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Sleep: It Does A Body Good

SleepingWe’ve always heard that we need to get eight hours of sleep per night, but how many of us actually get even close to that?  Our lives are busy; there aren’t enough hours in the day and sleep seems to be where we cut corners.  I should know as I’ve been struggling with this for a few years now.  I’m even writing this at 4:18 AM after waking up at 2:15 for who-knows-what-reason (I did spend a little time having a cup of coffee and doing some light reading to get my brain working first)!  It’s crazy to think that 24 hours just isn’t enough time to do everything, but that’s how many of us, me included, feel.  And despite what you’ve heard, you can’t really “make up” that lost time.

But, as you’ve noticed, cutting back on your sleep doesn’t always make you more productive and may actually be doing just the opposite.

Here are 10 reasons why you should be getting enough good, quality sleep every night (7 ½ – 9 hours):

1.    Weight loss (need I say more?) is one of the biggest benefits of sleeping enough each night.  Lack of sleep causes metabolism to slow down, which makes it harder to lose weight.  Also, less sleep affects 2 hormones important to weight loss – ghrelin and leptin.  Ghrelin signals when you should eat and leptin signals when you should stop eating.  And sleep deprivation increases ghrelin while lowering leptin, which means you end up eating more. Don’t you find yourself reaching for sugary, carb-laden foods when you’re tired?  Your body needs rest in order to build lean muscle and burn fat.

2.    Sleeping more can help extend your lifespan.  Research has shown that people who slept less than five hours per night didn’t live as long as those who routinely slept a minimum of seven hours per night.  This may be because lack of sleep causes your cortisol (stress hormone) levels to rise, which increases your blood pressure, making your body more susceptible to heart attacks and stroke.  A lack of sleep can cause inflammation which can also lead to serious diseases.

3.    You are less irritable and moody after a good night’s sleep. There’s an area in your brain called amygdala which controls emotions, particularly negative emotions like anger and rage.  When you don’t get enough sleep your amygdala doesn’t function as well, making you more susceptible to losing your patience and getting you angry easier.

4.    You look younger and more attractive.  While you sleep your body produces growth hormones which help with collagen production essential for youthful looking skin.  Also during the night, your body produces melatonin which is a hormone that helps protect your skin.  If you are spending lots of dollars on expensive skin care products, you could be sabotaging the results if you consistently burn the midnight oil.

5.    Better concentration and focus.  Lack of sleep can decrease concentration levels and leave you struggling to get through the day.  Lack of focus may be caused by the shortened delta sleep phase (the phase just before REM).  During this phase of sleep your brain is able rest and hence improve your cognitive function…allowing you to concentrate better.  This can also happen if you are regularly waking up in the middle of your sleep cycle (each cycle is 90 minutes).

6.    Sleep can help improve your memory.  Even though your body is resting, your brain is working to practice skills that were learned while you were awake, and it stores the information so that you can access it at a future date.  If you’re trying to master a skill, it’s better to practice it and then walk away from your practice, sleep on it and try again the next day.

7.    Good night’s sleep = lower stress levels.  In times of high stress, often a good night’s sleep can improve your stress levels and help you feel better.  During this time your body can balance the hormones more effectively, especially lowering your cortisol level.

8.    Getting enough sleep can help prevent metabolic disorders, like Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.  Several studies indicate that getting quality sleep allows your body to manage food intake more effectively (see #1 above) and maintain the right balance of energy, as well as metabolize glucose much better.

9.    You can reduce inflammation levels in your body.  While you sleep, your body is able to repair tissues and renew cells, so you’re ready for the next day.  But, without enough sleep, your body isn’t able to make the necessary repairs, which then put your body in an inflammatory state.  Chronic inflammation can cause premature aging, arthritis, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease… but it’s easily preventable by getting enough sleep.  Don’t forget that consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids from foods like salmon, mackerel, anchovies and sardines can additionally help you lower your inflammation as well.

10.    Reduce illnesses.  Quality sleep can bolster your immune system.  Do you find yourself constantly fighting colds or other illnesses?  It’s because lack of sleep weakens your immune system.  Getting enough sleep is one way to avoid illness, especially during cold and flu season.

Make sure you keep the computers, laptops and any other portable devices out of the bedroom as well.  Some research suggests that screen time or other media use before bedtime interferes with sleep. Next time you’re busy trying to squeeze everything in one day, just remember that stopping early to get more sleep in the end is WAY more beneficial for you in the long run!

So, don’t call me tonight…I’ll be asleep!  Pleasant dreams.

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