When people think about what to do be healthier or to get fit, some obvious things spring to mind. People think of diets – either eating less or eating a more balanced and nutritious diet. They think about gyms, jogging or taking up a sport.
But one thing often gets overlooked. And, along with nutrition and exercise, it’s one of the pillars of a healthy lifestyle… sleep.
You cannot underestimate the importance of getting enough sleep. Here’s why:
Lack of sleep can make you fat
Lack of sleep is strongly linked to weight gain. In fact, it’s one of the strongest risk factors for obesity. People who sleep less tend to weigh more. In simple terms, if you want to lose weight then getting enough sleep is crucial.
Sleep less and you will eat more calories
One of the reasons why lack of sleep contributes to weight gain is that sleep deprivation disrupts appetite hormones. This mean that people that sleep less tend to have a bigger appetite and end up eating more calories.
Poor sleep causes higher levels of ghrelin – the hormone that stimulates appetite. It also lowers the levels of leptin in the body. This is the hormone that stops you feeling hungry.
Sleep well and you reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke
People know the effect that a poor diet can have on your health, but sleep quality can also affect the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease. Studies have shown that people who get less than 7 or 8 hours of sleep per night have a much greater risk of stroke and heart disease.
Lack of sleep increases the risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Sleep doesn’t just increase your chances of suffering from a chronic disease. Lack of sleep can cause the symptoms of pre-diabetes. If this is combined with a poor diet, then the chances of Type 2 diabetes forming are significant. Those that regularly get less than 6 hours sleep a night are at a great risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Poor sleep is linked to inflammation
Lack of sleep can cause inflammation of the digestive tract. This can cause inflammatory bowel disorders such as Crohn’s disease. People with pre-existing conditions often see improvements if they regularly get enough sleep.
Lack of sleep is linked to depression
There is an undeniable link between poor sleep quality and various mental health issues, such as depression. Studies have shown that as many as 90% of people who suffer from depression also complain of poor sleep quality. This is often linked to sleeping disorders, such as insomnia – but the association between lack of sleep and depression is clear.
Sleep improves your immune system
Studies have shown that people who get less than 7 hours of sleep a night are almost three times more likely of catching a common cold than people who get 8 hours a night or more. Lack of sleep impairs your immune function. If you often find yourself developing colds, making sure you get at least 8 hours sleep a night is one of the best preventative measures there is.
A good night’s sleep improves concentration and productivity levels
If you want to perform highly at school, college or work, then a good night’s sleep is a must. Sleep is important to various aspects of brain function. These include productivity, concentration and cognition.
Sleep improves your ability to interact socially
We interact more successfully socially when we are getting enough sleep. Research shows that poor sleep lessens the ability to recognise signs of anger and happiness in others. We miss important social cues when we are sleep deprived.
Sleep improves athletic performance
It’s widely accepted that those who exercise more tend to feel more energised during the day. Similarly, if you sleep well you will find that your speed, reaction times and mental alertness are all improved.