Sleep: The Biological Imperative

Sleep is often mischaracterized has downtime. It is often the first casualty of our busy lives. The latest research reinforces the notion it is vital to our health and longevity. It has been confronted that sleep is vital for sustained peak mental and physical performance, stabilizing mood, bolstering our immunity, coping with stress, repairing cells, re -balancing our biochemistry, and maintaining healthy gastrointestinal and metabolic function.  The reality is our brains and bodies are very busy during sleep. It has been described by experts as “non- negotiable.” The effects of sleep deficit are not simply felt immediately but have long term implications, which are often ignored. In fact, we spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping, and as such, it needs to be time that’s serves our health and longevity needs.

Sleep and The Brain: Sleep loss has profound effects on our neurocognitive functions like short-term memory, attention deficit, alertness and problem solving. The body and brain need 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Sleep debt is cumulative. Your body doesn’t forget a half night of lost sleep: it carries the debt forward into the days that follow.

Sleep and Mood: Sleep deficit leaves people short-tempered. Dopamine ( a vital neurotransmitter )  levels drop which control several brain functions. This reduced nerve activity renders us less motivated, less quick -thinking and vulnerable to mood swings.

Sleep and Stress: Sleep deficit directly impacts our endocrine system which regulates key hormones. While we sleep the body attempts to repair damage  done by stress. Ideally, the stress hormone cortisol decreases as we secrete more growth hormone. Without enough sleep, cortisol can remain high, keeping the body in a heightened state of alertness which can drive up our blood pressure and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.  Additionally, sleep loss can lead to a re-wiring of the brains emotional circuitry and keep us in a hyper state of arousal. This process activates the Sympathetic Nervous System and left “on” can lead to a variety of problems.

Sleep and Weight: Sleep is crucial to regulating our metabolic system. Sleep loss can effect glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. It can actually lead to pre-diabetes and eventually Type 2 diabetes. The more insulin we need to regulate blood sugar the more we tend to eat creating weight gain. Additionally, when we are tired we tend to eat more carbohydrates and  we become tired and less inclined to exercise and more vulnerable to feeling anxious. This sets up a viscous cycle. Stress leads to lack of sleep, which leads to increased stress which can lead to overeating.

Sleep and the Immune System: Our immune system is very impacted by sleep deficit. Studies link it increased risk for colon and breast cancer, heart disease and Type  2 diabetes. It is during sleep that our bodies repair themselves and perform “preventive maintanence. Blood levels of immune system molecules like interleukin -1 and tumor necrosis factor ( a powerful cancer killer) rise significantly. They decline when we wake. This crucial system is totally impacted and undermined when we lose sleep. Even mild sleep deprivation can increase inflammatory markers that are associated with chronic disease.

Sleep and Aging: Growth hormone is vital to the aging process. Growth hormone is released in the early stages of sleep. It helps stimulate protein synthesis, fat metabolism that supplies energy for tissue repair and cell division. This repair process is very impacted by a lack of deep and restorative sleep. The loss of growth hormone is believed to be factor in the accelerated physical aging of the body, because it is so essential to the immune, repair and stress-moderating functions.

Sleep and Fitness : Athletes are very impacted by sleep and the its role in tissue repair  and immunity. The more a person pushes their bodies the more sleep is critical. Athletic progress is very tied to the body’s catabolic cycle of muscle breakdown and repair. This happens when your are sleeping. Sleep deprivation directly impacts athletic performance ( faster heart rates and lower heart rate variability) and if not addressed can lead to profound immune system issues.

TIPS: 

Go to bed and get up at the same time everyday. 

Avoid alcohol and caffeine late in the day or close to bedtime.

Turn off electronic devices before bedtime  – quiet your mind !

Develop a meditation practice  to relax  the brain and nervous system.

Keep bedroom quiet, dark and cool.

Eat lightly at night.

If you wake with a thought write it down and deal with it the next day.