4 Reasons We All Need More Sleep

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Photo by Joyce Romero on Unsplash

Sleep. Beautiful sleep.  I was always jealous of those that seemed to function without adequate amounts of it.  Those savages that could get an average of 4 hours in,  seemingly crush the day, and end it with a defiant “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!”.  I have never been able to function very well without sleep.  I remember in high school waking up at 6 after staying up late reading, studying, listening to music, or just trying to get some quiet time in before the next long day would begin.  All day I would be falling asleep in class, craving awful food, and generally not functioning one hundred percent.

Fast forward to life as a full-time musician with another full time job on the side, and sleep gets even more elusive. My schedule then (and now sometimes): Play until after 12a.m multiple nights of the week, get up at 4:30 for an opening shift at a hotel fitness center,  try to muster the energy to get the dog out and get some rock climbing in, go to bed late and do it again the next day.  Even with nutrition and exercise dialed in, I would generally feel weak, tired, and sick a lot of the time.

Now when I can, I make sleep the most important part of my routine.  There is a huge shift in my cognitive performance, productivity, mood, and recovery. Research is showing that even those that think they are functioning fine after little sleep may not be firing on all cylinders.  Here are some reasons why we should think about sleeping a little more.

1. Less Sleep = More Food

We’ve all been there.  Maybe your having a late night out, maybe your working an overnight.  Suddenly it 1A.M and your ravenously hungry.  The only thing open is that Wendy’s down the street….. fries it is.  Consuming some quick burning carbohydrates that do little more than fill that angry feeling in your stomach does more damage than you think.

This study shows how staying awake longer (sleeping less) promotes a shift in our ability to make good judgment on what and when we eat.  The less sleep we get, the more prone we are to eat frequent, calorie dense snacks, just to get through the prolonged period of wakefulness.  These tend to be high carbohydrate, high fat foods that are low in protein and fiber, essentials for satiety.   This results in a hypo-caloric diet that is often imbalanced in terms of macro nutrients, and lacking in essential micro-nutrients.

2. Cognitive Performance Declines

Even in adolescents , who have shown to be more resistant to sleep deprivation,  sustained attention and processing speed declines after just 7 days of 5 hours of sleep.  In this study a multitude of factors were negatively affected by lack of sleep, including working memory, lower positive memory rates, shorter attention span, and alertness.  These are things we depend on everyday to get through our jobs, solve problems, and learn new things.

3. Your Gut Health Suffers

Our gut biome is increasingly becoming known as the marker for our general health.  Afflictions ranging from heart disease, obesity, poor immune response,  and autoimmune disorder are all being found to have a link to our gut biome.  Right now a lot of the research being done is based on animals, specifically mice.

Mice were exposed to SF (sleep fragmentation) for 4 weeks.  In that time there was a shift in the ratio of  Lachnospiraceae and  Lactobacteriaceae.  Lachnospiraceae  saw an uptick.  These are oxygen-fermenting aerobic bacteria that when increased relative to anaerobic(do not consume oxygen), promoted systemic low-grade inflammation by increasing the gut linings permeability.  This in turn allows to bacteria leak into the bloodstream.  We don’t need any leaks in our stomach….

4. Insulin Sensitivity Decreases

This is something that I am always thinking about.  When you look around at people who are struggling with their weight, have low energy, or perhaps have been dealing with Type 2 Diabetes, much of these problems can be reduced down to a singular problem: Insulin Resistance.  This has become a hot topic in the health world mostly because we are now finding that the SAD (Standard American Diet) has a strong likelihood of causing it, as does many common lifestyle choices like being sedentary for long periods of time, not exercising, and not getting enough sleep.

The more insulin sensitive we are, the better we can handle it when we put carbohydrates into our body.  As soon as glucose enters into our bloodstream, insulin comes in to shuttle it out of the blood.   We need to be sensitive to insulin in order to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.  Problems begin to arise when we become resistant to insulin and levels become too high.

When we are lacking sleep, our sympathetic nervous system increases in activity, triggering the release of epinephrine.  This hormone releases glucose from various storage sites in the body and floods the bloodstream with it, raising blood sugar and triggering a constant insulin release to cope with the fact that we are not sleeping enough.

In 20 healthy men, just a week of getting 5 hours of sleep significantly reduced insulin sensitivity.

That’s it for today! Leave a comment with any thoughts.  Thanks everyone.

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