While you’re sleeping
In January I explained how by focusing solely on our weight we can make rash decisions that will fail to deliver what we want: looking and feeling the best we can be.
In February I have been outlining an alternative approach to dieting and calorie counting, one that is inclusive and based upon the No Targets Trinity: Eat smart, Exercise daily and Sleep sound. So far I have examined what to eat and how to move; today we focus on the third piece, the importance of sleep, and examine the cost to burning the candle at both ends.
Sleep is vital for optimal health, essential for both mental and physical wellbeing. While we sleep our body is working to support healthy brain function while also maintaining our general health. A particularly interesting function in the context of this article relates to balancing our appetite hormones, ghrelin and leptin, which play a part in determining our feelings of hunger and fullness.
It’s no secret that sleep affects us in how we look, feel and in our performance of daily tasks. Studies have shown getting 7-8 hours’ sleep a night improves our attention span and ability to learn, aiding also with decision making and being creative.
But the risks associated with sleep deficiency are less well known and underestimated by many. Equally the risks associated with too much sleep will probably come as a complete surprise.
Sleep deficiency can raise the risk of chronic health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and frequent mental distress, while it can also increase the risk of obesity and all-cause mortality. Sleep deficiency has been linked to depression, risk-taking behaviour and even suicide.
Sleep is important for hormone balance, with sleep deficiency resulting in higher than normal blood sugar levels, while our immune system relies on adequate sleep to stay in optimal shape.
According to research from the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2016:
- people who slept 7-8 hours/night were 25% less likely to have experienced a stroke
- people who slept less than 7 hours/night were 22% more likely to have reported having a stroke
- people who slept more than 8 hours/night were 146% more likely to have suffered a stroke.
This extraordinary set of findings is even more alarming when we also consider that increase in sleep duration has also been associated with weight gain and with a modest increased risk of diabetes in middle-aged and older women.
Decrease in sleep duration has been associated with poor food choices and lack of physical activity.
Why we need to sleep
While we sleep our brain sorts through the daily experiences we have encountered, filing the important information, so a bad night’s sleep can lead to impaired mental function. Not allowing your body the ability to carry out this essential function over the longer term has been associated with Alzheimer’s.
Equally, if our sleep is cut short our body does not have the time to complete all the critical phases that are important for muscle repair, memory consolidation and hormone regulation.
Everyone faces an increasingly hectic lifestyle, often compounded by the 24/7 nature of our wired lives, with multiple mental stimulation through phones and social media at all times of day and night. But to avoid unnecessary health issues a healthy sleeping routine is a habit we really should adopt. Switching off electronic devices and leaving them out of the bedroom helps reduce the risk of insomnia, while trying to go to bed at a regular time will also help your body adopt a rhythm that makes it ready for sleep. Darkness is also important, particularly because it stimulates the production of melatonin, a powerful hormone which is vital for sleep (see Sleep: vital for health. Melatonin: vital for sleep).
It goes without saying that nutrition and exercise are also key components in helping you sleep. Eating real foods, exercising daily, both will help you sleep sound. All three combined make up the No Targets Trinity to help you achieve what you want: looking and feeling the best you can be. By burning the candle at both ends you defeat the best efforts you may be making with the other two key pieces of the puzzle.
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7-8 hours sleep per night, 25% LESS likely to have had a stroke
less than 7 hours sleep per night, 22% MORE likely to have reported a stroke