There’s nothing better than that feeling of waking up completely and utterly refreshed. Feeling so good that you virtually spring out of bed, already enthusing about how marvelous the day ahead is sure to be.
Of course it’s a shame that the last time you woke feeling that way was on summer break in your college days, but hey – that’s the way it goes, isn’t it?
These days, sleep is little more than something that cuts into your every-day hectic schedule. Sure, you love going to sleep, and you definitely acknowledge that you need to sleep at least a few hours, but the reality is that you simply cannot prioritize it above everything else in your life. I mean, you’re already behind on Twitter messages as it is.
Besides, you function extremely well on just 5 or 6 hours thank-you very much. In fact, you’re quite proud of it.
Well sorry to burst your bubble, but what if I were to tell you that lack of sleep is one of the Western world’s foremost reasons for increased obesity, heart disease, and diabetes? That it’s physiologically impossible for you to ‘get away with’ a lack of sleep? The truth is that what you in fact have is a very massive and very demanding sleep debt. And the interest is mounting.
It’s funny how you can start to make just a little more time for something when you truly believe and understand how important it is. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the foremost reasons for a good night’s sleep. Read these and you’ll soon realize that not only can sleep transform your weight and your health, it just might save your life.
- Studies have shown that staying up all night long (being awake for 17 or more hours) can leave you with a reaction response comparable to that of an intoxicated person with a blood alcohol reading of greater than 0.5. This makes you a definite danger to yourself and to others. Of course this lack of physical and mental control does not simply ‘happen’ at minus 8 hours. For every hour you stay awake you decrease your ability to focus and perform throughout the coming days.
- Insufficient sleep results in an incomplete hormonal cycle. This means your body cannot produce daytime hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline when it needs them first thing. As a result, you depend on stimulants to keep you going, and set yourself up for another poor night’s sleep. You can’t escape the always tired but always wired cycle you’ve set up for yourself.
- A classic symptom of this ‘tired but wired’ cycle is not feeling hungry in the morning, or feeling nauseous when you do eat breakfast. Never imagine that this is a convenient way to save on time and calories – the food that you eat first thing stimulates your metabolism and aids in detoxification. Without a good breakfast to line your belly you set yourself up for low energy and poor eating patterns the rest of the day.
- A poor sleep cycle causes your body to create patterns that will enable you to handle the ongoing sleep of your go-go-go lifestyle. One of these patterns is an excessive release of stress hormones such as cortisol – particularly in the evening. Stress hormones allow you to keep going, but they’re also the ones that keep you up at night, and what’s more – they signal your body to store fat. And that’s regardless of how you’re eating or exercising.
- Physical patterns such as the release of stress hormones are just one part of the equation. The other thing you need to consider is the compensation patterns that you yourself end up creating. An extra coffee here, a few pieces of candy there, the decision to have that mid-afternoon muffin. When you’re tired your defenses are down and it’s easy to think that these little things don’t count. But they could be the one thing stopping you from losing weight and improving your health.
- Speaking of sugar, those mid-afternoon cravings are not just in your head. When you don’t have enough sleep your brain continually sends out urgent messages for quick energy. This is a survival instinct – it’s all about keeping you as alert and focused as possible. Will power alone can’t override these cravings – not when you’re fighting your own physiology. This just makes it harder to stick to your healthy eating goals, and the sugar slump doesn’t do you any favors either. The really scary part is that these daily indulgences can mean the hormone named insulin is constantly elevated and you’re setting yourself up for possible diabetes.
- In fact, it’s not just the mid-afternoon cravings that’ll get you when you’re tired. The truth is that you’ll find yourself eating far more on a daily basis, and that you’ll tend to do it all day long. Breakfast aside, no doubt. You’ll also tend to make poorer choices – more processed foods, more sugary sodas, more starchy carbohydrates or fried foods. And it’s pretty tough to escape this cycle when your eyes are stinging and your motivation is at an all-time low. Leading sleep researchers T.S. Wiley and Bent Formby, Ph.D, in their book ‘Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, And Survival’ show a close connection between a lack of sleep and the increasing existence of obesity in our society.
- One of the most unfair symptoms of sleep debt is that inability to wind down come evening time. Of course it shouldn’t really be much of a surprise – not when you’ve spent the better part of the day jacked up on caffeine and sugar. And even if you haven’t, your nervous system is in overdrive which keeps you buzzing all night long but leaves you groggy and useless in the morning. There’s only one way out of this mess, and it’s not more coffee.
- Back ache, neck ache, tummy ache, headache … when you’re tired it sometimes just seems as though everything hurts. According to Paul Chek, H.H.P, as stated in his book “How To Eat, Move And Be Healthy”, physical repair takes place while you’re sleeping, and it happens in the first half of the night – around 10pm-2am. If you skip those vital first few hours and hit the sack post-midnight with the alarm set for 6 or 7am, your body simply cannot rejuvenate your muscle cells, or indeed any of your cells. This leaves you physically weaker and with constant ailments.
- Of course you could try going to bed on time and getting up super-early if you still can’t afford yourself a full 8 hours, but according to Paul you’d then you’d be skipping out on crucial psychological repair. This takes place approximately between 2am and 6am, and is directly linked to your mental focus, your moods, and your ability to maintain a positive mindset. Imagine the effects of a lack of sleep over time – small wonder so many people find themselves heading down the dark road of depression or anxiety.
- It’s pretty hard to climb off the wheel of life when you barely have the energy to get through the day. Missing out on sleep could be costing you a lot more than you realize if it means you’re stuck in the rut of your day-to-day life and simply can’t even begin to contemplate what it would take to make some changes. Whether it’s testing the waters for a new career or a promotion, ending or beginning a relationship, or even just trying out that hobby you’ve been shelving for so long, chances are it’s not going to happen when you’re frazzled and burnt out.
Missing even half an hour of sleep every night adds up to an impressive sleep debt of 182.5 hours per year. There’s no short-cut to paying of this debt, nor can you outrun it’s constant and grueling effects on your health. Next time you tell yourself that you can get by, stop and consider just how big your sleep debt is right now. And consider that the nights are dark for a reason, that your body sends you physical and emotional responses to tiredness for a reason. Maybe it’s time to listen to those messages and see just what you’re missing out on.
The good news is that increasing your sleep by as little as half an hour, or even 15 minutes, every night can immediately and drastically improve the way you feel and function. For most of us it’s not possible to drop everything and implement drastic change, but the benefits of sleep don’t have to be a case of ‘all or nothing’. Why not treat yourself to an extra half hour shut eye tonight and start to soak up the health rewards right away?
|Written on 7/3/2009 by Kat Eden. Kat is a Personal Trainer from Australia. Visit her blog Body Incredible to be inspired with the latest nutritition tips, weight loss advice, and motivational thinking.||Photo Credit: betsssssy|