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Issue 68: Getting Enough Sleep?

In our 24/7, deadline-driven, “do more” and “be more” society, what gives? Sleep. And it could be starting to take its toll on people’s health--even their hormonal health. Studies, including one from the University of Chicago published in the Lancet, indicate that chronic loss of sleep could reduce people’s capacity to regulate hormones.

Experts say we should be spending about one-third of our lives sleeping--about eight hours per night. Most people, however, get less than seven hours of sleep a night. Additionally, about three-quarters of Americans report frequent sleep problems, such as waking through the night or snoring, and it could be showing some outward and inward negative effects.

A National Sleep Foundation survey, for instance, found that millions of Americans experience daytime sleepiness. In fact, 43 percent of adults say that they are so sleepy during the day that it interferes with daily activity. But that’s not all.

Drowsy driving causes at least 100,000 car accidents in the U.S. each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; a full 62 percent of adults report driving while feeling drowsy. And kids aren’t exempt from sleep problems. 60 percent of children under the age of 18 complain of feeling tired during the day, while 15 percent admit to falling asleep at school

Although some hard-driven people may view sleep as an inconvenience that gets in the way of productivity and leisure activities, slumber is certainly no waste of time. In fact, sleep may play a crucial role in fostering optimal health. Herbert Ross, D. C. author of Sleep Disorders: An Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide says that sleep is a “natural restorative—allowing the body to replenish its immune system, eliminate free radicals, and ward off heart disease and mood imbalances.”

The truth is that we need to get enough sleep. Did you know that deep sleep actually triggers the release of growth hormone, which helps to foster growth in children, and boost muscle mass and cell repair in both children and adults? Sleep also affects the release of sex hormones which are essential for the progression of puberty as well as fertility. Additionally, the body creates more cytokines during sleep, and that’s significant since cytokines are the cellular hormones that support a strong immune system.

Appetite-related hormones are not untouched by the effects of sleep, either. When there is adequate sleep, the body’s production of the appetite suppressor leptin increases, while the appetite stimulant grehlin decreases. In fact, a group of researchers found that depriving healthy men of sleep led to increases in grehlin, the hunger hormone, and decreases in leptin, the satiety hormone. As a result, the men had increased hunger and cravings for calorie-dense, high-carbohydrate foods.

Insulin is another hormone affected by sleep patterns and sleep stages. One study indicates that when healthy young men slept only four hours a night for six nights in a row, their insulin levels were adversely and unhealthily affected. Sleep deficit may also put the body into a state of high alert, thereby increasing the body’s production of stress hormones such as cortisol. And that’s no healthy scenario.

So, if you’re not getting enough shut eye, then you may want to pack one more thing into your already-crowded schedule: quality sleep. It could do you a world of good.


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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