Are you proud that you sleep only a few hours each night? Do you think you’re the model of efficiency because you “only need four hours of sleep?” Maybe you know you need more sleep, but don’t make it a priority because you don’t know how critical it is to your health.
We know that the human body needs 7-9 hours of quality sleep each and every night, but modern life seduces most of us to stay up late to work, play, or watch cat videos on the Interwebs.
What’s sleep besides a waste of valuable time?
While it’s fairly well known that our brains need sleep, you might not know that your entire body needs downtime to perform maintenance tasks.
Several epidemiologic studies have shown that people who sleep less than six hours per night are more likely to be overweight, diabetic and/or have high blood pressure. 
Since the human brain uses about 2/3 of the glucose floating around in the bloodstream, it’s not surprising to find that disrupted or insufficient sleep, which of course affects your brain, has a negative impact on glucose metabolism. 
Slow-wave sleep (SWS) is the time when the body works to repair and restore itself. Sleep is crucial to the regulation of hormones, blood sugar, and cardiovascular function. When we sleep, anabolic growth hormone (the “youth hormone”) is released and cortisol (the “stress hormone”) decreases. Recent studies have shown that lack of sleep may be an independent risk factor for type 2 diabetes and obesity. 
Lack of sleep can lead to higher total cholesterol, higher LDL (“bad”) and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. Sleep deprivation also contributes to increased appetite, lack of motivation to exercise, lower tolerance for stress, and accumulation of fat, especially around the mid-section. 
So, the advice is obvious: if you want to be healthier, happier and more attractive, get more sleep! But that’s easier said than done, isn’t it?
Optimal sleep time is from 10pm to 6am. Most of the body’s repair work is done between 10pm and 2am, so you’re really shortchanging yourself by staying up until midnight. (Is watching The Daily Show really worth that much to you? I love it, too, but you can watch it online tomorrow.)
Some simple — but not necessarily easy — advice:
Turn off all your electronics at 9pm and start winding down for your new 10:00 bedtime. Crazy, I know. To me, this tip is the hardest one to do, but also the most rewarding. If your current bedtime is much later than this, you’ll want to work down to a 10:00 bedtime in half-hour increments, a week at a time. This will keep you from lying awake from 10:00 to 2:00.
No TV in the bedroom! Instead, read in bed, but not on an iPad or other backlit screen. Use a classic Kindle or even a good old-fashioned real book.
Keep the lights low in the evening, or at least during your “wind down” hour. Light stimulates your brain and keeps you awake.
In another article, we’ll get more into the effects of lack of sleep on your appetite, and I’ll give you three more sleep tips!
For now, get to bed half an hour earlier every night this week. Your body will thank you!
How much sleep do you get on a typical night?
- Knutson, K. Sleep Duration and Cardiometabolic Risk: a review of the epidemiologic evidence. Best Prac Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 October: 24(5): 731-743. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3011978/)
- Morselli, L., Guyon, A., Spiegel, K. Sleep and Metabolic Function. Pflugers Arch – Eur J Physiol (2012) 463:139-160. (http://www.springerlink.com/content/c16n362254378304/fulltext.pdf)
- Van Cauter,E., Spiegel,K., Tasali,E, Leproult,R. Metabolic consequences of sleep and sleep loss, Sleep Medicine, Volume 9, Supplement 1, September 2008, Pages S23-S28, ISSN 1389-9457, 10.1016/S1389-9457(08)70013-3.
- Gangwisch, J., et al. Short Sleep Duration as a Risk Factor for Hypercholesterolemia: Analyses of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Sleep, 2010 July 1; 33(7): 956-961. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2894437/)