Poor Sleep Erodes WHealth, Causes Obesity

Technological evolution has given us the ability to function 24/7. But our biology has not managed to keep up with this dramatic shift. As a society, we are sleeping less today than even a decade ago, at significant personal cost!

Our ancestors went to sleep with the sunset, and rose again with daylight. No longer. Our modern technology, including electricity and digital entertainment, allow us to stay active through 24 hours of every day. Our habits have changed. We sleep less, and unfortunately our sleep is of lower quality. Like the monumental shift in our exercise and eating habits, this has left us vulnerable to a broad range of physical, mental and emotional disruption, including major depression and alcohol abuse, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, and diabetes.

In the short term, sleep deprivation results in impaired judgment, reduced reaction times, and bad moods. Studies have demonstrated neurological and mental impairment after an all-nighter that is similar to having a blood alcohol level of 0.05% (that’s legally intoxicated).

Sleep deprivation impacts daytime alertness and performance. This happens with surprisingly little reduction in sleep quantity, and surprisingly quickly. Loss of as little as one and a half hours sleep on a single night can reduce daytime alertness by as much as 30%. As any parent of young children knows! This reduced daytime performance includes both impaired memory and cognitive function. After limited sleep deprivation, only attention and working (or short-term) memory are affected; but after prolonged sleep loss, both long-term memory and decision-making are also impaired. All of these result in a significant increase in risk, with higher rates of car accidents, occupational injuries and relationship problems.

Over the long term, sleep deprivation results in many serious medical conditions, perhaps the greatest of which is premature death! Several studies have shown that sleep deprivation increases the risk of death. One found the risk to be 4 times greater in men that slept less than 6 hours compared with those that slept for more than 6 hours per night!

Excess body fat facilitates systemic inflammation, which in turn results in many of the nasty diseases we worry about today, like heart disease, diabetes, even cancer. Sleep debt has been demonstrated to increase appetite, favor energy storage as fat, and activate genes that cause obesity.

People who sleep less eat more, as much as 300 to 500 calories per day more. They also tend to choose unhealthier foods, high in saturated fats. A delicate balance between two opposing hormones controls our appetite. Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates appetite. Leptin is a hormone that alerts our brain that we have eaten enough. Poor sleep disrupts both hormones. In particular, it increases the levels of ghrelin and reduces levels of leptin, driving excessive eating. In addition to these metabolic effects, sleep deprivation leaves us susceptible to poor dietary decision-making. Research has shown that we eat bigger portions and select poor quality meals when we are tired. Our reward centers are sensitized, so we experience more food craving.

Poor sleep has been proven to drive stress and anxiety, which both contribute directly to the build up of body fat. Stress and anxiety affect lipid metabolism in several ways, favoring the accumulation and preservation of fat stores. The stress hormone cortisol not only drives body fat accumulation, but it also increases appetite. Sleep deprivation diminishes the body’s sensitivity to insulin, a hormone in the blood that regulates the processing of sugar for energy. If insulin sensitivity is reduced, the body takes more fat from the blood and packs it away into our fat stores. Finally, stress and anxiety often disrupt our exercise routines. This combination of high calorie intake, low calorie burn rate and a metabolism that favors fat storage drives weight gain, especially belly fat.

To restore WHealth, we must examine the habits of our ancestors. Our bodies were designed to live in their world. They slept deeply, for long periods during the night. It’s not hard to figure out that we need to do the same. I have given guidelines in other articles for healthy sleep, and for addressing sleep disruption. I hope that this article provides you with good reasons to take this seriously.

Have fun,

Roddy

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