I’m just going to say it: if you’re not targeting to sleep at least 7 hours every night, then you don’t know how to prioritize your health.
Although, our main focus at Olive Branch is fitness, nutrition, and psychology; the over-arching theme has always been wellness performance; and you simply cannot talk about wellness if you don’t get enough sleep.
If you have been following my blog, then you know the importance of exercise, nutrition, and mental health, but what you need to consider is that those 3 pillars of health all rest on a foundation of sleep. You can literally die from lack of sleep!
In my earlier blog on sleep durations for the different stages in your life, it mentions that we enforce (quite strictly) that children before entering kindergarten should get 10-13 hours of sleep. We prioritize sleep for our children so insistently that it seems counter-intuitive that we as adults have voluntarily sabotaged our sleep and can’t even get 7 hours every night!
But you say you feel fine when you only get 6 hours of sleep. You feel that the minimum 7 hours of sleep rule doesn’t really apply to you.
Well, consider this:
- Less than 1 in 12,000 people has the gene to require only 6 hours of sleep – the chance of getting struck by lightning is higher!
- Sleep deprivation begins with a loss of concentration and has significant impact on mental and physical performance;
- Pulling an all-nighter will decrease performance by 400%;
- Sleeping only 6 hours every night for 10 nights will produce the same as an all-nighter;
- Sleeping only 4 hours every night for 6 nights will do the same;
- People who are sleep deprived have been shown to have a poor judgement of sleep need; it’s like an alcoholic telling you they are not an alcoholic!
Even for healthy, fit individuals, if they even get an hour or 2 less than the optimal amount, their resting heart rate increases and their systolic blood pressure (the pressure on your arteries as your heart beats and forces blood through) increases which can cause hypertension and cardiovascular disease if it becomes chronic.
Another study was done that showed people who slept 5-6 hours regularly had more blockage in their coronary arteries – the arteries that cause heart attacks when there’s too much plaque build-up.
Sleep deprivation also contributes to insulin resistance and as you know from my previous blogs, is the precursor to type 2 diabetes. When a group of healthy and fit participants in a study was only allowed 4 hours of sleep for just 6 nights, and were tested at the end of the week, the doctor confirmed that they were in a pre-diabetic state!
Furthermore, lack of sleep can cause leptin to go down which is the hormone that tells your brain you’ve had enough to eat and another hormone ghrelin to go up which makes you hungrier than if you slept the necessary amount, thus, making you eat more than you need and gaining more fat and becoming more insulin resistant.
If you’re on a diet trying to lose fat, then getting enough sleep should be your priority. A study was done that shown 70% of the weight lost during a diet can come from muscles instead of fat! This is a very alarming consequence because as mentioned in previous blogs, one of the best ways to lose fat is to gain muscle. But not getting enough sleep does the complete opposite – so all your efforts dieting goes down the toilet (no pun intended)!
Zooming back out to the macro-level, we are currently facing what may be one of the biggest health crisises we will ever face in our lifetime. COVID-19 has spread throughout the globe with little resistance. Even in this devastating pandemic, the protective powers of sleep has been emphasized by doctors on the important role it plays.
Sleep has been studied to have a direct impact on the effectiveness of your immune system. When you are sleeping, your immune system has a much stronger response to seek out and destroy virus particles and other pathogens inside your body and can determine whether an infection is manageable at home, or if you have to go to the intensive care unit in a hospital.
When you don’t get enough sleep, production of antibodies from vaccines are hampered. In other words, even if the scientists discover a vaccine for COVID-19 and you’ve taken a vaccine shot, your body may still not produce the antibodies needed to fight the virus if you don’t get enough sleep! And if you don’t, any recovery sleep you try to do after the vaccine shot will have no effect in rejuvenating your immune system to produce the antibodies!
Another component of your immune system that gets down-regulated with sleep deprivation are your natural killer cells. These are the soldiers of your immune system that does the “killing” of the virus particles but it also kills cancer cells. Cancer, being one of the top 3 causes for premature deaths in China, is on the rise nation-wide. Unfortunately, the statistics show that Chinese are sleeping less and less each passing year.
It is of the highest priority during a pandemic that we all get enough sleep in order to keep our immune system at the highest guard, protecting ourselves and our communities.
It is also the single best thing you can do to regulate your stress and emotions. During this period of uncertainty and tragedies, managing your thoughts and emotions is crucial to prevent mental illnesses that have now been reported to be escalating in many countries around the world due to COVID-19.
If none of the above points on sleep and health convinced you to prioritize getting more sleep, then perhaps I can appeal to your vanity!
A study was done in Stockholm University where they took 2 photos of a bunch of people and got strangers to judge who was attractive. The first photo the models were restricted to only 5 hours of sleep, and the second photo was taken of the same model but after they were allowed to sleep for a full 8 hours. It was a controlled blind experiment with a random selection of judges and models but the results were convincingly in favour of the group of photos of the models that were allowed the 8 hours of sleep with feedback stating that the group of photos with 5 hours of sleep looked tired, less healthy, and significantly less attractive!
One explanation for this can be found in your genes or specifically, the chromosome strands in your cell’s nucleus. Like shoelaces, they are comprised of DNA material that is interwoven to form a thread that needs to be capped on the ends in order to keep them from fraying. When you don’t get enough sleep, the caps are not as secure so the integrity of the chromosomes start to deteriorate which leads to cancer and, you guessed it, premature aging.
So the age-old adage of getting your “beauty sleep” actually holds some truth!
It’s been a long blog. I’m sorry but there’s really so much to know about sleep that I really tried to narrow it down to the most relevant topics for you. I highly recommend the book: “Why We Sleep” by Dr. Matthew Walker, where I got most of my sources from.
Of course, I’ve cross-referenced a lot of his main arguments in his book with other sources and experts that I follow on health-related topics and they do seem to agree that sleep is the foundation for health.
So with that, I will close by wishing you all a very good night, and sweet dreams! 🌛
Why We Sleep, Dr. Matthew Walker, pp.134, 137, 145, 146-152, 164, 170-171, 178, 180, 183, 188