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Issue 26: Not Getting Enough Shut-Eye?

Not Getting Enough Shut Eye? You’re Not Alone.

Are you among the 100 million Americans who get up in the morning without getting proper rest?

The consequences of a sleep deficit are profound upon our culture: sleepy children daydream in the classroom, tired employees cost their companies billions in lost productivity each year, drivers falling asleep behind the wheel cause accidents that kill thousands annually, and interpersonal relationships become strained or fractured when couples are too tired to deal with each other.

The root causes of our national sleep debt are overcrowded schedules, the desire to accomplish one more thing before retiring, and too much stimulation from watching TV in bed.

Sleep and relaxation are basic necessities of life, but you’d never know it by the way we treat this foundation of good health. “Sleep plays a major role in preparing the body and brain for an alert, productive, psychologically, and physiologically healthy tomorrow,” says Dr. James B. Maas, author of Power Sleep.

In fact, sleep is the most important non-nutrient you can incorporate into your healthy lifestyle. A good night’s rest revitalizes tired bodies, gives us more energy, and helps us think more clearly throughout the day. The magic number that sleep experts say we have to shoot for is eight hours. Why eight hours? Because when people can control the amount of time they sleep, such as in a sleep laboratory, they naturally sleep eight hours in a twenty-four-hour period.

Twenty-four hours . . . the time it takes for the Earth to spin on its axis and make one revolution. Our biological cycles normally follow the 24-hour cycle of the sun, or what is known as a circadian rhythm. During this time, our body does things that we don’t even known about, such as an automatic system that carries on functions of cleansing and rebuilding during that twenty-four-hour cycle. For example, the liver goes through a cleansing process between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. If you’re awake during that time, your liver will not cleanse properly. In addition, your body will not produce the right hormones if you don’t sleep at the right times.

The problem is that most Americans haven’t been getting eight hours of shut-eye for a long time. A century ago, long before late night talk shows, cell phones, the Internet, etc. adults slept an average of nine hours a night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Care to guess how long the average American adult sleeps each night these days? The answer is a little less than seven hours, which is 20 percent less than our great-grandparents slept.

Children need plenty of rest as well. Research shows that a chronic lack of sleep among children hurts their performance inside and outside the classroom. Sleep-deprived teens also experience more emotional problems and are more prone to becoming obese adults. Teens, with their long days of class, after-school sports, and the usual tons of homework, are especially at risk for not getting enough rest. The National Sleep Foundation reports that high-school students are averaging seven hours and 24 minutes each night when they should be receiving nine hours and 15 minutes of sleep each night. No wonder study halls are more known for students laying their heads on their desks than getting their math homework done.

Researchers from the University of Chicago’s Department of Medicine found that insufficient rest could make people old before their time. In one study, University of Chicago researchers restricted the sleeping habits of 11 young men (ages 18 to 27) to four hours a night for six days. The sleep-deprived men began experiencing metabolic and hormonal changes that doctors would usually see in patients older than sixty years of age.

What researchers hypothesize is that a lack of sleep hurts one’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates (sugars and starches) and produce gland secretions.  In fact, after just four nights of four hours of sleep, the men in the study consumed 35 percent more calories than they had on day one, with most of those excess calories coming from junk food loaded with sugar and fat.  You could certainly say that it appears that lack of sleep triggers cravings for the wrong foods. Fortunately, the young men in the test group reversed those trends within one week by sleeping twelve hours a night.

Science has demonstrated that sleep releases growth hormones that stimulate the growth and repair of damaged tissue. The more one sleeps deeply, the more growth hormones get released into the body’s bloodstream. This is important, especially in middle age when the body releases lower amounts of growth hormone. University of Chicago researchers learned that a drop in growth hormone often leads to flabby stomachs and double chins.

“Americans sleep the least of anyone in modern countries,” Dr. Eve Van Cauter, a sleep researcher at the University of Chicago said. “And Americans are the most overweight and obese. Perhaps it’s worth thinking about the possibility that we don’t sleep enough, and therefore our appetites are unregulated.”

Here’s the takeaway: sleep is good for the body and good for you.

William Shakespeare wasn’t too far off when he wrote 400 years ago, “Sleep that knits up the ravel’d sleave of care . . . chief nourisher in life’s feast.”

Take it from Will—get some much needed “nourishing” sleep tonight. Your body (and mind) will thank you.


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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