Sleep… what a waste of time…. or is it? Psalms says it this way, “It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” In the midst of our busy lives and “productivity” we seem to have forgotten the ancient wisdom of getting adequate rest. Modern research tells us that the psalmist was right! Sleep is a blessing and is to be protected and appreciated. Let’s see why…
Sleep Benefit #1: Sleep just plain makes you feel better.
We know this is true. After a good night’s sleep, life is better, we have more fun, we are more enjoyable to be around, and stress is easier to deal with. In fact, many individuals with mood disorders simply need proper sleep. If you want to feel great, sleep is a mandatory key.
Sleep Benefit #2: Sleep increases your metabolism.
Ever feel tired after a short night’s sleep? Of course you have. With that fatigue are measurable decreases in metabolism rate. There are two reasons that lack of sleep slows your metabolism:
- Fatigue, from lack of sleep, makes us tired, less active, and less productive. This inactivity slows your metabolism.
- Losing sleep increases hormones that put the brakes on your metabolism. That’s right, less sleep means your 24 hour ability to burn calories slows down by around 30 calories a day, slowing weight loss and accelerating gain of unwanted fat.
Sleep Benefit #3: Sleep suppresses the appetite.
Americans have decreased their average sleep over the past several decades. Ever since the light bulb, people have stayed up later and gotten up earlier. The result is plain and simple… less sleep!
Of interest, the average weight in America has increased as sleep has decreased! Is reduced sleep the cause?
Here are four key research findings:
- Too little sleep increases our hunger hormone (ghrelin).
- Too little sleep decreases our appetite suppressing hormone (leptin).
- Too little sleep causes cravings for unhealthy foods.
- Too little sleep is an actual cause of weight gain.
In fact, sleeping 6 hours, compared to 7 hours, increased the risk of an 11 pound weight gain by 83% in women and 26% in men!
Other research showed that reducing sleep by 3 ½ hours a night increased eating by 296 calories the next day! That is enough to gain 35 pounds a year! Yikes!!!
40% of Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep each night. Could this be why 33% of Americans are obese? There is clearly an association.
Sleep Benefit #4: Sleep promotes Optimum Health.
The 2007-2008 NHANES Study and other research has given some serious insight into our need for sleep. Here are more reasons why it’s a “big deal”:
- Heart Attack: Sleeping < 6 hours doubles the risk of heart attack compared to 6-8 hours!
- Diabetes: Blood sugars increase with less sleep, increasing the risk of diabetes!
- Decisions made are “wiser” with adequate sleep!
- Food addictions are more common with less sleep!
- High blood pressure: 350% higher risk if < 6 hours of sleep.
- Risk of early death increases by 12%
- Cancer risk is higher, including a 50% higher risk of colon cancer with < 6 hours of sleep.
- Metabolic syndrome risk doubles with < 6 hours of sleep.
How much sleep do we need?
It turns out, the amount of sleep we need is age-dependent. Here are my guidelines based on recent research:
Age 0-10 years:
12+ hours of sleep per night.
Note: 58% of obese children sleep < 8 hrs. 90% of kids getting 11+ hours are normal weight. Sleep is mandatory to keep kids trim!
10-12 hours is a minimum.
7 ½ hours.
Age > 60:
Ideal sleep range has not been determined. 6 ½ to 8 hours per night is my current recommendation. Do not exceed 9 hours per night and limit naps to not over 3 hours per week.
Should I take a prescription sleeping pill? No!
Sleep medications, even if over the counter, are associated with an increase in the risk of premature death by 4.6 times compared to natural sleep. Also, cancer risk increases 35%.
Are there natural approaches to great sleep? Yes!
Melatonin in low doses is typically safe and effective for regular use, including travel related sleep challenges. 5-HTP may also be recommended if you are not on a serotonin type anti-depressant.
Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, including chocolate, after 4 pm if you struggle with sleep. Alcohol can also interfere with sleep, contrary to popular opinion.
Sleep will increase your energy, keep you more active and productive, and improve your metabolism. Your risk of obesity, heart attack, diabetes, cancer, and other diseases will plummet with adequate sleep. Your mood and quality of life will improve. Convinced yet?
Let’s get our sleep! Regardless of the world’s poor example around us, relentlessly pursue proper rest and adequate sleep! To achieve Optimum Health (and weight control), adults should get their 7 ½ hours of sleep every night! It is a key to your success.
And remember, Optimum Health is ALWAYS worth the effort.
For Optimum Health,
Rick Tague, M.D., M.P.H.