Editors note: I am not a medical practitioner nor am I certified in nutrition or health. Through research, personal experience and testimonies from others I've written this post. If you plan to make any changes to your lifestyle I recommend talking with your doctor to make sure this is the right step to becoming healthy for you.
In part one of my sleeping series, I talked about the importance of getting sleep and how to achieve it. What I can’t stress enough is the health benefits to getting a full nights sleep, why else would sleeping off a cold work? In this part, I want to dive a little deeper into the health benefits of sleep and why it’s so important that we all make sleep a priority in our lives (yes even over binge-watching Mad Men on Netflix.
Losing Weight With Sleep
As most of America is on some sort of diet, I’ll start there. Sleep has a huge impact on your ability to lose weight as well as your ability to make the right food choices. Matthew Walker states that people who sleep 4-5 hours a night will eat 200-300 calories more (70,000 a year) which can add up to 15 lbs of fat in a year. This is because your body thinks that you are in fight or flight mode when you refuse to sleep. We are the only species that sacrifices sleep and our bodies are programmed to take it as a threat.
Your body’s hunger hormones, Leptin and Ghrelin, work together to tell you when you need to eat and when you need to stop. However, when you aren’t getting enough sleep, the Leptin (telling you that you’re full) gets turned off and your Ghrelin get’s ramped up. Your body reads your lack of sleep as a mechanism to stay awake in order to fight off a predator. Because of that, your body wants as much energy as possible in order to stay awake and then fight. For that reason, late at night, you’ll start craving simple sugars and carbs. (It’s not only being drunk that makes you want Taco Bell at 2 in the morning).
What’s even more disheartening is the when you are trying to lose weight but aren’t getting enough good sleep, 70% of the weight you lose will be coming from lean muscle and not fat because our body thinks we need that fat because we are in a survival mode.
Heart Attacks and Sleep
Often those who are overweight are often at risk for a heart attack which makes getting less sleep even more of a danger. By using daylight savings as a study scientists have found that there is a 24% rise in heart attacks in the Spring when we lose an hour of sleep and 21% decrease of heart attacks in the Fall when we gain an hour.
Fighting off Cancer With Sleep
Even more concerning is the amount of cancer-fighting cells you lose on a single night of 4-hours of sleep. Dr. Michael Irwin, University of California, Los Angeles, found that with only 4-hours of sleep 70% of cancer-fighting cells were lost in the immune system compared to an individual who received 8-hours of sleep. In a European study, it was found that on 6-hours of sleep a night a person a 40% increased risk of developing cancer.
Sleep and the Gut
Finally, your sleep patterns affect the greatest defense system in the body, the microbiome. Your gut bacteria control a lot of your hormones (including neurotransmitters serotonin, GABA, and dopamine) as well as your cytokines (proteins used to signal cells). The Cytokine TNF-α is used to induce sleep. When your gut starts reacting to the cortisol rise in the morning, it turns off your production of TNF-α so that you can wake up.
Sleep is your best friend. It improves your memory retention (you’ll remember up to 30% more of a skill you are trying to improve if you sleep on it), it repairs your body (10% of your gut each night) along with regulates your hormones and allows you the energy to make it through the day. It’s important that you make sleep your first priority in your lifestyle