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More Reasons to Get Your Zzzzs
Most people know that not getting enough sleep can pack a punch on physical and mental wellbeing. This is true not only in the day or days following a night of acute sleep deprivation, but it’s especially true over the long term. Chronic, low-grade lack of sleep can take a serious toll on our health. More and more research has come in to suggest that sleep is not at all a passive act — it’s an active act, so to speak, and the brain is carrying out extraordinarily important processes during sleep.
Many neurons (brain cells) continue to fire during sleep, hammering down the new information we’ve learned during the day, consolidating memories, and regulating body functions. In fact, lack of sleep has been shown to increase our risk for heart attack and stroke, and it can significantly suppress immune function and resistance.
The latest research is showing that sleep plays even bigger roles in weight and metabolism, brain function, and even sexual function than was previously thought. And, perhaps not surprisingly, it’s just as important in kids and babies as it is in adults. This article will outline some the latest sleep research, which is uncovering some exciting connections. We’ll also offer some tips on how to catch some more zzz’s if you’re not getting enough — and most people aren’t.
Lack of Sleep Might Mess up Your Metabolism
There’s been a lot of research to suggest that weight and sleep are intimately linked. Lack of sleep can be detrimental to the waistline for obvious reasons: you’re up at night and head to the kitchen for a night snack, and the next day, fatigued from lack of sleep, you look to a sugary treat to boost your energy level. Earlier studies have shown that after just a couple of nights of sleep deprivation, people report being hungrier and eat the equivalent of an entire meal more than well-rested peers. These earlier works have also linked variations in the hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin, to sleep quality.
Now, a new study shows that loss of sleep actually slows down your metabolism, which can lead to weight gain.(1) College men got either a full night’s sleep or were deprived of sleep for a 24-hour period. Their hormone levels, energy expenditure, and eating habits were all measured the next day. Men who were deprived of sleep had slower metabolisms: that is, their bodies burned fewer calories while at rest (up to 20% in some cases) than well-rested peers. The levels of hunger hormones, stress hormones, and blood sugar levels were all higher in the sleep-deprived men. The authors conclude that these changes in metabolism may be the missing link between sleep deprivation and obesity that prior studies have found.
Blood Glucose Can Suffer from Sleep LossBuilding on the sleep-hormone connection, another study has found that lack of sleep may worsen blood glucose control in diabetics. However, it does not seem to affect glucose levels in healthy people. Diabetics who lost sleep had higher blood sugar and insulin levels, and significantly more insulin resistance than well-rested diabetics.(2) The authors of the study say that it’s possible that since diabetics already have compromised glucose and insulin control mechanisms, the effect of sleep deprivation on their body chemistry is more obvious. An earlier study had found that even in healthy subjects, insulin sensitivity was severely compromised when the participants were sleep deprived.
While researchers are hashing out all the links between sleep, metabolism, hormone levels, and weight, it’s a good idea to watch your calorie intake when you are sleep-deprived — getting enough sleep in the first place goes without saying.