The Importance of Getting Enough Sleep – Part 1

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

Want to feel better than you’ve ever felt?

Here’s another excerpt from my 10th book, The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

Some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year are:
*Lose Weight
*Get in Shape
*Reduce Stress
*Get Healthier
*Win the Lottery

The Secret of Vigor can help you with 4 out of 5 of the most popular resolution goals, so I’ll be posting excerpts from the book for the next several weeks – so please stay tuned for each installment.

If you simply can’t wait, then you can certainly get a copy at or at your favorite library or bookstore.

The Importance of Getting Enough Sleep – Part 1
Just as you pay little attention to the fact that your heart beats in a regular pattern, so too are you normally unaware of your body’s natural rhythm during restful sleep. But night after night, your body follows a well-worn path into dreamland: Breathing slows, muscles relax, heart rate and blood pressure drop, and body temperature falls. The brain releases the “sleep hormone,” melatonin, and begins a slow descent into sleep. The rapid beta waves of your restless wakeful state in the daytime gradually change into the slower alpha waves that are characteristic of calm wakefulness, or “relaxed alertness,” where you generally want to spend most of your time.

Eventually, your brain drops into the still-slower theta waves that predominate during the various stages of sleep. During a full night of sleep, you normally pass through several stages: Stage 2 (lasting ten to fifteen minutes), then Stage 3 (lasting five to fifteen minutes), and finally to the deepest portion of sleep in Stage 4 (lasting about thirty minutes). Even though Stage 4 lasts only about a half hour, it is the most “famous” portion of the sleep cycle, because it is when you dream and exhibit rapid eye movement, popularly referred to as REM. Your total sleep cycle, from early Stage 2 to final REM sleep, takes an average of ninety minutes to complete.

And, most importantly for people who have trouble sleeping, this cycle repeats itself over and over throughout the night—which means that interruptions can make it harder to get back to sleep, depending on which part of the cycle the sleeper is experiencing when awakened. In sleep-research labs, where alarm clocks, lights, and other interruptions can be banished, scientists have found that the natural duration of these repeating sleep cycles (the “physiological ideal”) is eight hours and fifteen minutes.

The idea of getting more than eight hours of sleep per night may sound great—but what if you simply can’t (or won’t) get that much shut-eye? You could be setting yourself up for numerous health problems, beginning with the fact that your blood-sugar levels will rise. Sleep researchers have shown that getting only four to six hours of sleep per night results in signs of impaired glucose tolerance and insulin resistance. This means that cheating on sleep—even for only a few nights—can put a person in a prediabetic state. These changes in insulin action and blood-sugar control are also linked to the development of obesity and an increase in risk for inflammation-related conditions, such as heart disease.

Poor sleep also contributes to obesity, because it precipitates changes on the hormonal level. Growth hormone and leptin are reduced in people who spend less time in deep sleep. (Leptin is a hormone that plays important roles in regulating appetite, body weight, metabolism, and reproductive function.) When you have less growth hormone in your system, it typically results in a loss of muscle and a gain of fat over time. Reduced levels of leptin will lead to hunger and carbohydrate cravings.

Given all these health impacts, I am continually astonished by how many people think they can just “get by” with inadequate sleep and are then surprised when they struggle with low energy, weight gain, constant hunger, depression, or any of the other problems associated with being “out” of biochemical balance. Thinking that you can “get by” with inadequate sleep is exactly like thinking you can “get by” with a steady diet of Twinkies. If you’re “shorting” yourself on sleep, you are virtually guaranteeing that your biochemical balance will be chronically disrupted, and you are putting yourself in a position of weakness in each of the Four Pillars of Health.

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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