We live in a culture that loves to share our workout routines and favorite healthy recipes, but when is the last time someone has given you sleep advice?
In a culture obsessed with health, there seems to be one major variable left out of the equation for a healthy lifestyle: sleep. Holistic health doesn’t come from only eating the right foods and hitting the gym three times a week. Food, exercise and sleep must work in tandem to help you optimize your health to the best it can be.
It’s no secret that sleep has a drastic impact on overall health and wellness. Research has shown that lack of sleep can lead to high blood pressure, immunodeficiency, an increase in negative moods, and yes, even weight gain.
Yet, we don’t take our sleep health as seriously as diet and exercise. In fact, we often believe the myth we can “catch up on sleep” over the weekend. The fact of the matter is, although you can sleep in on Saturday mornings, you will still suffer the consequences of sleep loss the morning after binge-watching Netflix on a work night.
Three Reasons Sleep is Just as Important as Diet and Exercise
So why do we let sleep fall through the cracks? Perhaps from lack of knowledge, but the more likely reason is it takes time and effort to maintain a healthy sleep hygiene. Whatever the case, here are three reasons we should be taking our sleep more seriously.
#1. Muscle mass comes from more than just lifting weights. It comes from sleep.
Sleep gives you the energy to get out of bed in the morning, literally.
Research points to the conclusion that sleep has a direct impact on productivity and energy levels. In one study conducted by the NINDS, researchers found sleeping longer increased levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in areas of the brain that are active while awake. ATP is a source of energy for brain cells. If sleep gives you the boost needed to get out of bed, how much more does it give you the energy needed to make it through the last mile of your run?
More than just energy levels, sleep impacts muscle mass. If you are an athlete striving to gain lean muscle mass, you need to pay close attention to your sleep habits. That’s because lack of sleep decreases testosterone levels, which in tandem with strength training increases muscle size and mass. Yes, that’s right. Testosterone is responsible for more than just sex drive, it is also responsible for the growth of muscle tissue.
Lastly, sleep’s primary functions is restoration. It’s during sleep that muscle regeneration occurs. During REM sleep (the deep sleep where you lose all musculoskeletal function), your heart rate drops and your brain rests from activity, allowing blood flow to increase to your muscles. It’s the oxygen and nutrients this blood delivers to your muscles that allows growth and healing to occur. Without sleep, your cells and tissues don’t receive the nourishment needed to grow.
#2. Sleep loss throws your appetite out of whack
Lack of sleep has a number of effects on the body as it pertains to diet and appetite.
First and foremost, lack of sleep causes hormone disruption, two of which are leptin and ghrelin.
Ghrelin, known as the ‘hunger hormone’, found in the lining of your stomach controls your appetite. Leptin, on the other hand, is the hormone that helps you feel full. When you lose sleep, ghrelin and leptin levels are affected – ghrelin levels go up and leptin levels go down. This impacts your metabolism by increasing your appetite while your brain simultaneously fails to signal that you are full (even though you should be satisfied). This can lead to weight gain by overeating. Yikes.
#3. Less sleep, more stress
Yet another hormone affected by sleep is cortisol, the stress hormone. Sleep and stress have a complicated relationship because the detrimental effects of lack of sleep and stress are cyclical. While lack of sleep often leads to an increase in stress levels, stress is common culprit of robbing sleep.
Stress has a number of health consequences. One of them is weight gain. Long-term or “chronic” stress can lead to an increase in hunger overtime. That’s because of two things. First and foremost, as cortisol levels rise, your appetite increases. Secondly, stress causes you to crave sugary foods. Why? High levels of cortisol, increase insulin which causes your blood sugar to drop. This results in a craving for sugary foods.
The best solution, get enough sleep to keep stress levels down.
Three Easy Tips to Improve Your Sleep Quality
If you have neglected your sleep health in the past, don’t fear! We all have. Here are three easy tips to improve your sleep quality moving forward.
#1. Make a sleep schedule and stick to it
If you are serious about your health, you aren’t new to making schedules. Just as you make meal plans and workout regimens, you should also make a sleep schedule and stick to it. After all, our bodies are designed to follow a sleep schedule. You may have noticed there are certain times of day you feel more alert or sleepy. That’s a result of your body’s internal biological clock known as its circadian rhythm.
It’s easier to get on a sleep schedule than you think. We do it as children, why not as adults? Circadian rhythms, which tell us when we need sleep and when to be awake, function best on a regular routine. One benefit to a regular sleep schedule is hormone regulation, which as we know, causes a lot of damage when out of whack.
Like with any schedule, sticking to it requires sacrifice. It means going to bed at a decent hour on Saturday night and waking up early on Sunday morning. It will never be perfect, but the benefits are definitely worth the effort.
#2. Consider the condition of your sleep structure
Your bed is the tool used to get great sleep. If you can’t sleep well in your bed, you may need to invest in a sleep structure that will help you get quality sleep.
Did you know, the average lifespan of a traditional innerspring mattress is seven to eight years? If you have been sleeping on a mattress passed down in your family for the 15-years it may be time to go shopping.
If you are making the effort to change your sleep habits, you should consider the tool that impacts your sleep the most.
#3. Create a wind down routine
At the end of the day, your brain needs time to wind down. About an hour before bed each night, opt to unplug from electronics (which could trick your brain it’s not time to power down) and begin preparing for bed. Try taking a hot bath, drinking a cup of chamomile or doing some light stretches to help prime your mind and body for sleep.
The Bottom Line
Now you can sleep easy at night knowing you have put the same effort into your sleep health as you put into your commitment to diet and exercise. Prioritize sleep. Your health depends on it.