"Without enough sleep, we all become tall, two-year-olds." ~JoJo Jensen, Dirt Farmer Wisdom
You can eat your protein smoothies, exercise, and take all the right supplements, but if you're not getting enough quality sleep you are shorting your health. Sleep is essential for our neurological, endocrine, and immune systems.
Getting a full night of sleep is one of the most under-appreciated factors contributing to healthy glucose and insulin levels. Sleep and glucose have a bidirectional relationship. In one direction, how well or poorly you sleep will directly impact your glucose levels. In the other direction, what your glucose levels are like going into the night and during sleep will affect your sleep. Research published in the journal “Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America” identifies that sleep deprivation reduces insulin sensitivity, leading your body to produce more insulin to stabilize blood glucose levels. The more insulin resistant your cells become, the greater the risk that your insulin and blood sugar levels will chronically rise, leading to insulin resistance and pre diabetes.
Sleep is essential for slowing down aging because of the repair work that goes on in the body when we are sleeping. All hormones are released in a circadian rhythm with the sleep-wake cycles setting the rhythm. We make melatonin and growth hormone at night. Melatonin controls more than five hundred genes in the body, including the genes involved in the immune system, so optimizing your melatonin is a sound investment. Optimal sleep activates our growth hormone which helps make it less likely to gain belly fat, and repair your muscles at night. In short, chronic sleep deprivation increases wear-and-tear hormones (e.g., cortisol) and fewer growth- and repair hormones (e.g., growth hormone). Did you know that not getting enough sleep is associated with being overweight? Appetite is governed by the hormones ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin tells you when you're hungry, and leptin tells you when you've had enough food. When you short your sleep, levels of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates hunger, rise, and leptin levels, a hormone that promotes feelings of fullness, go down. That’s just setting yourself up to rely on willpower, which will likely, won’t work.
Getting too little sleep across the adult lifespan will significantly raise your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Think of sleep as a shampoo for your brain. Neurodegenerative diseases are thought to be caused by the build-up of toxic proteins in the brain, such as amyloid-Beta in Alzheimer’s disease. Research has shown that amyloid-Beta is cleared more efficiently during sleep. Disturbances in slow-wave sleep also often accompany aging, which may be linked to cognitive decline.
Prioritizing sleep is one of the biggest epigenetic changes you can make for your health. Master your sleep hygiene and you’ll find it easier to balance your hormones, make good food choices, and, ultimately, lengthen your health span.