Not getting enough sleep and/or not getting enough QUALITY sleep is greatly more important than we think

You’ve heard the saying, “you can sleep when you’re dead” but little do the people that live by this saying know they are putting themselves on the fast track to achieving this sooner than those who get 7+ hours a night. Since, over the long term, sleep deprivation is a risk factor for many chronic diseases. These include diabetes1, cardiovascular and heart disease2, Alzheimer’s3, and cancer. Less sleep can also cause us to put on weight due to increased fat storage and decreased muscle mass.

“You’re not healthy, unless your sleep is healthy.”

–          Dr. William Dement

One reason not getting enough sleep can result in weight gain, is lack of sleep results in greater calorie consumption throughout the day. Why or how does this happen? When you don’t get enough quality sleep leptin (appetite suppressing hormone) will not enter the hypothalamus, thus controlling cravings. At the same time levels of appetite (hunger) inducing hormones such as, ghrelin and agouti-related protein (AgRP) are increased. Interesting research,4 in which people’s sleep and food intake was carefully tracked confirmed that more sleep correlated with fewer calories consumed. Eating close to bedtime increases the release of these appetite inducing hormones. As well as recommending that you get enough sleep I also recommend not eating 3-4 hours before bed.

Lack of sleep can also slow down our glucose and mitochondrial metabolism.5

Glucose metabolism can also be called anaerobic metabolism because it occurs without the need for oxygen. When our ability to metabolize glucose is hampered we are not able to convert glycogen into adenosine triphosphate (ATP) as efficiently. ATP is a molecule that releases energy when needed by the cell. The energy is used for many metabolic processes and is considered the universal energy currency for metabolism. If less glycogen is getting converted to usable energy (ATP) then more will be converted to fat.

Mitochondrial metabolism is also known as aerobic metabolism, which can only occur with the presence of oxygen. The oxygen used during this process comes from tiny bodies that are also known as the powerhouses of our cells the mitochondria. Sleep is vital to keep metabolic rate elevated and mitochondria functioning in creating heat, when body temperature drops during sleep. These tiny organelles are what allow our bodies to use fat for energy through a process known as oxidative phosphorylation, which I won’t go into what all this process entails here. All that we need to understand at this point is that if our mitochondria are poorly functioning then our bodies ability to use fat as energy or burn fat as fuel is going to suffer. Many studies have shown that mitochondrial dysfunction is associated with obesity and metabolic syndrome.6 These are by no means all the potential health consequences associated with not getting enough sleep, but these are two major factors that contribute to weight gain.

Now that we know sleep is important how can we optimize our sleep?

My first tip is “know the value of sleep”, or in other words know why sleep is important. That’s good news for you since you just learned why sleep is vital to your health. At least an hour before bed avoid looking at screens such as TV, smartphones, and computers or wear “blue” light blocking glasses when looking at these screens. The artificial “blue” light emitted by electronic screens trigger your body to produce more daytime hormones (like cortisol) and disorient your body’s natural preparation for sleep. Another tip, don’t consume caffeine too late in the day. Caffeine is a powerful nervous system stimulant. If your nervous system is lit up, you can forget about getting high quality sleep. Most people should not consume caffeine after 4 pm, although few are fast caffeine metabolizers and can handle caffeine closer to bed time. Sleep in complete darkness and I mean pitch black darkness. Having light sources of any type in your bedroom can disrupt your sleep patterns. And even using an eye mask is not going to be 100% effective for most people. This is because your skin has receptors that can pick up light. If there’s light in your bedroom, your body is sensing it and sending messages to your brain and organs. These messages can interfere with your sleep. Last tip, which is less of a tip more of a strong suggestion, buy and read Shawn Stevenson’s book – Sleep smarter: 21 Proven Tips to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health and Bigger Success.