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Tip #2 of the 5: Why is sleep so important, and what is the big deal if I don’t get enough?

Updated: May 3, 2021

Why is sleep so important?

Our bodies and brains use sleep as a time of recovery, repair, and detox, to name a few reasons. The body uses our sleep time to heal, using the building blocks of the nutrition we have eaten that day. Natural digestive cycles are activated at sleep, allowing the body to detox, resulting in the urge to eliminate in the morning. There are natural rhythms and cycles in our bodies that are enabled while we sleep. Some of these cycles reduce inflammation and help our bodies to burn fat, and some moderate leptin, the hormone that controls our metabolism. If we are not sleeping enough, we make less leptin, and feel more hungry. Have you ever pulled an all-nighter, or had to wake up super early to catch a plane? Did you feel ravenous, and crave unhealthy comfort or junk foods? That may be because of increased ghrelin, which is a hormone that stimulates appetite and is increased with sleep deprivation. So, you have more ghrelin, and less leptin. This, plus the terrible combination of exhaustion which results in less ability to think clearly makes us unable to resist unhealthy high fat and high sugar foods, and we eat more as a result.

Lack of sleep suppresses the immune system.

This makes us more susceptible to illness, including both acute illnesses like colds and flu viruses, as well as the more dangerous chronic illnesses like cancer and autoimmune diseases. Even type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are at higher risk with consistent sleep deprivation. Our cognitive abilities are impaired, resulting in memory lapses and impaired judgement. Studies show that sleep deprivation results in similar impairment to alcohol or drug use, in drivers. Sleep deprivation in extreme cases can cause tremors, pain, and hallucinations. There is so much that sleep does for us! It is a sign of, and a non-negotiable part of a healthy balanced body, when we prioritize our sleep every single day.

So How Much Do I Need?

We all have our own general sleep needs- some people can get by with 6-7 hours, and others need 9, but there are general “rules” about sleep, and how much we need at different stages in life. We know babies seem to sleep constantly- and they do need 14-18 hours of sleep every 24 hours. There is so much development going on in their little bodies and brains. Even toddlers, who are doing all the hard work of learning to “toddle” and eventually walk, talk, eat on their own, have a huge need for sleep- typically needing 12-14 hours a day. Think about all the work their body and brain is doing daily to develop and learn new skills! Children and teens typically need 9 to 11 hours a night, especially as they are learning new skills, in school or on the athletic field.

So, why is it that we as adults use our lack of sleep as a badge of honor, often almost proudly proclaiming that we only get 4-6 hours of sleep or less a night? What makes us think our bodies and brains don’t need to repair and recover? The fact of the matter is, adults need an average of 7-9 hours a night- and we can’t deprive ourselves all week and then “make up for it” on Saturday or Sunday morning! It doesn’t work that way! You may not need 9 hours, or even 8, but I would encourage you to use your next vacation as a way to find out what your body needs- how many hours do you sleep before you wake up without an alarm clock, feeling refreshed? If you give your body 5-7 days to figure that out, you will know what your true sleep needs are. It takes planning for some people to “budget” good sleep, but good sleep habits will clearly impact all areas of your life.

Tips for good sleep hygiene:

1. Keep a good sleep schedule as mentioned above, 2. keep your bedroom for sleep- not food, not entertainment like TV or video games. The blue light from TV and cell phones can disrupt the body’s ability to fall asleep.(1) 3. Exercise during the day can actually result in better oxygenation, which will result in better quality sleep. (2) 4. Stay hydrated throughout the day, but if necessary, stop drinking water about 60-90 mins before bed, to keep yourself from having to wake up multiple times in the night to visit the restroom; 5. Turn off your mind before bed – watching an action packed TV show or movie, or even the news, can create excitement or anxiety in the mind and hinder the ability to fall asleep well. Try bringing a book to bed if you must, or try meditating or prayer before bed, to calm the mind and the spirit.

Sweet Dreams!

References: 1:Communications Technology and Sleep. Washington (DC): The Foundation; 2011 Mar 7 2: : How Exercise Impacts Sleep Quality

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