With all the talk this time of year about developing new health habits, one that gets consistently overlooked is proper sleep. We often forget that proper sleep is one of the most health producing, life enhancing habits you can possibly develop. Yet in our overworked, over-committed society, we rarely do it. And the health consequences are enormous.
In a recent list of the 15 things most likely to extend life published in Forbes Magazine, no less than one third of them had to do with either sleep or stress management. It’s not surprising when you consider what takes place when you sleep deeply and restfully for an uninterrupted seven or eight hours. For one thing, feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine are replenished. For another, important hormones like human growth hormone and melatonin are secreted.
Why should we care? Consider this. In a recent study that followed more than 68,000 U.S. women for 16 years, researchers found that those who caught more zzz’s each night tended to put on less weight during middle-age. Women who clocked only five hours of sleep were more likely to have a substantial weight gain - 33 pounds in fact - than those who got a full seven hours a night. And sleep-deprived women were more likely to become obese as they grow older.
It’s not just appetite control and metabolism that are affected by sleep, however. Under-sleeping is a strong stressor for the human body, resulting in the overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol have been shown to age important areas of the brain like the region responsible for memory. High levels of cortisol are also associated with fat deposits, particularly around the waist.
Then there’s cancer. While you’re sleeping, your body produces a wonderful hormone called melatonin, which has been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. In one fascinating study published in Cancer Research, experimenters drew blood from three groups of people who had different levels of melatonin in their blood. They then exposed these various blood specimens to both human breast cancers and rat liver cancers. Exposure to melatonin-rich blood suppressed the rate at which the cancer cells multiplied!
During deep restful sleep, you also produce an important hormone called HGH (human growth hormone). This hormone makes it easier to put on muscle and to lose fat, and is also believed to have a positive effect on our energy and our libido, as well as the youthfulness of our skin. Imagine - sleep as the ultimate anti-aging drug! And it’s free!
So why not start the year by adding a resolution to getting adequate sleep?
The health dividends will be enormous. And your body will love you for it.
Happy 2007! Make it a great year!