It’s not new information that getting adequate rest is good for our health. In fact, we are bombarded with all the horrible things that can go wrong when we don’t get enough sleep; increased risk of car accidents, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, higher than normal Body Mass Index (BMI), and a decreased level of concentration and memory.
I think what is missing in much of the current information communicated to the public on this topic is a contextual understanding of why we need sleep. In a 2005 article published in Harvard Magazine, author Craig Lambert describes that “we are living in the middle of history’s greatest experiment in sleep deprivation and we are all part of that experiment” and likens our current nocturnal environment to Sleep Bulimia.
What Lambert is referring to is the notion that humans aren’t built to perform in the evenings. We don’t function optimally at night which is driven by our poor night vision. Through the invention of electricity, our society has become accustom to living 24 hours a day because life never really shuts down. TV is always running, businesses operate around the clock, and we are getting an hour less sleep that is minimally required for us to thrive.
If I were to get only 4 hours sleep on a Monday night, but returned to a healthy 8 hours the rest of the week, my body would likely be able to “catch up” – this is called acute sleep deprivation. When Lambert refers to the experiment of Sleep Bulimia, he is speaking to a more common phenomenon of constantly lower than required sleeping times or “chronic sleep deprivation” which is commonplace.
Since I’m a nutrition enthusiast, I’ll leave this post with an example that demonstrates the impact of chronic sleep deprivation on the body’s metabolic and endocrine (hormone) system. In a 2004 study done by the University of Chicago’s Spiegel and associates, male students were restricted to only 4 hours sleep per night for 6 days straight and the following biological reactions took place:
– Levels of the stress hormone cortisol were raised
– The sympathetic nervous system became stimulated resulting in increase blood pressure and heart rates.
– Ability to respond normally to insulin decreased.
– Levels of leptin, a substance that inhibits appetite, were reduced.
So, in a nutshell, subjects had increased appetite without being able to properly manage the excess intake of food which was in all likelihood refined foods. Introducing, type II diabetes and obesity with special guests cardiovascular disease and stroke!
Stay tuned for Wednesday’s post on Sleep Hygiene to find out how to successfully set up your sleep environment!