having spent most of my adult life in a career that has often left me sleep deprived, I have personally seen the adverse impact it has had on my overall health. For those of us striving to achieve a healthy weight and an overall healthy life, getting the right amount of sleep is crucial to those efforts. Here are some of the many ways that not getting sufficient sleep can impact our lives and our health.
Sleeping less than the recommended 7-9 hours per night can lead us to have trouble with thinking, concentration, memory and can even impact our mood. During sleep the brain forms new neural connections that help us to process information and to remember new things we have learned. Sleep deprivation can lead to impairment of all of our mental functions, including delaying our reaction times and putting us at an increased risk for accidents. In addition, being tired and sleepy contribute to poor decision making when it comes to selecting healthy foods to fuel our bodies.
Not getting enough sleep has been linked to increased blood pressure. It also leads to higher levels of chemicals that cause inflammation in the body. Both high blood pressure and inflammation are risk factors for heart disease. Research has shown there to be a link between insomnia and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
While we are sleeping, our bodies produce cytokines which help us to fight off infection. If we do not get enough sleep, our levels of these chemicals will be impaired leading to a decreased ability to fight off illnesses, particularly viral and bacterial infections. Not only that, but this impaired immunity can make it take longer to recover from illnesses.
Weight Management and Hormones
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is not simply a matter of calories in versus calories out. We now know that sleep deprivation is a major risk factor for becoming overweight and for obesity. Two hormones that control hunger and and fullness, leptin and ghrelin are directly affected by the amount of sleep we get. Leptin tells our brains to stop eating when we are full and ghrelin is an appetite stimulant. With sleep deprivation, we produce less leptin and more ghrelin. The imbalance in these hormones is thought to be responsible for late night snacking. The longer we are awake into the night, the more opportunities we have to overeat. An additional effect that poor sleep has on our weight loss efforts is to make it us too tired to exercise.
Another substance that is adversely affected by sleep deprivation is the stress hormone cortisol. Heightened cortisol levels prompt the body to store more fat (especially in our middle section) and to use muscle as an energy source. Cortisol can have the effect of increasing blood sugar levels which causes increased insulin production which in turn increases our cravings. This effect has been linked not only to obesity but an increased risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Here are a few tips for improving your sleep which will lead to improvements in your health:
1. Sleep in complete darkness with no television, night lights or LED lights in the room.
2. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
3. Decrease or eliminate caffeine and alcohol late in the day.
4. GO TO BED early enough to insure that you can get 7-9 hours of sleep.
“Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.” 3 John 1:2 NLT