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Sleep encompasses one-third of our lives, and impacts everything about how well we live in the other two-thirds. It is just as important as the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. But everyday life has become so hectic that our busy lifestyles often have us burning the midnight oil just to get everything done. The stress alone is enough to keep us awake late at night with our minds racing and unable to shut off. Add in hormone changes that wake us for no reason in the middle of the night, and it’s no wonder over 70 million Americans suffer with sleep problems.
Studies show people are chronically sleep deprived not only because of our demanding lifestyles, but also because of a lack of education of just how important sleep is to our health. So let’s look at 10 reasons your body needs at least 7 hours of quality sleep nightly to stay healthy.
Make sure a full night’s sleep is part of your weight loss plan. Sleep is essential for a healthy metabolism, and studies show that sleep loss increases your risk for obesity. Lack of sleep affects your levels of ghrelin and leptin, which are hormones that increase hunger and appetite – especially those carb cravings. Stress hormones also rise, insulin resistance increases, and blood sugar spikes, leading to Type 2 Diabetes.
Staying awake longer also means meal times become more spread out, disrupting the body’s internal clock and natural rhythms. Eating when we’re supposed to be asleep increases the risk of metabolic syndrome and obesity even more. The good news is you can reverse it by hitting the pillow – the same studies also show that getting optimal sleep – 7 to 9 hours – results in a smaller waistline.
Your brain needs sleep more than any other organ in the body. Even just the loss of 2 hours of sleep per night is enough to dull reflexes, decrease attention, and impair memory. Sleep promotes creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. How many times have you woken up with a great idea or new solution to a problem that’s been plaguing you?
While you sleep, your brain is surprisingly hard at work. Its lymphatic system is busy detoxing and flushing out beta-amyloid protein, which is the precursor to plaques seen in Alzheimer’s disease. Your brain is also consolidating memories into long-term storage, and “prunes” the ones it doesn’t need.
Sleep deprivation triggers the same mechanisms that severe anxiety does, and makes us more sensitive to anxiety and more prone to depression. Dreaming during REM sleep actually helps us process emotions and remain more mentally clear during the day.
Getting enough sleep is essential for healthy bone marrow, which is where stem cells are made. These stem cells are essential for repairing everything from your brain to your bones, your immune system, and so much more. Stanford researchers have found that a sleep deficit of just 4 hours is enough to cut the activity of these stem cells in half. For stem cells to travel to where they’re needed in your body, you first need to get a full night’s sleep.
It takes more than calcium to build strong bones. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to a decrease in bone mineral density, which leads to osteoporosis, decreased bone formation, and lower levels of vitamin D, which starts a chain reaction that also affects your hormone balance and immune system health. The optimal amount of sleep for the best bone density seems to be 8 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night.
Sleep deprivation suppresses your immune system and decreases your ability to fight off colds, flu, and more serious infections. Sleep is when the lymphatic system cleanses itself and when your immune cells become the most active. Your immune system uses those precious hours of sleep to regenerate itself and to “remember” infections you’ve come in contact with and successfully fought off. This memory is essential to not repeatedly having to fight off the same infections.
The better you sleep at night, the healthier your heart is. Sleep deprivation doubles your risk of cardiovascular disease, and getting 5 hours of sleep per night or less dramatically increases your risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, and diabetes. As the number of hours you sleep at night goes down, your stress hormones increase incrementally, as do your insulin levels and overall level of inflammation. This results in damage to blood vessel walls, which leads to plaque formation, hypertension and even heart attack.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has mapped out a 24-hour clock of when each organ regenerates itself. The liver’s “golden hours” are between 1am to 3am, and you must be asleep for optimal restoration. Production of cholesterol by the liver peaks in the evening, then it transitions into detoxifying, breaking down stress hormones like adrenaline, and balancing blood sugar levels. Insomnia has been shown in studies to lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and type 2 Diabetes.
It only takes one or two nights of sleep deprivation to dramatically affect your hormone balance. The first hormone affected is cortisol, a stress hormone, which rises in the evening and gives you that bedtime “wired but tired” feeling that then contributes even more to sleep loss. Next, insulin increases, as does insulin resistance, which results in blood sugar imbalance and even type 2 Diabetes.
Suprisingly, the next hormone affected by lack of sleep is TSH, which slows your thyroid function after only 6 days without enough sleep. At this point, since your stress hormones and thyroid hormones are both out of balance, your sex hormones follow suit and levels start to drop, beginning with progesterone. This creates a vicious cycle, because low progesterone and high cortisol levels both cause insomnia, making it even harder to catch up on your much needed sleep.
Just one week without enough sleep is enough for testosterone levels to drop. Testosterone is important for both men and women to have a healthy sex drive and strong sexual performance. If you chronically short yourself on sleep, not only will you have less interest in sex and decreased performance, but fertility can also suffer.
Beauty sleep isn’t just a catch phrase, it’s the real deal. While you sleep, blood flow to your skin increases, moisture levels on the surface increase, and the pH of your skin balances, all of which results in a healthy, youthful glow. The longer you go without sleep, the more your skin will look dull, dry, and even ashen.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic, so you are far from alone if you struggle with slumber. Researchers have found these are the keys to a better night’s sleep:
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