Sleep May Be Your Missing Fitness Link

Researchers are finding that losing sleep can be as harmful to the mind and body as not exercising, or poor nutrition. Sleep may be the most underestimated and unappreciated activity in terms of its potency in maintaining health.

Since we live in such a fast-paced society, how can we possibly get the amount of rest our bodies truly need? Believe it or not, the first step is the knowledge that you need it.

Why Sleep Is Important

Researchers are finding that losing sleep can be as harmful to the mind and body as not exercising, or poor nutrition. Sleep may be the most underestimated and unappreciated activity in terms of its potency in maintaining health. There are no shortcuts for sleep, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to constrain the amount of time they spend on it. Not only can insufficient sleep cause us to be tired and irritable, it also makes us unable to concentrate, damages our immune system and leaves us less able to tolerate stress. Habitually getting inadequate amounts of sleep has also been shown to accelerate the aging process.

The fact is, we need sleep, and fighting to keep ourselves awake when our bodies crave rest can have harmful effects on our well-being. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces more cortisol, a stress-associated hormone that is also largely responsible for waking you up in the morning. When you are getting adequate sleep, cortisol levels are usually at their highest at around 6:00 AM and begin a slow decline throughout the day, so that by the time you tumble into bed, you’re feeling more relaxed and ready for sleep.

Lack of Sleep = Accumulating Problems

When you’re not getting enough sleep and the body is producing more cortisol, although you may be able to fall asleep, your quality of sleep won’t be as restful or beneficial to the body’s repair. Cortisol depletes the muscles by causing cellular-breakdown. If your cortisol is high while you’re trying to sleep, your muscles are weaker and not as able to repair. That means your strength decreases and any muscle-building exercises you do during your workouts could be less effective. Long periods of excess cortisol have also been found to contribute to memory loss and other conditions like diabetes and hypertension. Since we are constantly challenging our immune systems all day-encountering germs, smog, smoke and other elements that accost our bodies, sleep is the only opportunity for the immune system to rejuvenate itself.

When we don’t sleep for a sufficient number of hours, our immune system can’t repair itself as well. Because fatigue makes us feel like we’re low on fuel, one of the most common antidotes we use to combat that drained feeling is to eat when we’re not really hungry. In addition, elevated cortisol may affect junk-food craving, causing you to crave carbs and fatty foods, especially at night. Another unhealthy behavior related to sleep deprivation is the use of caffeine to give you an energy boost after a bad night’s sleep. Using caffeine when your tired is ignoring what your body is telling you. Caffeine is a diuretic, contributing to dehydration, which in turn can interrupt your sleep when you may awaken with thirst during the night.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

As a general rule, most people require one hour of sleep for every two they are awake, hence the eight-hour benchmark. When we get less sleep than we need, our bodies start to build what researchers call “sleep debt.” If you need eight hours of sleep, and you get only six, each day you tack two hours onto your debt. One or two nights’ worth of debt, or four hours, make you more irritable. Three to five days’ worth of sleep deprivation (6-10 hours less than you need), is more than an entire night’s sleep which can increase the chance of health problems such as coughs and colds. If you’re among those who believe they can make up their sleep debt with naps or by sleeping late on the weekend, note that even the laziest Sunday morning in bed won’t make up for a bad week of rest. Plus, allowing your sleep debt to accumulate week after week eventually means you can’t completely rid yourself of it.

By not allowing sleep to clean up the cellular debris from your day and let new cells generate, your body starts to exhibit the effects of burnout (otherwise known as aging). We live in a 24/7 world, and sleep consumes time, one of life’s most precious commodities. We cannot function or survive without sleep. It’s one of the fundamental requirements of life, just like food or water. So, since we live in such a fast-paced society, how can we possibly get the amount of rest our bodies truly need? Believe it or not, the first step is the knowledge that you need it.