I have a friend who is much older than she looks. Since I know that she generally takes good care of herself by eating well and exercising (great skin and what a fit body! ), I once asked her if there was one thing she did that she felt contributed the most to her youthful look and she replied “I try to sleep long enough every night so that I wake up naturally”. (I had hoped to get the name of some new amazing beauty treatment).
There’s lots of new research out there attempting to fully understand the effect that disturbed sleep has on health. Although, those of us who have had a newborn baby in the house KNOW without the science what sleep deprivation does to you…OH BOY!
But seriously, there are more and more indicators of the association between lack of sleep and many of the “big” killers.
Lack of sleep appears to increase the production of stress hormones and drives up blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. Moreover, people who are sleep-deprived have higher levels of chemicals in the blood which indicate a heightened state of inflammation in the body, a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes (big killers)…. All of which can lead to a shortened life.
Scientists tell us that, for the majority of people, seven to nine hours per night of sleep is needed for optimal functioning. And as more and more studies of the body processes that take place during sleep are uncovered, it becomes clearer that getting enough sleep is really important in the prevention of disease. The research even points to the idea that, in addition to the big killers, the risk of obesity increases with less than 6 or 7 hours of sleep per night. Obesity? Really?
Hold on. The idea that excess fat accumulation happens because of lack of sleep goes against my personal logic. After all, if you stay awake more hours it seems like you would burn more calories than if you were sleeping. Well, apparently you do burn more calories….but there’s a pitfall: the brain chemicals involved with appetite signals go wacky. So much for that line of thinking…
The two recently identified chemicals involved with appetite are called leptin and ghrelin. Leptin, which is produced by the fat cells, suppresses appetite and ghrelin increases it. When the duration of the sleep is shorter or sleep is interrupted, the leptin levels drop and ghrelin increases, and sends hunger signals to the brain. That explains the popularity of the midnight snack!
Back to my friend’s idea of sleeping until you wake up naturally. Last summer, I decided to try it for a couple of weeks (with the alarm set as backup in case I slept TOO late). To do this, I had to go to bed a bit earlier. You know what happened? Except for the one night I stayed up too late with my girlfriends and woke up too early, I slept between seven and eight hours. I felt great and looked rested. More importantly, I became more tuned into my own body’s sleep requirements. Good lesson.
The gist of it all? My friend is on to something. Sleep IS….. good for you.