When was the last time you felt truly rested? Was it after a week of vacation last summer? Or, maybe when a snow day gave you the chance to sleep until you awoke without the alarm. Perhaps it was last Saturday when your spouse took the kids to a movie and you stole a long, afternoon nap…Wait, that’s not you. You checked email and caught up on laundry instead.
If you’re like too many of us, you may not be able to remember the last time you weren’t tired.
Of course, the fatigue you probably feel right now (hopefully not because of this article) is a result of ignoring your need for seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Four hours most nights and a drowsy weekend on the couch don’t cut it. Sleep is one of the most basic needs for all animals and those of us with opposable thumbs are no exception. A lack of sleep, just like a lack of water and food, will kill you (or make you want to die).
The sleep cycle consists of five stages, which culminate in REM (rapid eye movement). Once you reach REM sleep you drift up and down the stages of sleep throughout the night. During REM you dream about flying, Halle Berry or playing on stage with Bruce Springsteen. Fun, yes, but it is during the third and fourth stages that human growth hormone (keeps you young), melatonin (may protect against cancer) and other hormones essential to bodily repair and function are released. However, if your sleep is frequently interrupted or too brief, you may not experience these stages enough to reap the benefits.
Obviously, the main benefit of getting enough sleep is fewer visits to your favorite caffeine pusher, er…barista. You will also reduce your risk factors for heart disease, stroke and overeating. While in sleep stages three and four, leptin and gherlin, which regulate appetite are balanced. Consequently, there’s less chance of you mistaking your need for 40 winks with a desire for chocolate.
When you eat better you are healthier, and this works in concert with a reduction in your stress levels, blood pressure and cholesterol, which drastically reduces your risk for disease of all sorts, even cancer. A good night’s sleep will also raise your serotonin levels, reducing your chances of becoming depressed.
In short, a good night's sleep is as important to your health and fitness as clean eating and regular workouts. Now, get some sleep.