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There’s no ignoring it: Research shows that longer, restful nights mean a leaner body, a fitter heart and a healthier mind.
A good night’s sleep is as important for your health as exercise and nutritional food, so why is it that over one-third of us suffer from sleeping problems? Research shows stress, going to bed late, or having to get up too early are the most common reasons we aren’t soaking up enough sleep. Research also shows that at any one time, one person in five feels unusually tired and one in ten has prolonged fatigue.
What’s worse is that recent studies show that getting less than six or seven hours sleep a night can lead to problems such as heart disease, depression and weight gain. It can’t be denied that sleep is nature’s way of providing our bodies with the rest and energy it clearly needs in order to regenerate itself and keep us functioning at optimal health.
If you sleep less than six hours a night and have disturbed sleep, you stand a 48% greater chance of developing or dying from heart disease and a 15 % greater chance of developing or dying from a stroke, according to a study from the University of Warwick.
Men over 65 who spend little time in deep sleep are at particularly high risk of developing high blood pressure, according to new research from Harvard Medical School. The study of 784 patients, published in the journal Hypertension, found that those getting the least deep sleep were at 83 % greater risk than those getting the most. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and other health problems.
Lack of sleep causes stress on the body, causing the heart to beat faster, experts explain.
Managing sleep levels could help in the battle against obesity. One study of 472 obese people, published in the International Journal of Obesity, involved participants eating 500 fewer calories per day, along with exercise most days. Those getting too little or too much sleep were less likely to have lost weight over the six-month period.
“Studies consistently show that the less sleep people have, the greater their chances of obesity,” confirms Dr David Haslam, from the National Obesity Forum. “People think sleep is just sedentary, so it can’t possibly help you lose weight, but lack of it mucks up our appetite hormones.”
Dr John Shneerson, president of the British Sleep Society and consultant physician at Papworth Hospital’s sleep centre, explains: “Our ordinary fat cells produce a hormone called leptin, whose job it is to switch off our appetite to help us maintain the right weight. Sleep deprivation reduces our leptin level, leaving us with a greater appetite. Our stomach and intestine produces another hormone called ghrelin, whose aim it is to increase our appetite when required. Sleep deprivation causes an increase of this hormone. The combination of the decrease in leptin and increase in ghrelin makes us eat more.
“Also, sleep deprivation puts increased stress on your body, making us produce more steroids from our adrenal glands, causing us to retain more fat in our body. The result of all these things is that no matter how hard people try to lose weight, they will have an uphill battle if they don’t get a good night’s sleep.”
Most of us know that in the short term, poor sleep makes us weary, apathetic, forgetful and irritable. But in the longer term, it is linked to impaired performance, job problems, mood disorders and mental health problems, notably depression.
A report, “Sleep Matters”, which was carried out with Glasgow University’s sleep centre, found that people with insomnia were four times as likely to have relationship problems, three times as likely to feel depressed and three times as likely to suffer from a lack of concentration.
“Study after study shows that if you randomly select individuals, those that sleep around the seven hour mark live longer than those who sleep much shorter or longer,” says Professor Kevin Morgan, from Loughborough University’s sleep research unit.
Research from the journal Sleep, has found that people who generally slept for less than six hrs a night are 12% more likely to die prematurely than those who consistently get six to eight hrs sleep. Long duration of sleep (more than nine hrs per night) was also associated with a 30% greater risk of death. Best amount? Apparently 7 hours a night.
“Some of the earliest studies looking at sleep deprivation involved torturing rats to death by keeping them sleep deprived,” says Professor Morgan. “What was overwhelmingly clear when they were dissected is that they were immunocompromised. Recent studies on humans have shown that people who work night shifts are immunocompromised. It’s not that night shifts are bad for you – although they’re not good for you – but more that night workers often manage their sleep timing badly.”
Type 2 diabetes develops when the body makes too much insulin, but does not use the hormone efficiently to break down sugar in the blood. A stepping stone to the condition, known as “impaired fasting glucose”, occurs when blood sugar levels are too high, but not high enough to constitute a diagnosis of diabetes. Researchers from the University of Buffalo in New York, found that those who slept on average for fewer than six hours a night during the working week were 4.56 times more likely to develop impaired fasting glucose than those sleeping six to eight hours a night.
How We Can Help
Taking sleeping tablets to help you have a restful night isn’t a good solution long term, and heavy doses can mean you don’t get the right type and combination of sleep.
There is now a growing number of alternative therapies proven to aid deep sleep which aren’t addictive and don’t leave you feeling groggy in the morning. Acupuncture, massage and several herbal remedies like Valerian, Kava, and Zizyphus are all commonly used treatments to effectively support your nervous system and induce longer, deeper sleep patterns.
We run programs which can assess your individual nervous system functioning, stress load, and adrenal gland functioning. From this, we can design a sleep program to get you sleeping longer and deeper, so you can be on track to more energy, a fitter body and greater health and vitality.
In the meantime, try these home tips:
- Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time programs your body to sleep better.
- A clutter-free bedroom – certainly no television or computers – is essential for rest.
- Regular exercise improves sleep quality, so even though you may be feeling tired, make the time to get your body moving.
- If your mattress is more than a decade old, replace it as the quality will have deteriorated by about 75 % and this could seriously affect your sleep.
- Splash out on comfort. An exceptional pillow will help with posture, which in turn promotes good sleep.