“Sleep is the most undervalued contributor to optimal health and performance,” says Dr. Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. Dr. Humphreys does research in addiction treatment, and national mental health and drug policy. He has written for the New York Times and other publications.
Many people have no idea that getting enough sleep is essential for helping them stick to a diet, making their workouts more productive, or boosting their immune system in general.
When it comes to dieting, leptin and ghrelin are the two hormones that regulate appetite, and are adversely affected by sleep deprivation. Ghrelin, which is produced in the stomach, signals to the brain when it’s time to eat. Leptin, on the other hand, is secreted by fat tissue and has the reverse effect, signaling when you are full.
Chronic lack of sleep increases ghrelin, making you feel hungry when you don’t really need to eat, and decreases leptin, urging you to keep eating although you’ve already gotten all the calories you need.
The deep sleep state is also the time during which your body repairs itself, including your sore biceps, which benefits your workout routine.
Making a habit of sleep deprivation comes with a heavy price tag. A nine-year study of nearly 7,000 Alameda County residents, found that those who routinely slept six or fewer hours a night had a 70 percent higher risk of dying (in the same age groups) than did those who slept seven or eight hours per night.
First of all let me make it VERY clear that I do NOT agree with Dr. Humphreys’ premise, that the more you sleep the longer you live. There is very strong evidence that sleeping longer than seven hours can cause brain diseases like Parkinson’s.
While there is no better example of optimal wellness than to be in harmony with your deepest function (sleep), I am convinced that there is a window we should strive for, somewhere between six and eight hours is probably good for most.
Studies reveal that less than six hours can decrease insulin sensitivity and increase your risk of diabetes, BUT these studies were done in average Americans who are anything but healthy, and they are exposed to so many toxic stressors they require the extra sleep.
My belief is that if you are healthy, and compensating for many of the EMF and emotional stressors, you can probably get by with less sleep, and not impair your insulin sensitivity.
Fortunately it is really easy to figure this one out. If you find yourself frequently yawning during the day, and are fatigued and exhausted, it is probably a major clue that you did not sleep enough.
It is very important to value sleep as one of your most precious resources for health and happiness. If you do that, you can then figure out what you need to sleep really well.
You may think that, when sleeping, the brain simply shuts down for a rest. But your brain doesn’t shut down at all during sleep, not as it does under general anesthesia or in a coma. Instead, sleep is an active process, which might be better described as a deeper form of consciousness than as a lack of it.
Can You Really Shed Pounds in Your Sleep?
If you’re like most people in modern society, you have to keep an eye on your weight. Americans alone spend $35 billion (each year) on weight-loss products.
And, 64 percent of American adults are losing the body fat battle.
America’s trend toward obesity just happens to match its trend toward voluntary sleep restriction. And 70 to 75 percent of Americans report having one or more persistent symptoms of sleep disruptions.
In one study, just two days of restricted sleep caused an 18 percent decrease in plasma leptin levels and a 28 percent increase in ghrelin levels in young healthy men. The result was increased hunger and an appetite for carbs. Definitely not good if you’re trying to lose weight.
Chronic sleep-loss can also contribute to a wide variety of other health problems, including:
- Pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes
- Breast cancer
- High blood pressure
Good Sleep Not Only Promotes Good Health…
During sleep, the hormone melatonin (which is secreted only in total darkness) signals your entire body to shift from daytime running-around mode into nighttime healing mode. In addition to that, it also stimulates the nighttime release of another valuable hormone: growth hormone.
Growth hormone is vital for normal development of children, but it has wonderfully beneficial effects in adults as well. It actually:
- Makes your bones stronger
- Increases your muscle mass through the creation of new muscle cells
- Promotes lipolysis, which helps you lose body fat
- Increases protein synthesis and stimulates optimal maintenance of all internal organs
- Supports your pancreas’ ability to make insulin
- Stimulates your immune system
All together, growth hormone makes you look and feel younger. (This is why you hear about professional body builders and athletes who sometimes risk injecting synthetic growth hormone in artificially high amounts.)
But you already have a natural way to get your very own growth hormone delivered in just the right concentration at just the right time, every night… if you sleep well.