While many of us realize that your body needs sleep, What may not be that obvious to many how much we actually require it.
As a matter of fact, mounting evidence shows that without at least 7 hours of sleep a night, you are putting yourself at risk for many illnesses in the long term.
Thousands of studies in just the last few years have accentuated the importance of sleep on our health.
Sleep is needed not only to make the best use of the nutrients you consume, but in order to stay healthy and improve performance both physically and mentally, prevent and fight disease, and heal.
The reports are staggering, and yet we continue to cheat ourselves out of sleep without paying attention to the consequences.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
There is significant evidence of the link between lack of sleep and obesity, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes to name a few.
At a very minimum, sleep deficiency causes memory and cognitive impairment, decreased performance and alertness, and a weakened immune system.
It disrupts crucial hormones and proteins that play a role in defense against disease. It disturbs every physiological function in the body.
With its affect on motor skills, driving with sleep deprivation has been compared to driving while drunk. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that it causes over 100,000 accidents and 1500 deaths per year.
Memory impairment and alertness affects work performance. Fighting that feeling of sleepiness that gets in the way during the day can affect your ability to concentrate and succeed at typical problem solving and other workplace tasks.
The effects of sleep deficiency even accumulates over time. Chronic sleep disorders can result in endocrine dysfunction, gastrointestinal ailments, anxiety and sleep disorders (yes being cyclic), and mood disorders including depression.
The associated anxiety causes the sympathetic nervous system to remain active, suppressing the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for our nutrition absorption and immune system.
Sleep and Obesity
Links between lack of sleep and obesity have been studied at length. It has been shown that getting sufficient sleep (at least 7 hours and preferably 8 hours per night) have helped to reach and sustain desired weight loss.
Insufficient sleep affects levels of leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that regulate appetite and body fat.
Leptin is produced by fat cells and signals the brain to cause the feeling of fullness.
Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and signals hunger.
In a Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study found that participants who slept only five hours a night had lower leptin and higher ghrelin levels.
Other studies have found increased hunger for sweet, fatty and high carbohydrate foods after less sleep, which may be related to higher levels of a stress related hormone cortisol.
So What Health Benefits Does Sleep Provide?
Sleep is responsible for many functions that the body performs, and is beneficial to hormone release, cellular repair, muscle building.
Everything from increased energy level and strength to better skin and muscle tone, and even better vision can result from getting enough sleep on a regular basis.
It is absolutely essential for the immune system to be properly functioning. It is the time when neurons are repaired, and brain cells are rejuvenated.
Many hormones are released during sleep, including growth hormone which is for adults restorative and used for muscle repair, while for children is necessary for growth to occur. It also reduces inflammation, and oxidative stress.
Digestion, detoxification, liver function are all key to good health such that even if you get the most nutrient rich foods, they are worthless without them.
Sleep is required for these functions to be performed to your body’s best abilities.
What Causes Sleep Disorders?
Of course there are many causes of insomnia, including even toxicity and lack of nutrition.
Aging actually causes our bodies to produce less melatonin, the hormone which regulates sleep patterns.
But exercise, good nutrition, and low light and noise near bedtime can encourage our bodies to produce more melatonin.
Good nutrition can in and of itself have amazing benefits on your sleep patterns (I have experienced this myself). Most causes of poor sleep are things that can be easily remedied, such as the following:
- Light (artificial, “blue” light or natural). Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the body which helps with sleep, but it is released when darkness falls. This is why it is important to have a darkened room for sleeping, or wear an eye cover if that is not possible. Looking at electronic devices or television late at night blocks your body’s melatonin production. Try and make it a habit to turn down lights and step away from the computer for at least an hour before trying to fall asleep. If you are exposed to this or artificial light (even ambient light from a city), try an eye mask, this will make a huge difference!
- Loud music or volume on the radio or television are also disruptive to the production of sleep hormones such as melatonin and serotonin. Turn volumes down low as it gets closer to bedtime.
- Drinking coffee or caffeinated drinks too late in the day will disrupt sleep in some people, or for those who are particularly sensitive to caffein, any time.
- Eating high carbohydrate foods and sweets (this includes alcoholic drinks!) at night cause awakening when the sugars burn off.
- Deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes may also impair sleep. For example, deficiencies in calcium, magnesium, melatonin, folic acid, and B vitamins may disturb sleep patterns. Leg cramps during the night may be due to a shortage of calcium and magnesium, further disturbing sleep.
Sleep troubles may be a red flag for more serious disease, since it is known that so many vital functions are dependent on it. And since it may indicate nutritional deficiencies, there are multiple flags that should be going up when you are not getting quality sleep on a regular basis.
Improve Your Odds
Get regular exercise, or at the very least stay active both physically and mentally during the day. Physical activity can include housecleaning, yard work, walking, and just moving around. Yoga is great for relaxation, stretching, and reducing stress. This increases your ability to sleep well at night.
Meditation is a great relaxation technique, especially just prior to bedtime to reduce mental activity and quiet the mind. Focus on breath is the first step and can be key to falling asleep. Check out simple breath-work techniques for some ideas.
Do not eat high carbohydrate foods late in the evening. This will complicate your sleep.
Learn about eating foods in the right combination for your body to properly digest. Eating the wrong variety of foods at dinner will have your body working all night to digest, rather than rest.
For example, eat meat with vegetables, not sweet fruits, as they will be digested first, causing the meat to sit and get putrid for hours longer as your body struggles to produce the enzymes and acid levels necessary for its digestion. (I have another post coming on this later on).
Nutritional Supplements for Sleep Aid
Take calcium and magnesium supplements at night. At least 1200 mg of calcium and 300 mg of magnesium at bedtime may provide a sedative effect (do not take these in the morning for that reason!).
B vitamins have a sedative effect. If you take 25 mg of B12, 50 to 100 mg of B5 and B6, this may help prevent insomnia.
Melatonin (3 mcg) can be taken to aid in falling asleep, and has no effect on morning awakening. It also provides an enormous anti-oxidant benefit.
Serotonin is a sleep instigator produced by our bodies from the amino-acid tryptophan. 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a more effective form of tryptophan which has been shown through double blind studies to reduce the time falling asleep as well as the number of awakenings.
To increase the sedative effect, be sure that you have adequate levels of B-vitamins, niacin, and magnesium, which are used in its conversion to serotonin. Take 100 to 300 mg 30-40 min before bedtime. Calcium is also a great supplement to take in the evening for its calming effects.