Did you know that there is a link between sleep deprivation and a desire to eat? Studies at Columbia University found that people who get insufficient sleep tend to eat an extra 300 calories a day, and the favorite food is ice cream. Both men and women eat more protein-rich foods on short sleep, but only women ingested more fat—averaging 31 more grams of fat after sleeping for 4 hours.
Sleep is also critical to a Longevity Lifestyle. Mental skills suffer severely from sleep deprivation, even more so than physical skills. Loss of sleep, even for a few hours during one night, can interfere with needed repairs to neurons, lower the production of neurotrophins (neuron food), and prompt one’s immune system to function less effectively. Less than 7 hours of sleep at night has been associated with a decrease in overall blood flow to the brain. Studies have shown a growing link between sleep duration and a variety of serious health problems such as high blood pressure, negative moods and behaviors, safety issues, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression.
In addition, sleep is essential to mood, memory, creativity, immune function, cognitive performance, and weight management. Each brain has optimum hours of sleep that it needs on a daily basis. Infants generally require about 16 hours, teenagers 9, and most adults 7 to 8. To figure out how much sleep your brain needs, guesstimate how much sleep that might be. Seven hours? Eight? Then get more than that for several nights in a row. Eventually, your brain will wake up spontaneously when it has had enough.
Cheating on the amount of sleep you get—successfully—is a myth. You may ‘get by’ on less for a while, but eventually your brain and immune system will have to pay the piper. Figure out the optimum amount of sleep for your brains and to adopt a sleep-smart lifestyle along with a Longevity Lifestyle.
The bad news of sleep deprivation doesn’t stop. Sleep deprivation alters your hormonal balance. Your body releases more cortisol (stress hormone) and ghrelin, the hormone that increases appetite and less leptin (the hormone that tells you to stop eating) is secreted. Over time this can result in immune-system changes, insulin resistance, decreased energy expenditures, and weight gain.
Click on the link to download the form to track your number of sleep hours. After you have tracked your sleep hours for two weeks, you will find it typically represents your brain’s optimum sleep needs, believed to continue throughout adulthood.
Click to download Sleep Log Form as a pdf file.
Below are several strategies if you find yourself sleep deprived. Find more strategies in the Longevity Lifestyle book.
- Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Maximize sleep benefits by keeping weekday and weekend sleeping routines as similar as possible.
- Train yourself to associate specific restful activities with sleep (e.g., warm bath or shower, reading) and make them part of your bedtime ritual.
- If you lost an hour of sleep the night before, get in a 15-minute power nap the next afternoon.
- Develop relaxation techniques to quiet a racing mind. Practice them at bedtime or when awakening during the night.
- Eat protein for lunch rather than dinner. High-protein foods in the evening can disrupt your brain’s ability to produce serotonin, the mood-regulating chemical that also helps you sleep.
- Get physical activity during the day. When your muscles are tired, they push you to sleep. About half an hour before bedtime, stretch out your arms the way you did as a child.
Sharlet M. Briggs, PhD
Arlene R. Taylor, PhD