The Gift of a Good Night’s Sleep

20 09 2011

Liz Gilchrist

With the demands of everyday life, it’s no wonder many people aren’t getting the sleep they need. Countless obstacles can be the precursor of a sleepless night, and obligations make it possible for this rejuvenating act to be pushed by the wayside.

Did you know that you should be getting between 7-8 hours of shut eye each night? If it seems impossible to achieve, consider the positive aspects of slumber. Sleep is not only important for the repair of our bodies on a cellular level, it can improve memory, reduce stress, and aid in weight loss and maintenance.

The key to understanding the need for sleep lies in two important hormones called Leptin and Gherlin, which act as a “checks and balances” for hunger and fullness. Specific to each hormone are roles that when a lack of sleep occurs, potential for weight gain is amplified, and other bodily functions are compromised.

Leptin is produced in the fat cells and sends messages to the brain when the stomach is full. Gherlin, created in the gastrointestinal tract, stimulates appetite. When we let sleep slip through the cracks, especially for more than one night, it leads to low levels of leptin increasing the likelihood we will feel unsatisfied with food choices. When this effect is combined with high levels of gherlin produced by a lack of sleep, appetite increases. It is during these times of hormone disturbance we are likely to grab calorie dense, comfort food, rather than healthy and nutritious choices.

Studies have shown that consistent lack of sleep is a common thread among those struggling with weight gain, lack of weight loss and other medical issues. Women who get only 5 of the recommended 8 hours of sleep weigh more on average than their counterparts. Another study found that men deprived of sleep for two nights had 45% stronger desire for high calorie foods.

Need one more reason to reward yourself with a nap this afternoon? How about prolonged inadequate sleep has been linked to high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and difficulty metabolizing carbohydrates resulting in high blood sugar, increased risk of heart disease and low levels of growth hormone, a fat fighter.

When it comes down to it, sleep debt is like credit card debt. The more it is accumulated, the easier it is to crash our bodies. Here are a few simple tips to get more sleep at night. Avoid caffeine after 2pm, increase frequency and intensity of workouts, eliminate distractions from the bedroom, such as a television or computer, and steer clear of big meals and pizza before retiring for the evening.

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