MHLbannersmallA personal look at sleep, why we need it, and how to get more of it

As a first time dad I have recently discovered the benefits of sleep. More accurately, I should say that I discovered the detriment of sleep deprivation. Although the sleep recommendation for adults is 7 to 9 hours per night, about 30% of the current American workforce is failing to meet their nightly quota. Shortly after the birth of our daughter, my previous commitment to eight plus hours of sleep per night was quickly square rooted and I found myself in the relatively large company of those other sleep deprived individuals. Not getting enough sleep on a frequent basis may seem like an inconvenience on some level. In fact, it's a serious health hazard.

A significant amount of research, including long-term studies carried out by the CDC, show that chronic sleep deprivation is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. Not only is insufficient sleep a causal factor in these diseases but it also can complicate their management and outcome. Here's why: When we are sleeping, our bodies are in a state of active recovery from the day we just endured while also preparing for the day that lies ahead. For those of you who get the recommended daily sleep allowance, there's a very good chance that your body is effectively managing your "internal biological clock." But if you miss out on your Zzzz's, this internal process, known as the circadian rhythm, becomes disturbed and disrupts metabolic and other processes within our body. This bio clock disruption is especially pronounced in shift workers who stay awake at night when it is dark and our bodies naturally want to sleep. Since night workers often struggle with getting sleep during the day, they throw off their natural circadian rhythm at night and end up being sleep deprived during the day.

One of the most serious consequences of this lack of sleep is related to appetite and metabolism. Our hunger mechanism is controlled by an appetite-suppressing hormone known as leptin. Manufactured in our body's adipose tissue, leptin puts the brakes on our hunger and when we don't get enough sleep, its release is diminished. The result for many sleep deprived people is an increase in appetite. So not only do they feel far less than optimal during the day, there is a good chance they're also struggling with weight management. To make matters worse, our brain interprets fatigue, sleep and hunger in a similar manner so many times when we are tired and need sleep, we end up heading for the fridge.

Bringing it full circle, researchers have also found that sleep deprived individuals exhibit a decreased metabolic rate so they burn fewer calories at rest. They also have a poorer release of insulin from their pancreas resulting in higher levels of blood sugars circulating in their bloodstream. This elevated blood sugar can lead to diabetes if it persists and remains unchecked.

It's pretty clear that sufficient sleep is important, so how do we ensure that we get the proper amount? And what about difficulties falling asleep? Well, the answer is one that you'll hear from me for sleep problems and other concerns – you need more exercise! Moderate levels of exercise for 15 to 20 minutes each per day have been shown to greatly reduce the time it takes to fall asleep as well as increase the time spent in the deep restorative sleep our bodies need to recover and function normally.

It is best to exercise at least three hours before bedtime so you don't over stimulate your body and make sleep more difficult. If you do exercise later at night, and closer to bedtime, make sure your intensity is low to moderate so as to minimize the stimulation to your system.  Too much exercise too late at night creates a rise in body temperature. Because sleep has been shown to be facilitated in cooler environments, it's good to give your body sufficient time to cool down after exercise.

I hope you all have a better understanding of the importance of sleep and its close connection to diet and exercise, as well as its association with chronic health problems. Who better to sum this up than William Shakespeare whoso eloquently stated in Macbeth, "… sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care." While we can't always eliminate the sources of those cares, there's a lot of truth to the old saying that everything looks better after a good night's sleep … which is what I wish for you my friends.

Daniel BallinDaniel Ballin
Chair, My Healthy Lifestyle Employee Wellness Committee

(Editor's Note: In addition to serving as Chair for the Employee Wellness Committee, Daniel is the Administrator of Riverside Therapy Group, Wellness and Outpatient Services and oversees all of Riverside's therapy services along with Riverside's Wellness and Fitness Centers in Newport News and Gloucester.)

Quote from the Chair:
" Drink up – water that is. When your cells are dehydrated cellular function slows down, so does metabolism, and that = weight gain."

For more health tips and good information, you can also follow Daniel on Twitter at danob71.