The Importance of Sleep for health:
When it comes to health, many people think of exercise and diet.
Yes, these two things play a major role in how healthy you are.
However, One of the biggest things people overlook and fall short on, is sleep.
I think one reason people dismiss sleeps importance, is that we are programmed to think that we have to sacrifice, work hard, grind it out, deprive ourselves to reach a state of health.
Sleeping is something that costs you nothing except time.
Once you are asleep, it doesn’t take a lot of effort either.
Through my research, I have come to the conclusion, that quality sleep, is more important to health than exercise and diet.
Like I’ve said before, When it comes to your mind and body, everything is inter-related.
Daily exercise and proper nutrition will help you sleep better.
Better sleep, will allow you to exercise more efficiently, recover, and allow your body to crave the healthy foods it needs.
So, if you only do one of these things in isolation, it will be good for you, but you wont have as high of result, as doing them together.
Let me explain how this works in more detail.
When looking at sleep, people often think of how long you slept. But hitting a specific number is not the only goal. We also have to think of quality.
As humans, we all walk to a different drummer.
This is the same for nutrition, exercise type, and also for sleep.
Some people can thrive with 6 hours, while others may need 9.
We all need to figure out what works best for us as an individual.
Not all sleep is created equal. Its more about quality and timing, than duration.
Just being asleep doesn’t mean you are getting the full benefit.
The lifestyle you lead and the habits you create before falling asleep, can help your quality of sleep, or hinder it.
We will get into this more later.
First I want to talk about how getting the right amount of quality sleep can help or hurt you.
When you are asleep, your body is in hormone recovery mode.
This means it is increasing or decreasing hormones, based on what happened during your day.
During sleep, testosterone, in both men and women elevate..
Testosterone is important in regulating so many functions, like sex drive, muscle growth and strength, as well as bone density.
HGH (human growth hormone)levels also are produced during sleep, mostly during your delta sleep phase, (or deep sleep phase).
So if you are getting poor quality sleep, you may be missing out on some of this delta sleep, that is so important.
If you are an athlete or an active person, you can see how you wouldn’t want to be cutting yourself short, on these two hormones. You want to help your body recover in every way possible.
Too many days of short, low quality sleep can have huge implications on your energy levels, and performance.
When you become sleep deprived, a cascade of issues start to occur.
Your body will react by slowing down your metabolism.
It will increase your cortisol, (stress hormone) that in turn increases your appetite.
Cortisol has many functions, it regulates metabolism as well as the immune response.
But it is also responsible for telling your body to store fat, especially in the abdomen area.
Sleep deprivation also increases the hormones ghrelin and decreases the hormone Leptin.
Ghrelin is responsible for increasing appetite.
Leptin is the opposite of ghrelin, it is responsible for telling you that you are full.
Sleep deprivation will trigger your body to think it needs to eat.
So when you find yourself in the kitchen in the late hours of the night, this is most likely what is happening. You don’t need more calories, you are just tired and need some rest.
The exception to this, that I have personal experience in though, is when you are training 20 hours a week for an Ironman Triathlon.
I would find myself in the kitchen all the time, day and night, constantly looking for more calories. My body always seemed to be saying “ uh, hey jeff, pretty sure you should eat that. No really, eat that, now.”
When you are burning 3-6000 calories a day, you need a lot of fuel, lol.
I digress though.
The type of food your body will crave in a sleep deprived state is high sugar and carbohydrate.
These foods elevate seratonin, that helps calm the brain from the overload of the stress hormone cortisol.
As you can see, being sleep deprived can alter your health big time.
It effects your body composition, your energy levels, your ability to perform and excel in exercise, and can lower sex drive.
So how much sleep is good? We have all heard the generic 8 hours. Im not mad at this recommendation, but some people need more, some people need less.
Its similar to prescribing calories, needed. We are all unique. There is no standard time.
What you need to do is to figure out how many your body needs.
Do a test on yourself. Go to bed at the same time every day. Preferably a little earlier in the night. That way you can see when your body wakes up naturally.
It may take a week or so to get your body used to a new schedule.
Also if you were sleep deprived before, you may find yourself sleeping more in the initial few days to recover.
So after about a week in, you should have a good sense of what your body needs.
An example of this would be falling asleep at 10 pm, and waking up at 4:30 every morning.
This would mean you need 6.5 hours of sleep. So, if you don’t necessarily need to be up for work til 6, you could then adjust your schedule accordingly and start falling asleep closer to 11:30pm.
Once you have your schedule set, try to stick to it 7 days / week.
So how do we go about sleeping better?
1. Staying on a consistent schedule will, it will help you regulate melatonin.
Most of us have heard of melatonin, (sleep hormone) because you can buy it in pill form.
But what it does is help you stick to your circadian rhythm. ( day & night cycle)
So help yourself out and stick to a schedule. Staying up late and sleeping in on the weekends, jacks up your melatonin.
Another thing to mention. Use over the counter melatonin sparingly.
Don’t forget its a hormone. Use it too much and your body thinks it doesn’t need to make it on its own.
2. Cut off the caffeine after noon. It has a 6-8 hour 1/2 life. What this means is it can disrupt your hours later.
3. Limit how much screen (blue light) time you have every night. The wavelength of blue light (460 Nm) sends signals to shut off melatonin. This will delay your circadian rhythm and in turn your sleep quality.
4. Exercising daily helps you sleep. This is not a big surprise. We all know that when we get a good workout in, our body is ready to lay down and recover, at the end of the day.
So there you have it.
Now you know why sleep is sooooo important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and getting the most our of your body and mind.
Let me know if you have any questions.