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Sleep – The Low Dow

Let’s talk about sleep because I bet so many of us are not getting enough of it, and that includes myself.

We all have those nights where sleep is merely a day dream and those days where our energy levels feel depleted and we are cranky and inefficient. There is a long list that affects how many hours of shut-eye we get and the quality of that sleep, ranging from countless to-do-lists, stress, exercise, diet and even the quality of our mattress.

Research shows that approximately only 30% of South Africans are getting enough sleep, while the other 70% feel unrested and tired when they wake up in the morning. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one-third of adults don’t get enough sleep and that roughly two-thirds of teenagers are sleep deprived.

The first thing I ask my patients is how much sleep they get on average and what their quality of sleep is like?

Let’s have a closer look at what happens in the body while we sleep.

Sleep follows a pattern of alternating REM (rapid eye movement) and Non-REM (non-rapid eye movement) cycles. In each cycle, different physiological processes take place, including:

  • Brain processing. This is important to sort and file information through the formation of neurological pathways
  • Hormonal changes
  • An increase in melatonin which ‘opens the sleep doors’ and contributes to healthy aging
  • Increase in growth hormone which stimulates growth in children and adolescents and increases protein production and fat breakdown in all ages
  • Cortisol (stress hormone) levels decrease
  • As the night progresses, insulin levels drop, and fat stores are used as fuel for the liver, heart and muscles
  • Cell division and immune support is amplified
  • Your metabolic rate falls, and energy is conserved so that protein production can increase, and restoration and repair can take place.

It is no secret then, that sleep is so important not only when it comes to feeling energized and good, but also when it comes to our overall health. In fact, sleep is as important as eating healthily and exercising.

Now that we know what happens in the body while we sleep, we can ask what does all of this mean for our health?


Metabolism and Weight Gain
Sleep plays a vital role when it comes to weight management. Studies show that shorter habitual sleep times result in an increase in body mass index and a reduction in metabolic rate.

Although one study showed that 5 days of insufficient sleep actually increased participants energy needs, it also created changes in their metabolic rate and food intake that led to an unfavourable 0.82kg weight gain.

Eating Habits and Weight Gain
Ever felt like you constantly craving carbs and your appetite is out of control after a night of poor sleep?

One of the reasons is that when the body doesn’t get enough sleep, the release of Leptin (your appetite supressing hormone) slows, while Ghrelin (your appetite stimulating and snacking hormone) increases.

In addition, during sleep loss, people tend to eat smaller breakfasts but then throughout the day they eat more carbohydrates and  fats and participate more late-night snacking.

Not only does a lack of sleep impact your motivation to exercise, but studies show that a lack of sleep impacts both your physical and athletic performance.

Studies show that individuals who sleep better and longer engage in higher amounts of leisure physical activity. In addition to this, they have greater athletic performance capabilities and response times.

Memory, Cognitive Performance and Brain Health
Harvard’s Women’s Health Watch explains how sleep helps the brain ‘commit new information to memory’ by allowing for consolidation of the information attained during the day.

Sleep disturbances have been shown to contribute to the progression of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative processes. Nerves involved in cognition get injured when there’s a lack of sleep.

In addition to this, lack of sleep causes a reduction in toxin clearance from the brain as well as increased inflammation in the brain resulting in a loss of memory, reduced cognitive ability and poor brain health.

We all know how moody we get when we don’t get enough sleep. Chronic sleep disturbances have been linked to depression, anxiety and mental distress.

Evidence shows that its not only changes in the number of hours of sleep, but rather the quality of sleep that contributes to risk for depression.

A study done on 11 329 adults, showed that those who suffered from insomnia or sleep apnoea had higher rates of depression than those without.

Immune Function
Many studies suggest a strong interaction between sleep and the immune system.

Partial sleep deprivation has been closely linked to the reduction of our natural immune soldiers in the body, resulting in a weakened immune system.

Always getting sick with the flu or a cold?! Sleep could be one of the reasons why.

Cardiovascular Health
Poor sleep habits are linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, increased stress hormone levels and poor cardiac health.

Poor sleep habits as well as poor breathing during sleep, results in an increase in oxidative stress, which results in poor vascular health.

Inadequate sleep can cause people who have high blood pressure to have further increases in blood pressure throughout the day, resulting in increased risk for coronary artery disease.

Studies show that adults who have less than 5 hours sleep per night have an increased risk for the development of diabetes. This can be due to a reduction in the body’s ability to tolerate glucose with sleep deprivation. This highlights how chronic insufficient sleep can result in an increase in insulin resistance.

Poor sleep also results in an increased inflammatory response and oxidative stress in the body, which in turn result in the formation of diabetes.

Lack of sleep is known to ‘switch on’ our pro-inflammatory mediators in the body.

Increased inflammation in the body results in the development of numerous chronic diseases, as well as Alzheimer’s and weight gain.

Studies also show an increased occurrence of inflammatory bowel diseases such as irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis as a result of sleep deprivation.

Take-home message
Sleep is one of the main components needed for health and longevity.

It plays a critical role in metabolic rates and eating habits as well as other chronic diseases that we try to manage through our diet such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.  Beyond this, a lack of sleep also negatively impacts longevity and other physiological functions like our immune system, mood, memory and learning, ability to exercise and repair and restoration.

Nourish yourself to the sunrise.

Written with love ,
Sunrise by HM

Nourished yet? Comment on what I should write about next?

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