Over the past two weeks, we’ve published a series of messages on the steps you must take to achieve optimal health and reach your ideal weight.
Today, we continue with a subject that is critical to your energy levels, mental performance, and overall health. And yet, it is often overlooked or neglected – even by those of us who are the most conscious of our health.
I’m talking about deep, restful, restorative, uninterrupted sleep.
And that brings me to the next step in your quest to achieve optimal health and your ideal weight…
Step #5: Get Great Sleep
When it comes to the modern health crisis and the rise of degenerative disease, our poor state of nutrition grabs all the headlines. But it is our lack of quality sleep (and chronic stress) that cause more problems for more people.
In fact, when it comes to the health problems actually reported to doctors, insomnia is at the top of the list. More than one-third of Americans have trouble sleeping everynight. More than half of adults have problems sleeping at least a few nights each week.
That means that most of us are chronically sleep deprived. And of course, our use of prescription sleeping medications is soaring (which is causing even more problems).
Sometimes, our lack of sleep is caused by factors outside our own control. As the mother of a toddler who just stopped breast feeding (after two years), I understand how even our best laid plans for a restful night of sleep can be derailed.
I also understand how frustrating – even hopeless – it can feel to be bone-tired, exhausted and foggy as you climb into bed… and still not be able to sleep due to physiological issues or a mind that is racing.
Other times, our lack of sleep is because of our own bad habits or personal choices. When it comes to making time for work, family, friends, exercise, and every other modern “obligation” a full night of rest is often the first thing we sacrifice.
But the bottom line is that restful sleep is the foundation of your health. You can eat a perfect diet and take all the right supplements, but if you’re not sleeping well (and managing your stress), your health and your waistline will suffer.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
Most experts agree that adults should sleep between seven and eight hours per night. Numerous studies show that consistently sleeping less than this can lead to health problems. However, some studies show that consistently sleeping more is not necessarily better.
For example, researchers at Yale School of Medicine followed the sleep patterns of nearly 2,000 men for 15 years. They found that those who slept only five to six hours per night had twice the risk of diabetes of those who slept from six to eight hours. But they also found that men who slept more than eight hours developed the disease at a rate THREE times higher!
The sweet spot seems to be seven to eight hours per night. But as you already know, it’s not just the amount of time you spend in bed…
The Quality of Your Sleep is Crucial
To get the greatest benefit from your resting hours, you need deep uninterrupted sleep. Unfortunately, this becomes harder as we age…
Babies and children have no problem entering a state of deep sleep. However, as we grow older we naturally spend less time in this restorative state.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, those under the age of 25 spend about 20 percent of their sleeping hours in a state of deep “slow-wave” sleep. However, for those over the age of 35, this number drops to less than four percent. And those over 50 have trouble spending any time at all in deep sleep.
In a moment, we’ll discuss steps you can take to get more and better sleep… but first, let’s cover why deep restful sleep is so important to your health and emotional well-being.
What Happens to Your Body When You Don’t Rest Deeply?
You intuitively know that not getting enough sleep can affect your health. I’m sure at some point you’ve experienced a lack of sleep leading to a weakened immune system… and soon after a nasty cold or flu.
But you might not know that a lack of (or poor quality) sleep can actually affect you at a genetic level. In a 2012 study, researchers at Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Dallas showed that just one week of sleeping less than six hours per night caused abnormal changes in more than 700 genes!
That alone should be enough to cause you think seriously about how much and how well you sleep. But the changes don’t end there…
Hormones are your body’s biochemical messaging system. They transmit information from one group of cells to another. They regulate countless bodily functions, they dictate how we age, and they control our metabolism.
Hormones are also extremely potent, exerting powerful effects even in amounts as small as a trillionth of a gram. And here’s the thing: Your production and secretion of hormones (and your body’s sensitivity to them) is strongly related to your sleep patterns. Being awake or sleeping restlessly when your body needs deep sleep, can cause significant hormonal disruption.
That’s why insulin resistance, diabetes and obesity are correlated with poor sleep. The stress hormone, cortisol, also rises when we are deprived of sleep. And lack of sleep can cause increased appetite, strong cravings for sweets and a weakened ability to control impulses. A dangerous combination for sure!
Periods of deep sleep are also when your body produces the most human growth hormone (HGH). This has been shown to be nothing less than a “fountain of youth.” In fact, many outward signs of aging – including thinning skin, wrinkles and diminished collagen production – are linked to declining HGH.
Growth hormone is also directly involved in fat metabolism, the creation of muscle mass and energy production. If you want your body to remain lean and strong and full of energy, you would be wise to do everything you can to preserve and increase your natural production of growth hormone. And in addition to vigorous exercise, the best way to do that is to sleep deeply.
But the benefits of great sleep don’t end there. Deep and restful sleep:
- Enhances Memory, Concentration, Mental Clarity and Brain Health: Your brain organizes and consolidates memories and reinforces what you have learned while you sleep. It has been shown that those who sleep better forget less, speak more clearly, concentrate better and make fewer mistakes. Scientists have also discovered that sleep disruptions in the elderly can cause brain changes that lead to long-term memory loss and that deep sleep purges the brain of biochemical waste products – including those that could become beta-amyloid plaques, a precursor to Alzheimer’s.
- Boosts Muscle Building and Improves Athletic Performance: It is during rest and sleep that your body recuperates from the efforts made during exercise. This is when muscles are repaired and restored and new muscle tissue grows. Of course, we also have more energy and better reaction time when we are thoroughly rested.
- Boosts Mood and Beats Depression: A wide range of psychiatric disorders, including depression and anxiety are connected to sleep deprivation. But it also reduces our ability to handle stress and increases irritability and emotional volatility. One study of sleep deprived medical residents showed that being interrupted in the middle of doing something caused greater stress and emotional outbursts than it did in those who were well rested.
- Improves Immune Function: Even one sleepless night can reduce your body’s natural defenses against micro-organisms. For example, when a controlled group of 153 people were exposed to a common cold virus, those who averaged less than 7 hours of sleep in the two weeks prior were almost three times more likely to get sick than those who slept an average of eight hours or more.
- Increases Sex Drive: In addition to boosting energy and stamina (prerequisites for a great sex life) deep and restful sleep also increases testosterone levels. Among other critical functions, this hormone is an important driver of sexual desire and performance in both men and women.
- Lowers the Risk of Heart Disease: It has been clearly shown that lack of sleep increases blood pressure, raises the heart rate and promotes chronic inflammation in the body (measured by C-reactive protein levels). It stands to reason that proper sleep would reduce the risk of heart disease, and in fact, studies show that it does.
- Reduces Gastrointestinal Problems: Digestive disorders like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and Crohn’s disease are obviously related to autoimmune and nutritional factors. But sleep loss has also been shown to play an important role in the development, progression and severity of digestive disease.
- Increases Pain Tolerance: Pain and sleep problems go hand in hand. Obviously, when you are in pain, it can make deep sleep difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. But researchers have also discovered that sleep deprivation itself can actually cause pain and increase your sensitivity to it. Sleep more, hurt less.
- Reduces the Risk of Cancer: Sleep deprivation will clearly disrupt your circadian rhythm and reduce immunity. So it should be no surprise that people who don’t get enough sleep have been shown to face an increased risk of cancer, particularly breast and colon cancer.
We could go on, but I think it is clear that sleep is just as important as a healthy diet. I truly believe millions of people could alleviate their health problems if they were just able to consistently enjoy deep sleep. If you’ve ever beat a cold or other illness with just one night of restful slumber, you know how powerful and restorative it can be.
So How Do You Get More (and Better) Sleep?
Sleeping better is not always easy. It can require a major lifestyle change and strong commitment. And don’t think that you can just “catch up on the weekends.” You might feel better, but research shows that you can’t make up for the effects of prolonged sleep loss with a night or two of good sleep
Here are nine simple steps for better, deeper, sounder sleep, starting tonight:
- Follow a Strict Routine: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – even on the weekends. A regular sleep schedule will train your body and mind to wind down at bedtime.
- Go to Bed Well before Midnight: It has been said that every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after. That’s because your hormones rise and fall with the natural cycle of dusk to dawn. Ideally, you should be asleep shortly after dark and rise with the light of day. This is what nature intended, and it would put you at the optimal seven to eight hours of sleep.
- Exercise Regularly and Vigorously: Exercise will not only improve your health, strengthen your body and improve your confidence and mood… it will also help you fall asleep faster at night and cause you to sleep more deeply.
- Spend Time in the Sunlight: Regular sun exposure promotes the production of vitamin D. This alone has been shown to improve sleep. But there is another benefit to sun exposure. When full-spectrum sunlight enters your eyes it has a direct effect on your pineal gland, helping to stimulate the production of the “feel-good” hormone serotonin as well as melatonin, the hormone that governs your sleep-wake cycle.
- Turn Down the Thermostat: A slightly cool room is ideal for sleeping. If you have trouble sleeping, consider a warm bath or shower before bed. The subsequent fall in body temperature helps to naturally induce sleep.
- Avoid Stimulants: Obviously, you should avoid caffeine and alcohol (not technically a stimulant) before bed. But television and active mental tasks can have the same effect. Spend your time before bed doing some light reading, stretching or planning your next day.
- Sleep in a Great Bed: You spend a third of your life in bed. You should enjoy those blissful, uninterrupted hours of unconsciousness. If you are not sleeping in comfort and style, make it a point to upgrade your mattress and bedding.
- Sleep in a Very Dark Room: Even a little bit of light can disturb your release of melatonin and other nighttime hormones. The darker your sleep environment the better.
- Stop Using Your Snooze Alarm: Instead of giving yourself an extra 30 minutes or an hour of sleep, what you’re really doing is interfering with your REM sleep. If you must use an alarm, set it for when you must get up (no earlier)… and then get up when it goes off.
I hope this article has reminded you how important it is to do everything in your power to get regular, deep, and restful sleep. Not only is it enjoyable and makes you feel great, but you simply cannot attain great health without it.
To Your Health,
Editor & CEO
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