Getting enough sleep is a major contributor to overall health. Lack of sleep affects your memory, reaction time, and ability to remain focused. Furthermore, lack of sleep affects your immune functions as well as increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity. When it comes to obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes are number one and number two, leading causes of death from obesity.
As you know, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends getting more than seven hours of sleep a night. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s ‘Sleep in America’ poll, only 30 percent of people report getting a good night’s sleep at least four nights in a row
A lack of sleep leads to all sorts of negative changes across your body. And we refer to them as metabolic dysregulation. Essentially, people become hungrier; their circadian rhythms get delayed, their insulin sensitivity decreases; they have a higher risk of falls; there’s an increased risk of cognitive or memory decline and even dementia.
In a study published in the Journal Current Biology, Depner and colleagues looked at whether letting people sleep extra on weekends would prevent metabolic dysregulation around circadian rhythms, food intake, and insulin sensitivity. In this randomized, control study, the authors had three separate arms. The first arm was the control arm, where people got to sleep as much as they wanted. The second arm was where they basically restricted the participants’ sleep to five hours. Finally, the third arm was sleep restriction with weekend recovery.
The study consisted of 36 people; the average age was about 25; BMI was approximately 22.4 on average. There were 8 participants in the control group and 14 participants in each treatment arm.
The first thing they looked at was slow-wave sleep or SWS. SWS is the deepest phase of non-REM sleep. It’s commonly associated with things like how good your sleep quality is.
They found that people who were sleep-deprived got less SWS than expected. Once they were allowed to have a weekend recovery, the slow-wave sleep increased as expected. However, as sleep deprivation started again after the weekend, the slow-wave sleep went down again.
The authors then looked at melatonin onset. They wanted to see what time the participants’ natural melatonin secretion began and how sleep loss affected it. Remember that melatonin helps us fall asleep. Darkness causes our pineal gland to start melatonin secretion.
The authors found was that melatonin secretion was delayed further with sleep restriction. Moreover, weekend recovery did not reset the delayed melatonin secretion. It continued to occur later and later. In other words, not getting enough sleep made it harder for the participants to fall asleep at the same time each day. The lesson here is to always build regular sleep patterns by going to bed at the same time every night.
When it came to eating food and hunger, those folks who are not getting enough sleep had a lot of hunger, especially after dinner. And the kinds of foods they ate weren’t the healthy types. They were the ones high in sugar and simple carbohydrates. This increase in hunger occurred regardless of whether the participants were allowed to have weekend recovery sleep or not.
In looking at whole-body insulin sensitivity, the research found it dropped by 13 percent with sleep restriction. When participants were allowed to have weekend recovery and then continued with sleep restriction, they had a 27 percent drop in insulin sensitivity.
So what is the bottom line here? Well, there are three key points. First, you need to sleep seven to nine hours for optimal health. To do that, you want to set up good sleep hygiene and have some kind of a routine you follow every night. For example, you can take a warm shower, read a book, make sure there are no bright lights in the bedroom, no alarm clocks. You want to avoid any bright lights disrupting your melatonin secretion.
In addition, reduce stress through yoga, exercise and meditation; exercise regularly, avoid caffeine after 12pm or even 10am, if you are sensitive to caffeine.
Second, make sure that you’re not trying to play this catch-up game of sleep on the weekends because the data shows it does not work. In fact, it could even make the problem worse in terms of hunger, insulin sensitivity, and delayed melatonin onset.
Lastly, realize that poor sleep doesn’t just make you feel tired. It also increases hunger, delays melatonin onset, and increases insulin resistance. It can even be associated with memory decline and dementia later in life.