Dawna Ara, L.Ac.

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5 Benefits of Sleep You May Not Know About

You may not know it, but the quality and quantity of your sleep has an effect on all physiological systems in your body. When we don’t get enough sleep, many areas of health will suffer. Pre-existing conditions can get exacerbated or lack of sleep can create one.

I often hear people say they get between 4 to 6 hours of sleep each night. While the average adult needs at least 7 hours of sleep a night, some will be ok with six while others need at least 9. Getting less than your personal optimal amount of sleep on an occasion is one thing, but doing this over and over again for a long period of time could potentially cause serious health problems that may not be expressed or recognized for several years.

In this post, I will discuss five important benefits of getting optimal sleep that you may not know about.

Weight Loss

Getting enough sleep helps you maintain a healthy weight. Poor sleep patterns are correlated with weight gain and obesity. Why?

Lack of sleep causes a great deal of stress on the body. When we are not sleeping, our bodies have to work overtime in order to carry out the normal day to day body functions and activities. And, it has to do this without the luxury of being repaired and restored from the night before. In other words, your body now has to work harder in a much weaker state. This causes cortisol to rise. A temporary rise in cortisol is not a big deal; it’s when it rises and stays high for a long period that we start to get into trouble.

Chronic high levels of cortisol interfere with blood sugar regulation. Poor blood sugar regulation can increase your appetite. To make matters worse, leptin, the hormone that tells your brain when you are full, stops doing its job. This leads to overeating and weight gain.

Cortisol also interferes with digestion. So even though you are eating more, you are not absorbing the nutrients from the food, which can leave you tired, lethargic, and hungry all day long. A vicious cycle that leads you well on your way to weight problems.

Decreased Cancer Risk

During the day, our bodies are busy digesting and working to keep us moving and exerting energy. When we are sleeping energy hungry organs like the heart, lungs, and the digestive tract, and muscles get to take a break. This frees up the blood so that energy and important molecules that would normally be used to maintain daily activities, now get busy restoring, repairing, fixing, strengthening, and detoxing unwanted materials out of the cells.

Antioxidants are known for neutralizing free radicals. During sleep, antioxidants destroy and sweep up mutated and sick cells before they get a chance to replicate. Studies show that free radicals may be linked to cancer so having adequate levels of antioxidants like melatonin are crucial for cancer prevention.

If we are not sleeping, chances are we have low melatonin levels. Melatonin is best known as the sleep hormone since it is produced in high amounts when we are sleeping by the pineal gland. It helps our body and brain get ready for sleep and circulates throughout our body all night until we wake up. Melatonin also happens to be one of the most powerful and potent antioxidants in our body.

Low Melatonin levels have been linked to cancer in a number of studies including this one and this one.

More Accurate Memory Formation

Having trouble with memory? Lack of sleep could be interfering with your brain’s ability to learn, consolidate memories, and retain information.

While you are sleeping your brain is busy processing and organizing events and information from the day before. Memories are formed quite rapidly, but it is during sleep that these memories are pieced together in order to form a stable memory that can be recalled over and again at later times.

When we have poor sleep habits, it is harder to form accurate and stable memories. This makes it more difficult to recall what we have experienced and learned. Brain fatigue is common among those who don’t get enough sleep thath can lead to foggy thinking, lack of concentration, and poor judgement.

Pain Relief

Many people suffer from chronic pain like fibromyalgia, headaches, back pain, and joint pain. Poor sleep quality makes it harder for your body to repair damaged or sick cells leaving you in a chronic state of inflammation. When suffering from chronic inflammation, proinflammatory cytokines can damage the peripheral nervous system leaving you in a hyperalgesic state, meaning in a state of increased sensitivity to pain.

Poor sleep quality also means you will most likely be deficient in calming neurotransmitters and pain relieving endorphins. Without them, your experience of pain may be magnified while your tolerance to it becomes diminished.

Antidepressant

Ever notice how people who don’t get enough sleep are grumpy and tired all day? Lack of sleep decreases your ability to cope with stress making you more likely to react negatively to a situation. Imagine what chronic sleep deprivation does overtime to your emotional state. You can get stuck in these patterns of negative thinking and soon you will start to think it’s normal to feel this way.

Recommendations For Better Sleep

Maintain a Smart Light Rhythm

The time of day that you get light is actually very important. Light influences your circadian rhythm and stimulates your brain. Why is this such a big deal? When light enters the eyes it gets transmitted into a neural signal that communicates with the master clock in the brain which influences the 24 hour process and activity level of each cell. When we don’t get enough bright light during the day or too much artificial light at night our natural circadian alignment gets thrown off. This can lead to a variety of chronic diseases. How can we fix this?

Get more light during the day. What you do during the day is actually a great predictor of how well you will sleep during the night. Make sure to open the curtains during the day to allow light into your home or workspace. If you are cooped up indoors during the daytime without a lot of light, you are going to have a more difficult time going to bed at night. Be sure to go outside on your breaks and absorb as much light as you can because doing so will have a positive impact on your sleep cycle.

Turn Down the Lights at night. Install f.lux on your computer. The type and color of light that passes through your eyes throughout the day will influence your circadian rhythm. Blue or bright white light is stimulating to the brain while orange or red hues are more calming, kinda like a sunset or dusk.

Develop Healthy Sleep Rituals

Doing things like changing into your pj’s, turning down bright lights and electronics, turning on soft music, drinking a cup of herbal tea, taking a bath, or reading a book can help your body relax and get your mind and body prepared for sleep. Also, be sure you are in bed at the same time every night at least 8 hours before you have to wake up. There is no possible way to get 8 hours of sleep if you go to bed at 1am and have to be up at 6am. Think about what time you have to be up and be sure to be in bed at least 8 hours before that time.

Have a small healthy snack that contains about 8 grams of protein before bedtime. This can help keep your blood sugar stable and prevent you from waking up during the night. Obviously avoid stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals, and sugary desserts before bedtime as can all cause your blood sugar to fluctuate.

Turn your thermostat down

Our body’s temperature is controlled by the same center that controls sleep. During the day our body temperature rises about 1 degree and at night it goes back down. If you are too warm at night this can interfere with your body’s natural sleep cycle. Therefore it is best to turn down the thermostat to mimic your body’s natural sleep rhythm. Studies show optimal sleep temperatures are between 60 – 70F degrees.

Can acupuncture help?

Absolutely! Acupuncture regulates the nervous and circulatory systems so it can help bring you into a state of relaxation. Taking a custom herbal remedy to treat your constitution and the underlying cause of your symptoms can be very helpful as well.

Many chronic diseases are linked to poor sleep habits and having good sleep habits now now can prevent some of these diseases from taking place. Your future self will thank you for it.

References

About Dawna Ara
Dawna is an acupuncturist, herbalist, functional medicine practitioner, a mom, wife, writer, nature lover, chef and whole foods advocate. She teaches how to live a healthy lifestyle through her website Eat Play Work Sleep.