Sleep: The Key to Health

Something that is often overlooked in discussions about health and wellness is sleep, and just like our hydration post, I feel that it’s such a necessary health related concept that it just HAS to be discussed. We get so wrapped up in macros and workouts and antioxidants that we forget some of the most basic (but most important) components of wellness. The body can not function on a massive sleep deficit; in fact, sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture.

There are two forms of sleep deficits, chronic and acute. An acute or short term sleep deficit happens when you pull an all-nighter; ideally you make up the sleep you lost by sleeping more over the next few days and recover after suffering some acute symptoms of sleep deprivation (confusion, slower reaction times, less tolerance of physical pain). Chronic sleep deficits on the other hand are much more detrimental. A chronic sleep deficit occurs when you continually get less sleep than your body needs. A sleep debt occurs, and the less sleep you get the more sleep debt you accrue. This sleep debt must be made up by, you guessed it, sleeping, but that isn’t terribly easy. Those with chronic sleep deficits experience a whole list of maladies, such as irritability, cognitive impairment, memory lapses, impaired judgment, hallucinations, depression, and symptoms that mimic ADHD. The immune system becomes impaired and the risk for type II diabetes and obesity increases. Heart rate becomes less constant and the risk of heart disease becomes higher. There is decreased reaction time, tremors, aches. It also makes it much more difficult to lose weight – the stress hormone cortisol is released when we are stressed and don’t get enough sleep, and this hormone causes our bodies to retain extra fat around the midsection. Cortisol also seems to cause the body to not metabolize carbohydrates efficiently, which also leads to weight gain.

Not exactly a pleasant list of side effects, right? You can see how some of these symptoms, especially the irritability, impaired judgment, and increased risk of depression can really be a threat to your health and general state of mind. The good thing is that with the knowledge of how important sleep is, you can definitely make a concerted effort to get enough rest. There is no magic number as sleep needs vary for individuals, but most people fall around needing about 7-9 hours a night for optimal health. If you can, try testing out what your optimal sleep number is. Do you feel rested and productive on 7 hours of sleep or lethargic and irritable? What about on 9 hours? Test is out, and then do your best to get that number each night, and I promise you that your mood and body will be much better off.