Sleep: Time for BuildingSleep: Time for Building https://www.bodywhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Alert-01-1024x682.jpg 1024 682 BodyWHealth https://www.bodywhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Alert-01-1024x682.jpg
Technology and societal progress have propelled modern humans into a new lifestyle. Our days are no longer governed by the ancient diurnal rhythm of sunrise and sunset. Our biology has not yet had time to adapt, with significant negative consequences. For WHealth, we must understand and honor the primal value in sleep.
Sleep is a critical component of physical and emotional health. During our waking hours, we subject our bodies and minds to wear and tear. Unlike machines, our living tissue breaks down constantly under these pressures. Fortunately, our bodies have built-in renovation squads that clean up the broken cells and tissues, and then rebuild. Sleep allows the body to repair and rejuvenate. Growth hormone release, muscle growth, tissue repair, and synthesis of key restorative proteins all occur predominately during sleep.
There is evidence that sleep also enables the structural and organizational development of the brain. Babies and young children sleep for 13 to 14 hours per day to help their brains develop. Sleep is consequently critical to learning and mental performance.
In the short term, sleep deprivation is dangerous. In particular, it results in impaired judgement, reduced reaction times and mood swings. Skipping a night’s sleep has the equivalent mental and neurological impact to being intoxicated.
Today we sleep 20 percent less than we did a century ago, without any biological compensation mechanism. That’s the equivalent to giving up more than one full night’s sleep every week. So, we have lost one fifth of the time our ancestors allocated to rejuvenation, with significant negative implications. Long term sleep deprivation results in a long list of serious medical conditions, perhaps the greatest of which is premature death. It is also associated with heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, stress-related illness, major depression and alcohol abuse.
Sleep deprivation drives obesity. Sleep debt has been demonstrated to increase appetite, resulting in additional intake of calories (an average 500 per day) without a corresponding increase in calorie burn. It also activates certain obesity genes. Excess weight, especially in the form of abdominal fat, drives the systemic inflammatory overload that causes accelerated aging and degeneration, and is implicated in many of the major diseases we fear most. A second significant consequence of long term sleep disruption is the erosion of immune competence, leaving the poor sleeper vulnerable to infectious disease and cancer. If that’s not enough to motivate you to take sleep seriously, you should know that the accident rate soars in people living in sleep debt.
The good news is that restoring a healthy sleep pattern and volume reduces these risks substantially – a whopping 16 percent reduction in the risk of fatal heart disease, for example! That’s better than most cholesterol medicines. Sleep restoration should be an important part of any weight loss program.
What is the right amount of sleep? We don’t have a generalizable recommendation. Sleep need is highly individualized. The best way to answer this for yourself is by tracking your level of alertness through the day. After a lifetime of research, one of the world’s leading sleep experts, Professor William Dement of Stanford University, offers us pragmatic advice. He suggests that we should “sleep until you can’t sleep any more”.
For all these reasons, sleep earns its place as the Third Golden Rule of BodyWHealth: Sleep to Rejuvenate.