Sleep is very important for good health. You’ve probably heard of some successful celebrities and athletes who don’t sleep very much, like Barack Obama and Donald Trump – who claim to sleep only 4-5 hours a night and are fine with that. In my opinion and more importantly, the opinion of scientists who study sleep, President Obama and President Elect Trump, as well as all other who claim they need little sleep, are just simply kidding themselves. Perhaps it’s lack of education or denial or trying to put themselves on a pedestal, but lack of sleep will manifest itself into the following:
- Creativity and/or memory issues occur
- Inflammation in the body is high somewhere
- Regeneration of muscle/brain cells is not happening
This “biological damage” occurs when you don’t sleep enough. In this article, I am going to tackle 3 things:
- What A Normal Sleep Cycle & Circadian Rhythm Looks Like
- Negative Effects of Cumulative Sleep Deprivation
- Practical Tips for Better Sleep
- 6 AM – your body produces a surge of cortisol, which is what wakes up your brain/body. It also helps to turn on other important hormones that kick-start heart function and blood flow. All important stuff for the start of the day. Your body also releases ghrelin (known as the hunger hormone), which is stronger in some than others. Some people do better eating breakfast while other do not, and that should be dictated by your ghrelin response, rather than giving in to sugar cravings.
- 9-10AM – this is when secretion of the sex hormones peak – testosterone and estrogen.
- 2-3PM – at this time, the human body tends to peak in terms of muscular coordination. For some, this is the optimal time of day to play sports.
- 5pm – this is the time of day when cardiovascular efficiency, body temperature, muscle repair, protein synthesis, and workout recovery capability peaks. Thus, for others, this may be a better time of day to engage in athletics.
- Sunset (varies by time of year) – blood pressure peaks at this time. According to Ben Greenfield, “this is also the time of day when another hormone called leptin is released. When your body’s hormones are working well, leptin can actually shift your body into fatty acid utilization, shut down your appetite and control any late night food cravings. This is why people who are constantly eating excessive calories, eating too many carbohydrates, eating too many meals or sleeping improperly get into a vicious cycle of late night food cravings, which can often be fixed by getting the body back into a proper circadian rhythm.”
- 8-10pm – this is the time when your body will start to secrete melatonin, which is critical for sleeping and recovery. However, exposure to artificial light at night will impair this hormone.
- 11PM – if everything is working properly, at this time gastrointestinal mobility starts to quiet down, meaning that you should not need to use the bathroom much for the remainder of the night (unless you are consuming copious amounts of liquids during the evening).
- Midnight – at this time, you experience the peak of melatonin secretion, which then signals your thyroid to upregulate thyroid function. You core body temp starts to fall now, so your thyroid works to help keep your body temp us. The thyroid sort of acts as an “exercise surrogate” and by this hormonal uptake, you burn body fat while sleeping. But that only holds true if your hormones are working properly, you actually get adequate sleep and you don’t eat half a chocolate cake before bedtime! Another important thing that happens at this time is that your body secretes prolactin, which is the hormone that kickstarts the regeneration of cells- very important.
- 2AM – 6AM – during this period, your core body temp falls even more, allowing for neuron and nervous system repair, the growth of neurons, an upregulation of circulating T cells, and a decrease in inflammation. According to clinical studies, great sleep during this period manifests into a stronger immune system and less inflammation in the body.
This is how the normal circadian rhythm works. This is why experts always recommend getting 7-9 hours of solid sleep, so that this biological process works, which results in optimal health. Can you see now why getting 4-5 hours of sleep is NOT a good idea? I guarantee you that Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump are having issues somewhere, and they just don’t know it, but it will catch up to them at some point as a health issue.
Negative Effects of Cumulative Sleep Deprivation
This section is largely sourced from Ben Greenfield’s site.
In one study, sleep researchers constructed a cruel contraption that would wake up rats as soon as they fell asleep. Using this contraption, it took an average of 3 weeks to kill a rat by sleep deprivation. Other studies have shown demonstrable brain damage in sleep-deprived rats, primarily due to a severe lack of neurogenesis (regrowth or rebuilding of new brain neurons) from rampant levels of sleep-deprivation induced cortisol.
While sleep deprivation is a well-known form of torture for rats, researchers could not for ethical reasons reproduce these studies in humans. But by looking at sleep disorders, we can get a pretty clear idea of what happens when you don’t sleep enough.
For example, death occurs within a few months in humans who have fatal familial insomnia, a mutation which causes the affected person to suffer from a progressively worsening insomnia that ends in death within a few months. Morvan’s syndrome is another example of how lack of sleep causes death, and in this case, an autoimmune disease destroys the brain’s potassium channels – which leads to severe insomnia and death.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to a number of environmental disasters….remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill? It causes high blood pressure and leads to heart disease. It increases accidents and lost productivity at work. It speeds up the aging effect because your brain is not able to clean up old old cells and regenerate new, young cells. And you are not able to recover properly and reduce bodily inflammation, and we know that inflammation is the root of most degenerative and chronic diseases.
There is a lot of science and good studies behind this information, but that is too much for this article. So we will move along to practical tips.
Tips for Better Sleep
- Plan your sleep.Keep a regular schedule as much as possible and don’t compromise your sleep.A lot of people think this is not possible, but really it is.You prioritize eating a meal, right?Or getting in that workout?This is no different and quite honestly, is probably more important.
- Reduce your exposure to artificial light at night.Install a blue light blocking software on your computer (f. lux is a good one) if you tend to work or surf the internet at night.Invest in a pair of blue light blocking glasses which blocks artificial light in order to help melatonin secretion.Or just simply turn off the damn TV and put down your phone!
- Keep your bedroom temperature cool.Studies show that most people tend to sleep best when the temps are in the low 60’s.This should be scaled based upon your personal preferences, but for sure, temps higher than 67 degrees correlate with worse sleep.
- Minimize your carb consumption directly before bed-time.Yes, that’s right – no candy, cake, pies, ice cream, etc….right before bed.Actually, why are you eating that crap in the first place, hmmm????Better choices for pre-bed snacks would be a small balanced meal/snack with slightly higher protein and some fat and minimal carbs.Two good choices are cottage cheese and berries, or apple slices with nut butter.
- Put your cell phone in a different room while you sleep and cover your alarm clock.Get room darkening shades.Keep your bedroom as dark as possible with NO artificial light. And make it as quiet as possible, even if this means investing in good quality ear plugs.
This list isn’t a comprehensive list. There are many other bio hacks out there, but this is a great start and I can testify that these have all made a difference in the quality of my sleep and my personal battle with insomnia. Give some of them a try and improve the quality of your ZZZZZ’s!