Are you Sleeping Enough?

Are you getting enough quality sleep?

We’re often told we should have at least eight hours of sleep a night.

Why should we be getting that much sleep, and does it matter?

It appears that it does! I’ve been reading a book by Matthew Walker, “Why We Sleep”. He is a Neuroscientist and seems to know his stuff. He has done a lot of research and the bottom line is that routinely getting less than six or seven hours sleep a night messes with your immune system and more than doubles the risk of you getting cancer.

As a nutritionist, with a particular interest in the gut and its role in the immune system, I found this information fascinating. Around 70% to 80% of your immune system is situated in your gut. If your gut is not working optimally it will have knock on effects on other parts of your body systems. There is also a gut brain connection and if your gut is not functioning well, neither will your brain.

Research has shown that lack of sleep is a key lifestyle factor that will determine whether you will get Alzheimer’s or not. Going without sleep for a week would affect your blood sugars to such an extent that you would be classified as pre-diabetic.

Another down side of being tired is that you tend to eat more. Too little sleep will increase the hormone (ghrelin) that makes you feel hungry and suppresses the companion hormone (leptin) that would normally signal that you are full.

Even though you are full, you will want to eat more. Not giving your body the sleep it needs will lead to weight gain. If you do go on a diet but don’t change other lifestyle factors, like getting enough sleep, the weight you do lose will come from lean body mass, not fat.

Getting enough sleep provides you with a multitude of health benefits. It allows you to ‘digest’ what you have learnt and remember it. It allows you to make logical decisions and choices when awake. Sleep recalibrates your emotional brain circuits. It allows the ‘restocking ‘of the armoury of your immune system so that you can fight cancer, prevent infection and ward off all manner of illnesses. Sleep helps you to regulate your weight and maintains your gut flora, which have so many functions and are critical to your health. Sleep also keeps keeps your heart healthy.

Tips to help you live a healthy and abundant life. Stick to a time schedule, aim to go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Sleeping longer on weekends won’t fully make up for lack of sleep during the week. Aim to exercise for 30 minutes on most days but not later than three hours before bedtime. Avoid caffeinated drinks, since their effects can take up to eight hours to wear off fully. Avoid alcohol before bed, since it robs you of deeper sleep. Don’t eat large meals before bed, a small snack would be fine. Avoid screen time an hour before bed. Make time to relax before bedtime by having a bath, listening to relaxing music or reading.

The bottom line “the shorter you sleep, the shorter your life span”. Sadly human beings are the only species that deprive themselves of sleep, without benefiting in any positive way. The best prescription for many individuals, in addition to improving their diet, would be sleep. Sleep is a key ingredient in resetting our brain and body health each day.