Sleep – It Really Is That Important
One of the most common questions I get in my private practice and during presentations is about whether getting a good night of sleep is really critical to overall good health. I can’t stress it enough – sleep is one of the best things you can do for your body and your health. In fact, research at the University of Chicago showed that even if you follow a healthy diet and exercise program, not getting eight hours of sleep every night increases your risk for obesity. Here’s some of the basic information as to why sleep is so important.
Sleep and Fat Storage
Not getting enough sleep can make your cells insulin resistant – yes, you read that right. Insulin is considered the ultimate fat-storing hormone because when it’s elevated, it’s more difficult to burn fat. Insulin resistance can lead to a slower rate for burning fat, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and some cancers. So, to help you lose weight, maintain health, and reduce the risk of major diseases, get enough sleep.
Sleep and Cortisol
Here we have a terrible spiral effect. When you aren’t sleeping well or getting enough sleep your cortisol levels remain high for longer periods of time. When you have high levels your body will break down muscle and store fat.
Cortisol is one of the body’s stress hormones so it also uses more B vitamins, which decreases our energy levels. Without these vitamins the body doesn’t properly make the neurotransmitters you need in order to sleep well. Cortisol also lowers serotonin, the feel-good hormone your brain eventually converts to melatonin for a good night of sleep.
You end up not sleeping well and it will continue to progressively get worse and cortisol levels will continue to increase. Break the cycle and get a good night of sleep.
Sleep and Caffeine
More bad cycles. You don’t sleep well, you drink coffee. But, just one cup of coffee can raise your cortisol levels by 30% for an hour and can keep them elevated for up to 18 hours. Plus, caffeine’s half life is 12 hours so you may continue to be revved up when your body is trying to naturally unwind in preparation for sleep. This cycle can perpetuate itself endlessly.
Sleep and Hunger
Two of the major hormones that regulate hunger are ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin tells your brain when you are hungry. This hormone increases when you sleep poorly. Leptin, is the reverse, it tells your brain when you are full. When you aren’t getting enough sleep you become more leptin resistant. This 1-2 punch is going to cause you to overeat and the excess calories will be stored as fat.
There’s no question that getting a good night of sleep with help you feel better, balance your hormones, reduce your desire for bad foods, reduce your body’s stress level, and help you lose weight. For optimal health, sleep is one of the most powerful weapons you have available to you.
Set up a bedtime routine. Turn your computer, cellphone, television, etc. off and unwind before bed. This is a perfect time to take a warm bath, dim the lights, drink a cup of herbal tea, meditate, or read a good book (not the electronic kind though). Settle in for a wonderful night of sleep.
Blom WA, et al. Effect of a high-protein breakfast on the postprandial ghrelin response. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Feb;83(2):211-20.
Davidson JR, et al. Growth hormone and cortisol secretion in relation to sleep and wakefulness. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 1991 July; 16(2): 96/102.
Nedeltcheva AV, et al. Exposure to recurrent sleep restriction in the setting of high caloric intake and physical inactivity results in increased insulin resistance and reduced glucose tolerance. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2009 Sep;94(9):3242-50.