Exercise and a well-balanced eating plan are two vital components to developing a healthy lifestyle. However, many people forget one last element—sleep. This biologically necessary process gives your body a chance to repair and recharge. But, many forget that without sleep, the body changes how it functions. Your body’s hormone levels change along with your response to those hormones. Not only that, the chronically sleep deprived find themselves at risk for serious health problems.
Sleep and Appetite Control
Your body controls the appetite by releasing hormones like ghrelin, which makes you feel hungry, and leptin, which makes you feel full. When you’re sleep deprived, ghrelin gets released in higher amounts, making you feel hungrier. Later in the eating cycle, less leptin gets released, which means you keep eating because your body doesn’t recognize that it’s full. The result—you gain weight.
At least part of that is due to the kind of food the body craves when it’s sleep deprived. Those hunger cravings and changes in hormone levels come at the end of the day when you’re the most tired. In that state, the body craves high-fat, sugary foods with little nutritional value. You’re far more likely to reach for those chips, cookies, and crackers that aren’t a part of a healthy eating plan.
Sleep Deprivation and Overall Health
Beyond your appetite, sleep plays a vital role in the overall health of the body. During sleep, the immune system works to repair the body and the brain uses that time to catalog memories and restore itself. Extra energy becomes available during sleep to perform these important restorative functions. Many people feel achy when sleep deprived because their body didn’t have the time it needed to heal and rejuvenate.
Lack of sleep puts you at risk for conditions and diseases like:
Coronary heart disease
Your memory, reaction times, and problem-solving skills also go down significantly, limiting your job performance, driving skills, and the ability to maintain social relationships.
How to Get Better Sleep
Making sleep a priority can help you meet healthy lifestyle goals. It starts by making your bedroom a sanctuary devoted entirely to sleep. At night, there should be as little light and sound as possible. Your mattress should leave you feeling rejuvenated in the morning, not achy and sore. If discomfort keeps you awake, check mattress reviews to find one that supports your preferred sleep style—back, stomach, or side. In addition, try developing some of the following sleep-promoting habits:
Turn Off the Screen: The bright light from televisions, laptops, and smartphones can confuse the brain into thinking it’s time to be awake. Turn off the screens at least an hour before bedtime to send your brain the right signals.
Avoid Stimulants: Caffeine can leave you staring at the ceiling late into the night. Stop the caffeinated beverages at least four hours before bedtime.
Establish a Bedtime Routine: They’re not just for kids anymore. A bedtime routine can help you release stress and establish healthy circadian rhythms. Relaxing activities like reading a book (not on an e-reader or smartphone), taking a warm bath, or spending a few moments meditating can be ways to help you drift off to sleep.
Healthy Late Night Snacks: When you’re looking for a late night snack to tide you over, consider foods that promote sleep like bananas or dairy products like milk or yogurt. Both of these foods contain vitamins and minerals that promote the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.
By taking steps to improve your sleep habits, your overall health may also improve!
Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. Her preferred research topics are health and wellness, so Amy’s a regular reader of Scientific American and Nature. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.