Some people look forward to that wonderful, dreamy state, called sleep, at the end of a day. Perhaps an escape from stress filled lives, it provides the solace needed to get up and do it all over again the next morning. Although they may have trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep, sleep is something very desirable. Other people don’t even like the idea of sleep, and are convinced that it is a waste of time. You probably know people like this. They put off sleep, waiting until they are almost ready to fall over before intentionally placing their body in a horizontal position. Don’t they know that they need beauty sleep?
Did you ever pull “all nighters” when you were in school? If you only did this once in awhile, you probably got away with it. But if you thought that you could do this all the time, you would be like an amateur gambler who wins big on the first few occasions. Amateur gamblers think they can overcome the odds when others cannot, often becoming the biggest losers. Sleep is like that. Your abilities, your patience, and even your youthful appearance will begin to decline rapidly when you don’t get the sleep you need. In fact, the latest research says that we have more to lose than just sleep – things that most of us don’t want to gamble with!
Research from the University of Chicago Medical Center, reported in the ScienceDaily (Oct. 25, 1999) showed that millions of shift workers, on average, slept less than five hours per working night. This study makes reference to the plethora of diseases that resulted from the loss of sleep, including diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance (a pre-diabetic condition), hypertension, heart disease, depression, and obesity. The diseases that result from sleep deprivation, including insulin resistance and memory impairment, were compared to age-related ailments. Results indicated that we age more quickly when we don’t get enough sleep.
Lack of sleep is also linked to weight gain and obesity because of hormones. The production of hormones, as well as their ability to function properly in your body, is dependent upon getting the right amount of sleep. The problem is that when you don’t have the proper hormone production or your hormones are not functioning properly, your ability to sleep is impaired. A study reported in the May 2009 issue of Psychoneuroendocrinology explains how two of the most recently studied hormones, ghrelin and leptin, are affected. Referred to as “the hunger hormones,” ghrelin and leptin help your body decide when it is hungry, and when it is full. Besides leptin and ghrelin, two other hormones that you should know about are cortisol and glucagon. All four of these hormones affect your weight and your appetite in several different ways.
Let’s take a closer look at how cortisol relates to your ability to sleep and how cortisol affects your weight. Cortisol is released when we eat carbohydrates, and also tells the body to store energy as fat. It tells the body to wake up in the morning when levels are high enough. If your cortisol levels aren’t at the proper levels, you will have difficulty waking up and getting moving in the morning. Cortisol levels rise when you experience stress to help you prepare for fight or flight. This is a good system as long as your cortisol levels go back down after the emergency is over. If your body is supported by the right nutrition, cortisol levels will rise and fall, as they should. However, most Americans have diets high in refined foods, which do not provide the nutrition needed to support the proper functioning of hormones, such as cortisol. Inadequate nutrition results in cortisol levels being either too high or too low. Sleep is affected when cortisol levels are not at the proper levels.
Adrenal glands are responsible for releasing cortisol. Poorly functioning adrenal glands become less responsive to stress, interfering with your ability to sleep. In Adrenal Fatigue The 21st Century Stress Syndrome, James L. Wilson, N.D., D.C., PhD., explains how your adrenal glands are affected by stress and nutrition, and offers many valuable protocols to help with sleeplessness.
People often disagree about how much sleep is needed, as well as the best ways to get sleep. What people have in common is not sleeping. Staying up late and burning the proverbial “midnight oil” have become increasingly common in our society. Although we know that sleep helps our bodies and our spirits regenerate, we tend to take it for granted, and stay up late anyway. We figure we can always “catch up on it” later. Besides, people don’t like to be told what to do, especially when it comes to something as personal as their sleeping habits. If you resisted going to bed as a child, most likely you will resist going to bed as an adult. Unfortunately, not getting enough sleep has many undesirable consequences.
So, how much sleep should you be getting? Since most studies suggest that we need seven and a half to eight hours of sleep a night, this may be a good rule of thumb. However, I believe that sleep requirements vary from person to person. Perhaps you may need more or less sleep than this each night. One way to determine how much sleep you may need is to sleep all night until you wake up without an alarm. Look to see how many hours you slept before you woke up naturally. This shows the correct number of hours of sleep you may need each night, as long as you do this experiment on a fairly normal day. Basically, this means that one of the best ways to know how much sleep your body needs is to start listening to it. The problem is that so many people have forgotten how to do this, or are just choosing to ignore what their body is saying. Listening to your body is a choice. I suggest you make this choice every day. Don’t wait until your body starts to scream before you start to listen. If you are not getting the sleep you need, and are ready to get started on a new and healthier way of life, give us a call to find out how we can help.
Dr. William H. Karl, D.C.