Sleep is the most potent health promoting activity for well being and longevity. It is ignored by most people.

All living creatures sleep.. why? The duration and quality of sleep is now considered by many to be the most important lifestyle behaviour that determines health and vitality. Sleep is a vital function. Getting enough quality sleep at the right time is protective for physical and mental health and impacts every aspect of living. A short sleep pattern will dramatically and quickly impair health and lifespan. Compared to 50 years ago children are getting 2 hours less sleep per night.

Insomnia is not a lack of sleep, it is an excessive wakefulness of the brain.

Lack of sleep is like a broken water pipe in your home.
It will leak down into every nook and cranny of your physiology….
humans are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves
from sleep for no apparent reason.
” – Mathew Walker.

Sleep is a complex and comprehensive mind, brain and body process. During sleep, the brain and body undergo essential “housekeeping” activities. Neurotoxins that develop in the brain during waking hours are cleaned and removed during sleep. With a lack of sleep, there is a build-up of proteins that can block nervous system functions. With reduced sleep there is a shift in the autonomic nervous system towards a sustained sympathetic nervous system (SNS = fight and flight) response. In this situation there is a chronic increase in cortisol and adrenalin levels and a drop in growth hormone and testosterone levels. The flow on effects cause changes in insulin secretion and blood sugar regulation, heart health, mental health behaviours and even a reduction in willpower ( It is much harder to avoid junk food when you are tired). Men who are sleeping 5-6 hours per night have testosterone levels of a man who is a decade older. Women who sleep 5-6 hours per night will have about a 20% reduction in fertility and more erratic menstrual cycles. All these changes occur even after one night of reduced sleep and the effects are cumulative over days, weeks and decades.

How much do we need?

In one way or another lack of quality sleep impacts all aspects of living. Yet we live in a culture that does not value sleep and some people will sacrifice sleep as if there were no consequences. As a world society we are all sleep deprived. Most individuals need 7- 9 hours to perform at their best and stay healthy. Fortunately, we are slowly waking up to this mistake. Perhaps it was no coincidence that two recent world political figures, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were both proud of the fact and told the world community that they “only needed 4 hours of sleep”, both spent their last years lost in dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Donald Trump prides himself on minimal sleep………We will look back on this disrespect for adequate sleep like we now do with smoking and wonder, what we as a society were we thinking

Often when an individual has a health issue more sleep is required. Yet a health issue can interferes with adequate sleep. Difficulty with sleeping can be a symptom of stress and or anxiety. On the other hand, the evidence is certain that reduced sleep hours and quality leads to stress and anxiety. Insufficient sleep defined as 6 hours or less has a profound effect on how the body uses energy. Energy balances takes into account what and how much we eat, how the body converts this to fuel and how it stores any excess intake. With poor sleep the energy systems becomes inefficient. The World Health Organisation has recently stated that poor sleep is a risk for cancer especially for bowel, prostate and breast.

There is a false belief that you can reduce sleep during the week and make it up by binge sleeping on the weekend. This is called social jetlag. This has potent adverse effects on health via the disruption of the circadian biological rhythms.

Humans began sleeping less with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, 250 years ago. Compared to 50 years ago children are getting 2 hours less sleep per night. In the span of evolutionary time, this is insignificant but it means as a species we have not adapted to the reduction is sleep hours.

The most common cause of poor sleep in our society is stress which disrupts the normal flow of cortisol and melatonin. Stress leads to an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system.

Chronic insomnia we now know cannot be solved with medications. Medications can render the brain unconscious so it feels like you fall asleep but the restorative aspect of sleep do not occur. The most effective evidence-based method for balancing the stress response is meditation. Learning to meditate and implementing this into a daily habit is like compound interest for health. The benefits continue to accrue.

Sleep is essential

Getting enough sleep is not a luxury – it is something people need to function and live well.

The increase in insomnia parallels the increase in anxiety in the community.

There is not one mental health condition that is not associated with sleep deprivation.

Insufficient sleep leads to

  • A reduced ability to adhere to good food choices.
  • Poor food choices and an increased amount of calories ingested as well as a decrease in the amount of calories expended resulting in weight gain.
  • A reduction in leptin levels and an increase in grelin levels. (Leptin levels signal the satiety levels. When the levels are low the feeling of hunger persists. Grelin is the hunger signal. When Grelin levels are high there is less satisfaction with food leading to higher consumption. These two proteins work hand-in-hand to control calorie intake.
  • Insulin residence, Pre diabetes and an abnormal glucose tolerance test. This leads to an increased risk of diabetes.
  • The cells of the body become insensitive to the signal of insulin. This results in a high blood glucose level.
  • Lack of sleep alters intracellular functioning.
  • Hypogonadism and low testosterone.
  • Changes in behaviour and decision making e.g. driving and food choices.
  • A lower performance on complex cognitive issues.
  • Can lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia
  • An impaired ability to drive( accidents) .
  • A reduced reaction time and an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents and other accidents.
  • An increased risk of cardiovascular events.
  • A reduction in immune function.
  • A doubling of the risk of cancer.
  • An alteration in gene function. If an adult is restricted to a moderate dose of sleep restriction i.e. 6 hours and compared to the same person sleeping 8 hours a change in the way the genes function( epigenetic change) can be observed in 3% of all genes. 50% of the genes were up regulated especially those genes associated with tumour production, inflammation, response to stress, and cardiovascular disease). 50% were down regulated (especially those genes associated with the immune system)
  • Poor sleep is a genetically modified experiment. We worry about genetically modified food but pay no attention to lifestyle issues that modify our genes.
  • A decrease motivation to be physically active. When you are physically active the amount of strength and aerobic capacity is reduced . The time to be physically exhausted is reduced. Overall a 30% reduction in physical performance.
  • There is not one mental health condition that is not associated with sleep disruption. This is a bidirectional process and in sufficient sleep causes mental health issues.
  • Insufficient sleep leads to a loss of judgement, impatience and impulsiveness.

Factors which impair sleep

  • Sleep aides are sedatives and sedate the brain. Sedation and losing consciousness is not the same as sleep.
  • Drinking alcohol fragments the quality of sleep. Alcohol blocks REM sleep and you wake unrefreshed.
  • The urge to sleep is called sleep pressure and this is due to a build up of a protein called adenosine. Caffeine works by blocking adenosine receptors and therefore blocking the signal to sleep. 50% of caffeine is cleared from the body in about six hours that means in many people at 12 hours after a couple coffee there is still 25% of the caffeine in the body. Coffee also decreases deep sleep by about 20%.
  • The THC component of marijuana may result in falling asleep faster but only for a short period of time . On the other hand it blocks REM sleep with chronic use the speed to fall asleep is less.
  • The increasing insomnia parallels the increase in anxiety in the community
  • There is not one mental health condition that is not associated with sleep disruption. This is a bidirectional process and in sufficient sleep causes mental health issues.
  • Insufficient sleep leads to a loss of judgement, impatience and impulsiveness.
  • An increase in the experience of pain.

    The use of Smartphones and the impact on sleep.

    If you have any health condition such as fatigue, fibromyalgia, pain or autoimmune conditions this article in the AGE is a timely warning. The impact of depleting the brain’s dopamine levels is significant and influences recovery.

How to sleep well.

Here is a link to 3 articles that focus on how to get the sleep you need to increase both your healthspan and lifespan. >>> Article 1