You’ve certainly heard that the daily recommended amount of shuteye is 8 hours give or take. If you’re like me, you make the time. If you’re like me, you still have sucky sleep. Most every night I fall asleep just fine. I wake up for the next day about 8-9 hours later. It’s everything that happens in-between that’s dragging me down. Looking at the research, I’m learning more and more about the importance of sleep … and quality matters more than quantity.
We go through 4 different stages of sleep, from non-REM stages 1-3 (N1-N3) to a stage of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in that order multiple times each night.
Quick overview of each stage:
During N1, you’re sleeping lightly. As you’re drifting in and out of stage one, you may experience a falling sensation.
Your brain waves, body temperature, and heart rate begin to decline in N2 sleep.
In N3, you’re getting deep sleep. This is restorative sleep where a lot is going on: tissue repair, increased circulation, memory formation, hormone regulation, detoxification, and more.
You dream during REM sleep. The brain is almost as active during REM as it is in waking hours.
Unless your adventures in slumberland are interrupted, in which case we start the whole process over again, we’ll spend less time in deeper sleep (stage 3) and more time in REM sleep as the night goes on.
Insufficient sleep is the strongest risk factor for obesity for many reasons including improper hormone balance. This leads to a propensity to store fat and have a higher appetite overall. Top it all off with a lack of energy to be active, and you’ll see what’s going on here.
The research I found on this shows that depression is not necessarily caused by low-grade sleep, but there is a very strong link, especially for people with sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea. An estimated 90% of people with depression complain about their calibur of sleep.
Possibly related, there is also research showing that lack of decent sleep impairs one’s ability to properly read other peoples’ body language and facial expressions. It also makes you more irritable. If your relationships suffer, I can imagine this would make it hard for you to operate at maximum happiness.
The glymphatic system flushes cerebrospinal fluid through the brain to remove cellular debris and toxins. Not completing this process nightly causes mental performance to suffer in the short-term and puts you at a high risk for issues like Alzheimer’s Disease in the long-term.
A meta-analysis (review of several studies – in this case 72 studies) uncovered that over-sleeping and disturbed sleep are associated with high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker. Short periods of sleep aren’t associated with inflammation in this way, which I think is super interesting, and it seems that women have a higher inflammatory response to crappy sleep – even after one night. Inflammation is responsible for basically any health issue out there, especially auto-immune diseases such as Crohn’s (which I have!) and arthritis.
Proper sleep reduces blood pressure, especially overnight when it drops to its lowest point. High blood pressure is a risk factor for both heart disease and stroke. Mic drop.
There are studies that show even 6 subsequent nights of lousy sleep can leave you with prediabetes, because poor sleep is reduced insulin sensitivity. This also is a contributor to weight gain and fat storage. No thanks!
Up regulation of specific biological processes necessary for proper immune response occurs while we slumber. These processes can also have an effect on tumor suppression and the stress response.
And all that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Sleep is still a pretty mysterious subject, and relatively speaking, I hardly even covered anything here. Improving your sleep can help you get ahead of the issues above PLUS reward you with enhanced athletic performance, slower aging process, more favorable body composition (more lean tissue like muscle & less fat), heightened creativity, and boosted productivity and memory.
You don’t need all this information to understand the incredible importance of a quality night’s rest. It makes sense that you’re not going to be able to be your best self as a sleep-deprived zombie-version of you. To do life well, you need energy. Not to be confused with the stimulation you get from a cup of coffee and sugary snacks. (You’re robbing Peter to pay Paul* with that approach and will ultimately have to pay the price with adrenal fatigue and a host of other issues.) The thing is, you might not even realize you’re zombified, or maybe you think you just can’t spare the time or will work on your sleep issues later.
You fall right into hibernation as soon as you hit the pillow (or throughout the day!).
It takes longer than 30 minutes to doze off after getting into bed.
You wake up more than once during the night.
You feel like walking hot garbage.
You pop out of sleep for more than 15 minutes during the night.
You’re experiencing any of the negative effects of poor sleep above!
Like I said, I’ve realized that my sleep could use some improvement. Since I take care of myself in many other ways and anyone can get used to just about anything, I’ve been able to get by simply treating my sleep as if I just had to clock-in and out of it. “I get 8 hours, I’m good, thanks!” Now that I’ve finally woken up (ha!) to the realization that this has to change, I’m pumped to be able to start taking better care of myself and get more out of life.
Thanks for reading!
“Are You Suffering from Interrupted Sleep?” National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/improving-sleep-quality-what-interrupted-sleep.
Buxton, Orfeu M, et al. “Sleep Restriction for 1 Week Reduces Insulin Sensitivity in Healthy Men.” Diabetes, American Diabetes Association, Sept. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20585000.
Cappuccio, Francesco P, et al. “Sleep Duration Predicts Cardiovascular Outcomes: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies.” European Heart Journal, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21300732.
Di Milia, Lee, et al. “The Association between Short Sleep and Obesity after Controlling for Demographic, Lifestyle, Work and Health Related Factors.” Sleep Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23419528.
Dimitrov, Stoyan, et al. “Gαs-Coupled Receptor Signaling and Sleep Regulate Integrin Activation of Human Antigen-Specific T Cells.” The Journal of Experimental Medicine, vol. 216, no. 3, 2019, pp. 517–526., doi:10.1084/jem.20181169.
“How Does Sleep Affect Your Heart Health? | Features | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/features/sleep-heart-health/index.html.
Irwin, Michael R., et al. “Sleep Disturbance, Sleep Duration, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies and Experimental Sleep Deprivation.” Biological Psychiatry, vol. 80, no. 1, 1 July 2016, pp. 40–52., doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.05.014.
Markwald, Rachel R, et al. “Impact of Insufficient Sleep on Total Daily Energy Expenditure, Food Intake, and Weight Gain.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, National Academy of Sciences, 2 Apr. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3619301/.
“Sleep.” How to Be Well: the Six Keys to a Happy and Healthy Life, by Frank Lipman, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018, pp. 96–104.
Spiegel, K, et al. “Impact of Sleep Debt on Metabolic and Endocrine Function.” Lancet (London, England), U.S. National Library of Medicine, 23 Oct. 1999, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10543671.
Taheri, Shahrad, et al. “Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index.” Dec. 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC535701/.
Tsuno, Norifumi, et al. “Sleep and Depression.” The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2005, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16259539.
van der Helm, Els, et al. “Sleep Deprivation Impairs the Accurate Recognition of Human Emotions.” Sleep, Associated Professional Sleep Societies, LLC, 1 Mar. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20337191.“What Happens When You Sleep?” National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/what-happens-when-you-sleep.
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