Can’t get enough sleep? You’re not alone. In 2010, there were an estimated 1.5 million Australians (8.9 per cent of the population) with some sort of sleep disorder according to the Sleep Health Foundation.
But hold that yawn. We’ve got five reasons why you need to get enough sleep for your health – and most importantly, six sleep remedies to help you get more shut-eye. How much sleep do you need? Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
Obviously, sleep is important; being well-rested makes you more alert and keeps your brain sharp (when you’re tired, some brain cells actually nod off during the day) and gives you more energy overall. But sleep does so much more – it’s vital for your health. Read on to learn about the importance of sleep to improve your health, wellbeing and body. Sweet dreams!
1. Stronger Immune System
Skimping on sleep can compromise your immune system. A 2012 article in the journal, Sleep, reported that sleep deprivation had the same effect on the immune system as physical stress – such as from an illness or surgery, or grieving for a loved one. After sleeping eight hours a night for one week, the men in the study were kept awake for 29 hours. This major sleep deprivation caused an increase in certain white bloods cells that are key players in immune activity.
Another recent study published in the same journal found that shorter sleep duration adversely affected study participants’ responses to a standard hepatitis B vaccination. Researchers suggest this decreased antibody response may explain why people who don’t get enough sleep are more susceptible to infectious diseases.
2. Younger Skin
Researchers at Cornell University found that one night of sleep deprivation may cause your skin to lose elasticity, firmness and moisture. It also makes fine lines and wrinkles more noticeable.
3. Healthier Heart
When it comes to heart health, research definitely supports the need for a good snooze. Adults who regularly sleep less than six hours a night have an increased risk of heart attacks and developing high blood pressure compared to those who sleep seven to eight hours per night. And seven to eight hours might be the magic number: Recent studies have also shown an association between excessive sleep (more than nine hours a night for adults) and cardiovascular disease.
In one study, researchers observed elevated levels of C-reactive protein – an indicator of heart disease – both in women who slept five or fewer hours and also (and even more markedly) in those who slept nine or more hours. And a large Swedish study reported in the European Journal of Epidemiology found an association between short sleep duration (five hours or less per night) and increased cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke.
4. Trimmer Waist
If you sleep enough, you can lose weight. Plenty of research confirms that adults who sleep less than six hours a night are at higher risk of being overweight. (Among children, sleeping less than 10 hours can cause unhealthy weight gain.)
According to a recent study at the University of Colorado, the effect of sleep may be even more powerful than we realised. The new study indicates that even just a few sleepless nights in a row can cause almost instant weight gain. Participants gained on average one kilogram after one week of five-hour nights. Granted the study was small – 16 men and women were tracked for two weeks – but it may have real-world implications.
One reason for this weight gain is because a lack of sleep increases hunger and appetite. Researchers have found a biochemical reason for this: Insufficient sleep can decrease levels of leptin – a hormone that tells us when we’ve eaten enough and suppresses appetite – and it also increases ghrelin, a hormone that signals the body to eat by stimulating hunger.
Not only does a lack of sleep trigger appetite, it also increases the craving for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods – aka junk foods. Researchers at Harvard University, for example, found that if you’ve missed even just an hour or two of sleep, you’re more likely to give in to junk food the next day. Other researchers concur, and some brain-imaging studies have even depicted sleep deprivation activating the ‘junk-food pleasure centres’ of the brain.
And there are even more weighty reasons for giving your tired body more sleep: In a small study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers found that when dieters slept five hours a night for two weeks, they burned less fat and more muscle than those who slept eight hours. A Swedish study published in Sleep Medicine showed that in women under the age of 50, sleeping less than five hours or more than 10 hours per night was associated with a larger weight size and abdominal fat. Cortisol secretion (the stress hormone linked to belly-fat accumulation) is at its lowest at night, but sleep loss boosts cortisol the day after a night of poor sleep.
5. Lower Diabetes Risk
Over the long term, sleep deprivation increases the risk of serious health problems, including type 2 diabetes. Various studies have shown, for instance, that how much we sleep can affect blood sugar levels: not getting enough sleep can cause an increase in insulin resistance, making it harder to metabolise blood sugar properly. (Insulin is a key blood-sugar-regulating hormone.)
A 2012 study is the first to record this effect at the cellular level. Although it was a small study, with just seven participants, researchers were able to see how insufficient sleep shrinks the ability of fat cells to respond to insulin. With meals strictly controlled, the seven healthy men and women snoozed 8.5 hours for four nights in a sleep lab; for the next four nights, they were restricted to 4.5 hours of sleep.
The researchers found that sensitivity to insulin in fat cells decreased 30 per cent after participants slept less. This means that those sleep-deprived fat cells needed roughly three times as much insulin in order to activate an enzyme (called Akt) that plays an important role in regulating blood sugar. When this sort of insulin resistance becomes chronic, it can cause excess sugar and cholesterol to accumulate in the blood, thereby increasing the risk of diabetes and other health problems, such as metabolic syndrome.