We often talk about how a nutrient-dense diet and regular exercise are important aspects of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Sleep is another a key element of optimal health, and it is often overlooked. With the hustle and bustle of adjusting to our busy fall schedules, many of us are already sacrificing sleep in favor of moving on to the next thing in the daily grind.
It seems to make sense--if you sleep less, you can fit more things into your day. But giving up a couple precious hours of sleep can have more of an impact on your body (and your productivity!) than you think.
Getting a proper amount of sleep not only allows us to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day, but it also helps regulate our mood, affects how we look, improves learning and memory functions, and increases daily productivity. A healthy sleep schedule helps us thrive by “contributing to a healthy immune system,” and balancing our appetite.
On the other hand, lack of sleep stresses our bodies. It has been linked to a multitude of physical and emotional problems, such as impaired learning ability and work performance, faster aging of the brain, elevated cholesterol, increased risk of diabetes and depression, overeating, and obesity,.
Yes, you read it right--a lack of sleep can lead to weight gain.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, “when people are sleep deprived, their brain responds differently to unhealthy foods, and they are less likely to resist eating them.” In addition to its role in depleting your willpower, sleep deprivation also affects your body’s hormonal make-up. Inadequate sleep causes your ghrelin levels to increase (which stimulates your appetite) and your leptin levels to decrease (which makes it harder for you to feel satiated). So, when you are sleep deprived you crave more food and have to eat more of it to feel full.
That’ll sure put a damper on your healthy eating efforts!
Because sleep is crucial to our health, it’s important to make sure we get enough of it. In general, most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Here are some tips to help:
Sleep on a consistent schedule. Going to sleep at the same time each night (even on the weekend!) and waking up at the same time each morning is a great way to make sure you’re getting enough sleep, and it will also keep your body on a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Hopefully, you will eventually be able to wake up naturally without an alarm clock. This is ideal, because waking up abruptly can “rob you of valuable REM sleep.”
Avoid caffeine. Because of caffeine addictions that interfere with our natural sleep/wake cycle, some of us may have forgotten what being truly rested feels like. Drinking caffeine throughout the day gives us the perception that we can get by on less sleep, which causes a vicious cycle. One study found that drinking caffeine 6 hours before bedtime “more than doubled the reported time taken to fall asleep” and “reduced sleep by more than 1 hour.”
Minimize electronic device use at night. Your TV, phone, and laptop all emit blue light, which suppresses melatonin production and can disrupt sleep.
Make sure your room is dark. The light and dark of day and night is what regulates our internal clock. Bright light in the morning makes us alert and wakes us up, and darkness at night encourages our body to produce melatonin, which helps give us a good night’s sleep. Not only will light exposure make it harder to fall asleep, it will also reduce “the depth and quality of sleep.”
Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet. A healthy diet, exercise, and sleep are all key components for excellent health!