How much sleep did you get last night? If you’re like a lot of Americans, probably not enough. It’s hard to find balance and joy and manage stress in your life when sleep is lacking. I certainly can attest to that. I used to have a form of insomnia where it took me an hour or more to fall asleep and then felt wrecked in the morning. My brain simply wouldn’t shut off and was worrying about all of the things that I didn’t have time to do. This was clearly a symptom of stress going unchecked that I simply ignored. Unfortunately, the importance of sleep tends to be greatly underestimated by most people. They say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” However, you might be dead sooner than you would like if you overlook sleep as one of the most important things to improve upon for better mood and overall health.
What is the importance of sleep?
Here are just some of the problems that arise from a lack of sleep:
- memory loss
- increased risk of heart disease and obesity
- increased risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases
- impaired immune system and increased risk of infection
- difficulty making decisions
- brain fog
- increased overall inflammation
- decreased production of growth hormone- needed for growth and to repair the body
- increased risk of driving accidents, as discussed here
- increased risk of or worsening of autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.)
This list is by no means exhaustive, so many more problems can develop from poor sleep. Clearly, someone who is missing sleep is not necessarily going to be at the peak of health, both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, sleep seems to be the one thing we all forget when focusing on health. Sleep is as essential as water or air to our bodies, as shown in this article.
Sleep plays an extremely important role in hormone regulation throughout the body. Let’s take a walk down hormone lane. Ready, set, go! The two main hormones involved in obesity regulation are insulin and leptin. Insulin triggers a decrease in blood sugar and tells the brain to stop eating. Leptin tells the brain not to eat and also to get up and move. Poor sleep can lead to resistance to both of these hormones and an increase in obesity. Cortisol (my old friend, ahem) is a stress hormone in our body as previously discussed. Lack of sleep can increase stress, thereby altering the cortisol response. Instead of the normal declining cortisol curve during the day, you might have decreased levels in the morning and increased levels at night- the complete opposite of what is desired (aka adrenal fatigue). Dopamine is another hormone affected negatively by sleep. You might have heard of dopamine’s role in various addictions. In addition, dopamine has many other roles, including memory, pleasure, focus, mood and energy, to name a few. Consequently, flawed sleep will lead to a decrease in the dopamine receptors in the brain and alter all of these aforementioned functions. Last, but certainly not least are the sex hormones (progesterone, estrogen, testosterone). With poor sleep, these hormones will get completely out of whack, so to speak, and can lead to infertility, abnormal or even lost periods. You might be thinking, “So what? I don’t like my monthly visitor anyway,” or “I’m done having children.” But keep in mind that fertility is a measure of overall health and should be taken seriously. When the body shuts down fertility, that means it’s focusing on something else more serious than reproduction, as discussed here.
So hopefully by now, you realize that the importance of sleep is something to take seriously. Maybe you need to sleep on it (pun intended) in order to digest the information. Keep in mind that this article is just a summary of the science of sleep. For more in depth information, you can check out the reference below. Next time, I will discuss strategies to help improve your sleep quantity and quality. Until then, sweet dreams!
Reference: Sarah Ballantyne, Go To Bed: 14 Easy Steps to Healthier Sleep. 2015. (This is an affiliate link.)
Joyful thought for the day, “Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”- Thomas Dekker