Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard the statement, “I’ll rest when I’m dead.” While I’m sure the people who say this are well-meaning, hard-working, and driven people, I doubt they understand the ramifications of living by this mantra. They may, in fact, be hastening their death while also diminishing the quality of their lives by not getting adequate sleep.
Those who make this statement do so because they erroneously view sleep as a period of inactivity, and as driven individuals, they know inactivity does not bring results. Driven people are all about activity and results. However, sleep is far from a period of inactivity. Sleep is a time of elevated anabolic, or building, activity. While we sleep, our bodies are hard at work rebuilding and repairing and getting us ready to take on the world in tiptop shape.
When we sleep, we are in an anabolic, or building state. Our bodies are busy rebuilding what we have torn down throughout the day. Contrary to what many people think, we are not building muscle when we are in the gym working out. We are creating thousands of micro-tears in our muscles which can only be repaired and made into bigger, stronger muscles while we sleep. In addition to the workouts we perform each day, our bodies also participate in many other processes that are breaking them down. Adequate sleep is needed as a counterbalance to all these catabolic, or breaking the body down, activities.
In addition to repairing our muscles while we sleep, our bodies are also hard at work strengthening our immune systems, improving our brain function, increasing our metabolism and energy, and balancing our hormones. If you’re not quite convinced, just ponder these questions: In college, did you ever notice how, after days of not getting enough sleep during finals, you would fall ill? Your lack of sleep hampered your immune system. How about times you couldn’t think clearly because you were so tired? Again, sleep deprivation also affects your decision-making capabilities. Finally, as a gym rat, you want to know why you’re working so dang hard, and not getting nearly the results you were expecting. The culprit, again, may very well be lack of adequate sleep.
Not only are we not getting the positive benefits of sleep when we don’t get enough, we are also getting negative consequences. Most of us are dealing with these in our everyday lives, yet we don’t realize their origin – lack of ZZZZZZs! When we feel “out of whack” when we don’t get enough sleep, it’s because we are! Simply put, we cannot expect peak performance from our minds and bodies when we ignore our need for adequate sleep.
Our bodies rely on a complex system of checks and balances to run smoothly. Two of the hormones that regulate hunger by opposing each other are called ghrelin and leptin. Our bodies are amazing creations with mind-boggling capabilities, but when we don’t treat them properly, we prevent them from reaching their fullest potential. Many times, we feel as though our bodies have let us down when, in fact, it is we who have let our bodies down. One way we do this is by not getting enough sleep which throws the hormones ghrelin and leptin out of balance which can have negative effects on our weight and overall health.
Ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone. When the stomach is empty, it acts on the brain to increase hunger, gastric acid secretion, and gastrointestinal motility to prepare the body for food. Leptin is the satiety hormone that signals our brains that we’ve had enough to eat and can stop now. As you can imagine, it’s very important that these two hormones be in balance if we are to be at a healthy weight. When we ignore our need for adequate sleep, we throw these hormones out of balance.
Studies have shown there is a relationship between duration of sleep and our weight. An association has been found between shorter habitual sleep times and increased body mass index. Shorter sleep duration has been found to increase ghrelin, the hormone that says, “I’m hungry; FEED ME!” and a decrease in the hormone leptin, which says, “No thanks. I’ve had enough. I’m SATISFIED.” This imbalance in the hormones that serve as our gas and brake pedals at the dinner table can lead to obesity.[i] When our bodies are out of balance and continuously tell us we are hungry and won’t tell us that we are satisfied, no wonder many of us are struggling to control our weight. It doesn’t end with hormones either; lack of sleep also affects parts of our brain that tell us what types of foods to eat, and you guessed it: when we’re sleep deprived, we don’t crave the good stuff.
Studies have shown that when we are sleep deprived, our brain’s frontal lobe, which is responsible for complex decision–making, becomes impaired. At the same time, there is increased activity deep in the brain where the reward centers are. Simply put, the more sleep deprived we are, the more we crave unhealthy junk foods that are high in calories, fat, sugar, and salt.[ii] It’s not about will-power; it’s simple biology. This reminds me of the quote, “You can’t fool Mother Nature.”
Mother Nature, our bodies, will do exactly as programmed, even when we would like it to be otherwise. We may want to choose our consequences independent of our choices, but we must remember, they are super glued to one another! For instance, another study performed by Dr. Christian Benedict and colleagues from Uppsala University, Sweden, found that not getting enough sleep increases our impulsivity when it comes to food choices, makes us prefer larger portions, seek more calories, and expend less energy. It can also alter gut bacteria and decrease our sensitivity to insulin, both of which affect our metabolism.[iii] The amount of time we sleep, our food choices, and our desire to exercise are inextricably connected. By addressing our sleep patterns, we can help balance the other two and improve our overall health.
If you are part of the 1 in 3 Americans who aren’t getting enough sleep, remember it is affecting your food choices, your weight and your health. It may not be THE answer to your weight loss struggles, but it is certainly an important piece of the puzzle. Begin today to start taking control of your schedule and making adequate sleep a priority. If you need tips on how to get a better night’s sleep, stay tuned. I’ll address that topic next week.
For more information on the importance of sleep, check out the following article: