A good night’s sleep isn’t just crucial for your heart; it has huge implications for your entire system.
In the past few years, new data has emerged about the health effects of sleep, and some of it is frankly quite astonishing. Many studies have found an association between 7 hours of sleep and optimal health. Those who sleep less than seven hours and those who sleep more both tend to have health problems. Of course we don’t know if the hours of sleep are the cause or the result. In other words, poor health could be the cause of the increased mortality and poor sleep merely a marker of that. However, we do have increasing reasons to suspect that the sleep itself is crucial.
Sleep and Heart
One prospective study of 17,000 healthy adults examined the role of four traditional lifestyle factors (physical activity, a healthy diet, moderate alcohol consumption and not smoking) along with the added benefit of sufficient sleep duration (>=7 hours). During over a decade of follow up, those with these healthy lifestyle factors had a 67% lower risk of fatal heart disease compared to those with none or only one. Those with sufficient sleep in addition to the four had an 83% reduction in risk. So when sufficient sleep was added to the other lifestyle factors, the risk of cardiovascular diseases was further reduced.
Research shows that poor sleep directly the health of your arteries. The ability of arteries to dilate is a mark of their health – and lower sleep quality – including length of sleep or snoring during sleep have been associated with lower arterial dilation – one of the earliest stages of vascular disease.
Sleep and Weight
New evidence shows the remarkable effects of sleep on the body’s basic chemistry. One study has shown insufficient sleep reduces dietary restraint and leads to weight gain, especially in women; subjects had an increase in levels of the appetite hormone ghrelin, experienced enhanced hunger and chose larger portions, irrespective of the type of food.
One can speculate that increasing food consumption when sleep-deprived is the body’s way of providing itself the needed energy to stay awake; when food is easily accessible in modern life, the intake surpasses the need.
Whatever the reason, missing out on sleep has big effects on diet, weight and body chemistry. This was shown dramatically in a randomized study of usual deep vs sleep- restricted to two-thirds of the normal amount done at the Mayo Clinic. Those researchers found that missing an hour of sleep causes people to overeat the next day. Caloric intake in the sleep restricted group upped by a whopping 500+ Kcal/day.
This is about the amount one would burn running for an hour. So while exercise is important to gain other health benefits, for weight control, if you had the choice to sleep for an hour or to run an hour – it’s an easy choice! Ensuring adequate sleep is an easier way to regulate weight than exercise.
Sleep and Blood Sugar
Another amazing recent discovery about sleep is it regulates our insulin sensitivity. A sleep disruption in young, otherwise healthy people resulted in an extreme disruption of glucose processing. This effect seems to be die to the selective suppression of slow-wave sleep, the deepest part of the sleep cycle. In contrast, disturbed REM sleep, the part of sleep when we dream, does not affect sugar processing. So a night of disrupted sleep can derange body chemistry so much that a transient case of diabetes can occur, in even the healthiest young person.
All of these findings tell us that we should treat our sleep habits as we treat our other daily health habits – the long term consequences can be profound. Try to remove poor sleep as much as possible to maximize your practice of prevention.