Getting a good night’s rest is an essential aspect of achieving overall wellness. We need quality sleep for optimal health because it serves as the time when the body can heal and repair itself. It also impacts many of your bodily functions—including your mood, mental clarity, immune system, weight, and overall health.
The Science of Sleep
While you sleep, your body cycles through four stages known as non-REM and REM sleep. REM stands for rapid eye movement. During REM sleep, your eyes move around quickly yet don’t send any visual information to the brain. During non-REM sleep, your muscles relax, your blood pressure and breathing lower, and you have the deepest sleep. Non-REM is the period in which your body will repair itself, your immune system will be strengthened, and your tissue, bones, and muscle are strengthened.
About 90 minutes after falling asleep, you should enter REM sleep, when your brain will become more active, your breathing and heart rate will peak, and you will experience more intense dreams. REM is vital to stimulating your brain to help with learning and retaining information. The ability of the body to cycle through the stages of non-REM and REM sleep is vital for a restful night and overall health.
Sleep Quality vs. Quantity
Sleep is the foundation of nearly every aspect of your health, from your focus, your mood, your energy levels, and your correlation to diseases. So not only is it essential to get enough sleep, but it is also important to get quality rest.
If you have a hard time falling asleep, you regularly wake up during the night, or you feel tired and restless throughout the day, you are likely not getting the high-quality sleep that your body needs for optimal health and wellness. Quality sleep is achieved when your body cycles through the four stages of non-REM and REM sleep, as detailed above. The cycling through these stages allows your body to repair itself and fully achieve a good night’s rest.
Even if you get a solid 8 hours of sleep, if you still wake up feeling restless, your body is likely not reaching the deep sleep you need. Fortunately, getting better quality sleep may be as easy as improving your night-time habits that we will detail in next week’s blog.
Sleep for Optimal Health
Individuals who suffer from sleep deprivation can experience adverse side effects related to their health over time. When we talk about being sleep deprived, we refer to not going through enough REM and non-REM sleep cycles. As mentioned above, this ultimately affects your ability to function at your optimal point throughout the day.
When you do not get enough sleep each night, your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, arthritis, an overactive thyroid, and obesity increases significantly. Many studies have shown sleep deprivation increases risk of heart disease by nearly 50 percent and triples the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes and Obesity
There are two types of hormones that affect our feelings of hunger and satiety; leptin and ghrelin. Sleep impacts these hormonal levels, therefore influencing our desire to eat and the ability to stop eating. This can lead to obesity over time. Similarly, a lack of sleep results in the release of insulin. When there is too much insulin in the blood, you are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Heart Disease and High Blood Pressure
Not getting enough sleep increases a patient’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease. This is because when we sleep, our blood pressure drops. Therefore, when you don’t get enough sleep, your blood pressure stays elevated for more extended periods. When you have continued high blood pressure, you are at risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke.
When we sleep at night, our body releases cytokines, a protein that aids in fighting off infections in the body. When you don’t get enough sleep at night, your cytokine production decreases, making your body vulnerable to infections and common colds. This can mean that fighting off an infection will be difficult, leaving you sick for longer than you would like.
How Sleep (Apnea) Impacts Your Weight
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that results in breathing involuntary stopping for brief periods during sleep, with the most noticeable side effect being snoring. Although snoring may not seem like a critical concern, sleep apnea should be taken very seriously. OSA results from the airway being blocked (obstructed) and is more likely to occur in overweight and obese individuals.
Like the disease of obesity, sleep apnea heightens a patient’s risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, arthritis, and an overactive thyroid. Sleep apnea also makes it harder for a patient to lose weight due to the poor sleep quality that impacts metabolic and endocrine functions. Patients who suffer from sleep apnea and are not getting a restful night’s sleep each night will often turn to sugary and high-carbohydrate foods in an attempt to stay awake. This only exacerbates their obesity and makes their sleep apnea problem worse, leading to a vicious cycle.
Significant weight loss lowers the risk and severity of a patient’s sleep apnea leading to improved diabetes management, decreased hunger and appetite, better hormonal function, and overall fewer health complications.