*Note from Sarah: Our very own Jason Seib is back with an awesome article on the importance of getting your snooze on. Thanks Jason!
We have talked about sleep here before, but it bears repeating. There is no factor necessary for health and fitness more underestimated than sleep. For the vast majority of our time on this planet there were very few reasons to stay up late at night. Productivity was not really an option after the sun went down. It was also not an option to frivolously burn up all your firewood until you clear-cut the forest for miles so you can stay up late and… well, I can’t imagine what we might have done after dark before Facebook and American Idol. The average hunter gatherer probably got more than nine hours of sleep per night. Indigenous people in equatorial regions, where our species got started, experience roughly the same day and night length throughout the year, and while they may not remain asleep for the entire 12 hours of night, they tend to accumulate more nighttime sleep than we do. Napping is also a much more common practice, with a bit of dozing off during the hottest hours of the day as usual practice.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the work of natural selection here. We spent a couple million years living the same way, in the same patterns, keeping the same basic hours, and it is insanity to assume that we can suddenly change these things in the blink of an eye without consequences. We are diurnal creatures whether or not we like it. But in typical human fashion, we often intervene. We usually pay a price for intervention, and depriving ourselves of sleep is no exception. In fact, more than one expert has stated the belief that lack of sleep may be a bigger contributor to some Western diseases than poor nutrition.
The average American sleeps between 6 ½ and 7 hours per night, which brings about two of our biggest concerns with inadequate sleep – increased inflammation and insulin resistance. These two negative effects are major contributors to weight gain and obesity, increased risk of type II diabetes and heart disease, depression and anxiety, and increased risk of cancer. The insulin resistance caused by lack of sleep will also keep you craving carbohydrates which can make it very difficult to adhere to proper nutrition. Sleep loss will make you dumb, too. In one particular study, the effects of chronic sleep restriction to just 6 hours per night reduced the cognitive ability of some subjects to the equivalent of 2 nights of no sleep at all. To make matters worse, most subjects appeared to be unaware that they were cognitively impaired. This means that if you are a night owl who typically gets 6 hours of sleep or less, you probably do not even realize that your brain isn’t running at full power.
Your sleep environment is important as well. Total darkness is essential to receive the full benefit that sleep has to offer. Even small amounts of light appear to be enough to inhibit the production of melatonin, a very important and powerful hormone largely responsible for circadian rhythms in mammals. Melatonin supplementation has shown promise in the treatment of many noninfectious diseases and symptoms, including cancer, migraines, and obesity. Such uses beg the question, why not just make your own? The easiest way to make your own melatonin is to get plenty of sleep in a dark room.
Scientific studies too numerous to count have all come to the same conclusion – good sleep patterns are necessary for human health. I believe you would be hard-pressed to find an expert who would disagree. Please, take this post to heart. Poor sleep habits may be holding you back from realizing your health and fitness goals. Is there really anything so important on your television or computer worth compromising your health? Make time for adequate sleep. You won’t regret it.
Go forth and be awesome.
You can also find Jason over at EPLifeFit.com