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Sleep: Get at Least Seven Hours a Night

Written by Cindi Lockhart, RD, LD - Weight Loss Coaching Program Manager

Study after study confirms how important sleep is for our overall well-being and weight.  Sleep is the time when our body repairs and recovers from daily mental and physical stressors. Sufficient sleep is essential for growth hormone production, which we release while we sleep.  Growth hormone is responsible for tissue growth and repair, cell replacement, brain function, vitality, energy, and fat utilization. 

A Center for Disease Control survey of 400,000 Americans found only 1 in 3 people get adequate sleep—classified as seven or more hours of sleep per night.  Many Americans choose to cut sleep short in order to fulfill family, work, and personal obligations.

Quantity and quality of sleep both matter — which means getting to sleep and staying asleep without interruptions.  It’s thought that a primary reason why Americans have difficulty sleeping is our inability to shut off our minds.  This “hyperarousal” of the brain makes resting a challenge.  Other interruptions may include snoring (yourself or spouse), small children or pets, restless legs, or pain. 

Sleep deprivation affects hormone balance.  As we sleep, hormones are released to help regulate appetite, glucose utilization, and metabolism.  So when sleep deprived, hormone production is disrupted, leading to health and weight implications.  Some of the health risks associated with inadequate sleep are obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.  [i] 

The first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 1) reported that getting an average of five hours a night sleep was associated with a 73% increased risk of obesity compared to those regularly getting seven to nine hours. [ii]  In another study, more than 1,000 volunteers averaging five hours of sleep per night were found to produce 15.5% less leptin and 14.9% more ghrelin — hormones affecting appetite. These individuals had greater appetites and food cravings, especially for sweets and salty snacks[iii], regardless of diet or exercise regimens. 

Another study confirmed chronic sleep deprivation led to increased secretion of the stress hormone cortisol, which further increases insulin. [iv]  Both cortisol and insulin halt fat burning and influence body fat storage, particularly around the midsection. 

The following are some practical tips to help get you the shut eye you need to achieve your personal goals:

  • Limit stimulants (sugars, caffeine, alcohol) after noon.
  • Decrease exposure to light, which stimulates cortisol secretion, for two hours. prior to bedtime – this includes overhead lights, television, computer, phones.
  • Try melatonin (3-18 mg) one hour before bed to assist in regulating the sleep/wake cycle.
  • Maintain a set schedule for lights out to help your brain recognize a sleep/wake biorhythm cycle.
  • Meditate before bed.
  • Sip on chamomile tea to help calm the mind.
  • Keep your bedroom as dark and cool as possible.

Share thoughts and ask questions below.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

[i]  Sigurdson K, Ayas N, “The public health and safety consequences of sleep disorders”.  Canadian J Physiol Pharmacol, 2007,  85: 179-183.

[ii] NHANES 1 data reported by Heymsfield and Gangwisch

[iii] Taheri, et al. “Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index”. PLoS Medicine 2004; Dec 1 (3)

[iv] Vgontzas, AN. “Chronic insomnia is associated with nyctohemeral activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis: clinical implications”. J Clin Endo Metab 2001; Aug 86 (8); 3787-94.

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