Sleep is a basic human need that we all share. Much like food and water, sleep is an essential pillar of health that needs to be nurtured. The more obvious health effects of inadequate sleep include fatigue, decline in cognitive function, difficulty concentrating, an increased risk of mental health issues and in cases of chronic sleep restriction, an increase in the risk of fatigue-related accidents and injuries.
More recent research has found that inadequate sleep significantly impacts cardiovascular health, endocrine function (our hormone system), and metabolism. Obesity and obesity-related diseases are on the rise, and your sleep (or more specifically, lack of sleep) could be, in part to blame.
How sleep affects your appetite
One of the main metabolic aspects of our health that is impacted by sleep is our appetite. Our appetite is regulated primarily by two hormones – leptin and ghrelin. Leptin reduces hunger, while ghrelin get your tummy grumbling and increases hunger. Generally, the release of these hormones are dependent on well-fed you are. However, one of the perils of modern living is that it interferes with the balance of these hormones and how they communicate with our cells. Sleep, or lack thereof, is a major player in the balance of leptin and ghrelin. Both short and long-term sleep restriction causes an increase in ghrelin levels and a decrease in leptin levels, leaving you ravishingly hungry and more likely to consume excessive kilojoules.
Of course, there are always multiple factors that can influence weight loss or gain. However, ensuring you are getting enough sleep is an essential step in managing your weight.
Getting the right amount of sleep
We each have our own sleep routines and habits, but generally, most people need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Falling below that 7 hour benchmark in the sleep restriction category. Every now and again, restriction of sleep duration is unlikely to be overly harmful to your health. However, when sleep restriction becomes a regular thing (known as chronic sleep restriction), health problems are likely to set in.
It’s not just the quantity of sleep, but the quality that counts
Sleep is quite a complicated physiological process. There are various stages that we oscillate between throughout the night from very light to deep stages of sleep and REM phases. The quality of your sleep is determined by the time spent in each stage of sleep, and how you transition between each of the stages.
Are you getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night and still waking up foggy headed and dragging your feet? Perhaps you are waking frequently throughout the night and never quite getting into a solid, deep sleep. These are indicators that the quality if your sleep could be improved. If you are really interested in looking at your quality of sleep, you can use a monitoring device such as a Fitbit or a sleep app.
What to do when you can’t adjust your sleep patterns
Our world is a busy place and it is not always possible to get the perfect night’s sleep every night. Many of us regularly experience disrupted sleep patterns – FIFO workers, shift workers, start-up companies, high-flying executives, students, parents, the elderly – and it is not always possible to simply adjust your routine. So, what can you do? For a start, focus on improving the quality of your sleep, particularly if your total sleep time is restricted. Incorporate some sleep hygiene strategies and establish a pre-bedtime routine (regardless of what time of day you are going to sleep). This article provides some great sleep hygiene strategies.
Nourish and nurture other aspects of your health such as your diet, physical activity and social connection. Move your body daily and fuel it with wholesome, fresh foods. Make time to catch up with friends and family or indulge in some forest bathing. And if you feel you need some additional support, seek advice from a natural health practitioner.