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Reasons why sleep is so important
We have all heard that a good sleep is important, but do you know why?
Our sleep patterns affect everything from how we function, our weight and our eating habits, blood sugar imbalances and mental health issues. Sleep constitutes one-third of our lives. Not something to be taken lightly.
We have all had a night or two of bad sleep. We are human after all. When these bad nights become commonplace is when we get into trouble.
There are four stages to sleep that take approximately ninety minutes to complete then the cycle begins all over again. First, what happens when we go to sleep?
Your eyes are closed, but you are still awake and aware of your surroundings.
- Body temperature starts to cool
- Heart rate slows
- Cortisol levels (stress hormone) drop
- Start to feel heavy
This is called light sleep.
Deep sleep comes next. It is in this stage that bodily repair happens.
- Tissue is repaired and regrown
- Bones and muscle are built
- Immune system is strengthened
Have you been woken up and felt disoriented? You were most likely in a deep sleep.
This is when repair is most prominent. Blood is supplied more readily to the muscles at an increased rate and tissue is repaired from the day and our energy is restored.
The big one though is the release of hormones. This is when growth hormone is released which is essential for building and maintaining our muscles.
Last but not least is REM sleep (rapid eye movement). This is where and when we dream.
- Our eyes will dart back and forth (hence the name)
- Your muscles are so relaxed that you are basically paralyzed.
- Provides energy to the brain as well as the body.
You may even talk in your sleep. I have apparently had full conversations that I don’t remember.
These are also known as the circadian rhythm. Here is a video link that breaks down the circadian rhythm.
So if this all going on while we sleep, what happens when our sleep is disrupted long-term?
Weight Gain which can lead to Type 2 Diabetes and Sleep Apnea
If all stages of sleep are not being met, your body doesn’t have time to release the needed hormones that repair and rebuild. We are stuck in fight or flight mode and the body will do whatever it can to protect itself.
In this case, store whatever calories (protein, fat and carbs) it can until the bodily systems are regulated through nutrients and sleep. This messes with metabolism and hormone levels and the release of hormones.
When all of these functions aren’t working together, your ability to process blood sugar is lessened (which can lead to diabetes). And if you are feeling your shirt collars getting a little snug and haven’t been pumping iron, this is most likely where those extra fat cells are being stored. This restrict the airways and makes it difficult to breathe when we are sleeping, which unfortunately also affects our quality of sleep. And the cycle continues.
Even if you eat a healthy diet, your body will store any nutrients it can get, which can lead to being overweight or obese. If your diet is not so healthy the risks of being overweight or obese are even more substantial.
18-65 7-9 hours
13-18 8-10 hours
6-13 9-11 hours
Preschool 10-13 hours
Toddlers 11-15 hours
Newborn 12- 17 hours
Increased appetite and high calorie foods
I can attest to this one. When I don’t have enough sleep, I can eat all day! And it is usually white breads, processed foods and sugar laden “treats” that I want.
Our brains can’t tell the difference between fatigue, sleep and hunger, but when we don’t get enough sleep, our appetite hormones (ghrelin* and leptin**) aren’t balanced.
Since we are all busy and have important things to do and sleep is not one of them, we fix the problem by looking after the one thing that is easiest. FOOD. The brain is satisfied for the moment but the underlying problem is still there.
How many days can you bypass the real issue of sleep before you start to feel the effects of too many calories being stored and leading to the issues above?
Cortisol and Melatonin
These two words are fairly common, Cortisol being the stress hormone and Melatonin being the sleep hormone.
How they interact with each other is what is important. Think of the sun and the moon. That is how they work together. In stage two of the sleep cycle above, cortisol levels dropped. However, they slowly build up as morning comes to wake us up for the day. Our internal alarm clock. As the day goes on, melatonin starts to build to prepare us for sleep. These two hormones need to be in balance and working together to ensure we have a restful sleep.
Disrupting this cycle is very easy to do and can wreak havoc on your sleep. Stress, snacks close to bed time that have high amounts of sugar, outside noise\light and the dreaded blue light from our electronics can all throw the balance off.
We know the importance of sleep but now we need strategies to improve it. Find what works for you and implement it gradually. We have all heard these before but maybe after seeing the effects on our stress and weight levels they will seem a little more important.
- Regular bed and wake time. There is actually a valid reason for this. Some of those hormones I was talking about earlier have a set release time based on our circadian rhythm. When we are not asleep at those times
- No sugary snacks at least 3 hours before bed. Besides the extra sugar that you are not going to burn off in front of the TV, it takes approximately 3-6 hours for your body to digest food. Rather than a restful sleep, you will end up with a sugar rush/crash that will put all the other hormones into overtime in order to get you to sleep. They are working twice as hard for half the benefits.
- Black out curtains are not just for shift workers. Even a sliver of light can wake up our sleep clock. If you are in a city of any size, there are streetlights and headlights from passing cars to contend with.
- Leave the electronics out of the bedroom. No TV, no social media notifications binging. If you must have your phone for possible emergencies, set it to Do Not Disturb and only program certain people to bypass it. Then put it in a drawer while you sleep. You won’t be affected by the background/flashing light and you will have peace of mind that you can be reached if needed.
- This one ties in with the previous but it deserves it own bullet point. Keep the bedroom for sleep and sex only!!
- Last and short term resort is a sleep aid. You can purchase melatonin at any drugstore. Just remember that you get what you pay for. Another alternative is an Isagenix® product called Sleep Support and Renewal. This is an all natural spray for occasional sleeplessness.
I would love to hear how these tips and information have helped. Leave a message in the comments and Sweet Dreams.
Until next time.
* leptin – hormone that suppresses appetite
** ghrelin – hormone that stimulates appetite