Better sleep is powerfully associated with better health. Time spent sleeping is far from wasted time, particularly as there are some bodily processes we need that only occur during sleep. Good sleep is associated with a better ability to manage digestion and less storage of fat and carbs (i.e., you can burn fat better if you sleep enough). We need good sleep to maximize the secretion of hormones like growth hormone that helps us repair our bodies and improves our metabolism. For example, recent research shows that sleep is critical for the body to be able to repair and create myelin, the protective covering for nerve cells. When people are asleep, the body produces double the number of cells that give rise to myelin than when people are awake.
Sleep quality and quantity is even associated with coronary artery calcification (calcification occurs when the inner lining of an artery develops plaque, a marker for coronary heart disease). Moreover, the duration of sleep relates to things such as how glucose is used and regulated in the body, blood pressure levels and weight gain and loss. All of these above variables are also related to heart disease risk factors. In a study of participants with no detectable calcification at the beginning of the study, sleep and artery calcification were measured at baseline, and then again five years later. Study participants who slept longer had significantly less calcification in their arteries. The “zinger” from this study is that no other variable tracked by the researchers (gender, age, weight, etc.) had more of an impact on calcification—thanks to sleep! The take-home message here is that sleep is crucial; how much you sleep and how well you sleep are at the top of the pecking order when you consider what impacts your health.
In fact, as you realize that your sleep affects your eating habits and your exercise habits (although both of those habits in turn can affect your sleep), establishing a routine that brings you regular quality sleep can become one of your highest priorities. It will certainly make the rest of your health-related behaviors (that’s everything, by the way—your feelings, your communications, how you talk to yourself, etc.!) easier to bring in line with what you intend for your life.
Fixing poor sleep is the sticky part, isn’t it?