Source: Best Health Magazine, November/December 2008; Photo: Masterfile
1. Live longer and healthier
The link between sleep and health is becoming clearer. Blood pressure and heart rate are typically at their lowest levels during sleep; people who sleep less tend to have higher blood pressure. The association between hypertension and sleep duration could explain other research findings that link lack of sleep to an increased risk of heart attack, diabetes, weight gain and other problems.
Meanwhile, sleeping better may help you fight off illness. Sleep deprivation makes your body’s emergency stress system kick in. ‘Then you get all kinds of physiological problems,’ says Eva Libman, associate director of the behavioural psychotherapy and research unit at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital. ‘Certainly, not getting enough sleep can undermine the immune system.’
In fact, bedrest may make your flu shot work better as well. In a University of Chicago study, men who were vaccinated while being deprived of sleep (the subjects were not allowed to sleep more than four hours a night) produced less than half the antibodies to the flu virus that vaccinated men who got a full night’s rest did.
Simply stated, people who sleep well live longer. So say good night sooner, and it may help you stay vital to a ripe old age.
2. Be happier, less stressed
Statistics Canada surveys reveal that 25 percent of Canadians over the age of 15 regularly have trouble getting to sleep, and 3.3 million Canadians suffer from insomnia. People with insomnia produce higher rates of stress hormones than others, according to new research. This puts their bodies in a hyper-aroused state that can make it difficult for them to wind down. The inability to sleep causes more stress, which can have a devastating impact. People who don’t get enough sleep can become depressed, and that causes insomnia. Inversely, more and better-quality sleep can make you feel happier.
3. Look and feel better
People who are limited to only four or five hours of sleep a night for several nights not only experience more physical ailments, such as headaches and stomach problems, but also undergo changes in metabolism similar to those occurring with normal aging. It’s no wonder we look terrible after a sleepless night.
One of the reasons may be growth hormone, secreted during our deepest and most restorative sleep. According to psychiatrist Rachel Morehouse, director of the Atlantic Health Sciences Sleep Centre in Saint John, N.B., when we don’t sleep deeply, ‘growth hormone is almost negligible in the system.’ Levels of the hormone drop dramatically between the ages of 20 and 60, says Dr. Mehmet C. Oz, the U.S.-based co-author of the You health books. ‘When you have high levels of the hormone, you have muscle mass, better skin. You want to keep your growth hormone as high as possible, and the number one way to do that is sleep.’
4. Build a better brain
Not only does sleep deprivation lead to poor health, it also affects your concentration, problem-solving skills, memory and mood. Dr. Jeffrey Lipsitz, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Centre of Metropolitan Toronto, says sleep is connected to ‘alertness, productivity, performance and reaction times.’ And that’s not all: Problems with memory, decreased social interaction and difficulty concentrating can all be linked to lack of sleep.
Not getting enough sleep can have cognitive and physical effects similar to those brought on by overindulging in alcohol. The performance of someone who’s been awake for 17 hours straight is about the same as if she had a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 percent (about two drinks in an hour).
5. Lose a few pounds
It should come as no surprise that the trend toward shorter sleep duration has coincided with an increasing trend toward obesity. Recent studies suggest that people who get inadequate sleep are more likely to gain weight. ‘There’s a direct linkage between the sleep deprivation epidemic and the obesity epidemic,’ says Morehouse. Insufficient sleep lowers levels of leptin, the hormone that causes you to feel full, while increasing levels of ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel hungry.
Sleep deprivation also influences your food choices, making you crave high-carb and high-sugar foods. This is because sleep loss decreases insulin sensitivity, putting the sleep-deprived at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes. So sleep more’it may make it easier to fight that cookie craving, and wake up a whole new you.
Adapted from an article by Lori Miller Kase. With additions by Philip Moscovitch.