We brag about how little we slept last night. If you get a full 8 hours of sleep you’re often considered lazy. Our hyper-productive culture sees sleep as a waste of time. But the importance of adequate sleep cannot be understated.
How Modern Life Inhibits Adequate Sleep
Our current nighttime environment is dramatically different than just a few hundred years ago. I’m in the DC metropolitan area and over much of the area, only the brightest stars can be seen at night. The cause is light pollution. Artificial lighting has changed our night habits in ways that weren’t really possible before this technology.
Homo sapiens has always existed alongside fire so light at night is not a new occurrence. What is a new occurrence is the amount of light and the color spectrum of light at night. It may not look it to you but sunlight is extremely blue. And this blue spectrum light enters the eye and causes our body to operate as though it were daytime.
As the sun sets the light becomes much warmer, moving through oranges and reds, and that triggers our bodies to go into our night cycle. This cycle regulates many things but the major one governing sleep is our melatonin and cortisol levels. This blue spectrum light at night interrupts melatonin production and interferes with a good night’s sleep.
All of the stimulation in daily life also makes a good night’s sleep difficult. As your mind constantly races from thing to thing trying to schedule, plan, and organize everything you feel you need to get done this racing mind inhibits your ability to let the day go and drift off to sleep.
Adequate Sleep Is Essential For Your Heart
If there were only one thing you could do to improve your health, it would almost certainly be to improve the quality of your sleep. Sleep deprivation is very taxing for your cardiovascular system. During deep sleep cycles, your heart rate drops below normal levels giving your heart a needed break. But when sleep deprived, your blood pressure is increased and general inflammation is increased. This problem persists throughout the day. This makes your heart work harder to do its job and builds general stress levels in your body.
Learning But Not Remembering? Get Adequate Sleep
During sleep your brain processes and organizes the information it’s gathered during the day. Without adequate sleep, this information is not properly integrated. It just sort of floats around in your head and doesn’t get filed away in the place it needs to go. The human brain works through neural connections. That’s why you smell a flower and it makes you think of that time in grade school which then reminds you that you need to call your best friend. During deep sleep, these connections are made stronger and therefore easier to recall.
To make matters worse, skipping sleep is about the same as being drunk. The longer you go without sleep the more you lose coordination and the ability to focus. After about 17-19 hours without sleep, you’re functioning at about the equivalent of a BAC of .05. And the longer you go the worse it gets. Take it from a guy who went to BUD/s, the effects of extreme sleep deprivation make even the simplest tasks almost impossible at times.
Sleep Is Important For Muscle Gain And Fat Loss
During sleep, we enter a tissue rebuilding cycle. This is known as an anabolic phase. Yup, the same word as anabolic steroids. All anabolic means is tissue building. During the day we use and abuse our bodies and during sleep is when much of our adaption to that abuse happens. If you’re constantly working out hard but never resting well, not only are you taxing your system unnecessarily but you’re also minimizing any benefit you’re getting from all that work.
How can sleep help weight loss? In multiple ways actually. Sleep has an essential roll in regulating your hormones. Hormones are what drive your metabolism. If your hormones are out of balance from too much stress and sleep deprivation then it’s likely you will have difficulty maintaining a healthy body composition.
And as for that too much stress problem, a good night’s sleep can do a lot to reduce stress. I mentioned melatonin and cortisol earlier. These two hormones are opposites. When one is high the other is low. High cortisol levels are reached when under high levels of stress. Some cortisol is important because it helps regulate body functions like blood pressure but too much for a long time is a serious health risk.
A good night’s sleep raises melatonin production which inhibits cortisol production. Getting adequate sleep literally relieves stress.