Sleep: More Important To Your Health and Fitness Than You Think



Sleep.  Your view on that word may change, depending on your age.  As an infant, it’s just about the only stage of life you knew.  As you grew into a toddler, it’s something you fought tooth and nail.  You only went to bed with your parents physically escorted you to your bed. (Of course you’d drop off to sleep the moment you stopped moving!)

As a teen, you saw it as a way to recover from your all-night internet chats, television binges and . . . well, we won’t even go into what other kinds of activities.

And depending on your age as an adult, you either resent it because it’s cutting into your workload  or you crave it because you’re tired most of the time.  And it’s no wonder that we’re a society obsessed with sleep.  Only one of three of us (that one-third!) receives enough sleep during the average month!  Those statistics, by the way, come from the Centers for Disease Control.

Not only that, but 16 percent of all adults get less than six hours of sleep every night, says the National Sleep Foundation, compared to the seven to eight hours we should be receiving.

No  matter how you view it, sleep is a necessity. And science is only now beginning to realize how important it is to your overall health and well being.

So what is sleep, anyway?

First and foremost, sleep is not only a distinct stage your body experiences at night, it’s also a distinct and separate state of mind.  In this state, your body is deeply at rest, your metabolism slows great, and the mind . . . well, it basically becomes unconscious to the outside world.

The Theories on the Need for Sleep

Sleep is increasingly losing out to other activities, including the television (why are all the best comedians on late at night?), the internet and any number of diversions. But don’t expect that to happen in your lifetime.  Until then, you have to grapple with the increasing problems of sleep.

Today many scientists are even toying with the idea that sleep might not be a purely biological need.  It might simply be a “coping mechanism” that has lingered from our prehistoric origins.  These individuals argue that prehistoric man (and yes woman!) used sleep as a method of seeking shelter from the dangers of night.

The additional value of sleeping at night, the theory states, is that it also conserved calorie expenditure for these hours. In other words, those who espouse this theory see sleep as a mini-hibernation period.

Why sleep?

Chopra just may be on to something with this theory though.  Consider these stunning statistics.  Lack of sleep, we’re now learning, actually places you at a greater risk of developing high blood pressure which can lead to serious cardiovascular problems as well as obesity.  Obesity raises your risk of type 2 diabetes, to name just one disorder.

Still other public health experts explain that not getting enough sleep — or sleeping at strange hours — may place you at greater risk for developing cancer even!

“We’re only now starting to understand how” a lack of sleep can affect health, according to Najib T. Ayas of the University of British Columbia, adding, that the health threat “appears to be significant.”

And the latest studies appear to bear out his ominous warnings.  A large study suggests that the nation’s growing obesity concern is triggered — in part at least – by a corresponding lack of sleep.  How could this be?  This lack of sleep may surface through the disruption of the hormones that regular our appetite.

Just review this one fact alone gleaned from the study:  Out of a sample of 10,000 adults between the ages of 32 and 49, individuals were more likely to be obese if they received less than seven hours of sleep per night.

And this is just one of many studies emerging on this growing research topic.  A study conducted by the Harvard-run Nurses’ Healthy Study has found a connection between a lack of sleep — or the presence of irregular sleep — with a growing risk of colon cancer, breast cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

While some of these results are still being hotly debated in the medical and scientific communities, Eve Van Cauter of the University of Chicago offers this opinion,  Lack of sleep disrupts every physiologic function in the body.  “We have nothing in our biology that allows us to adapt to this behavior.”

One reason for health risk may be that a lack of sleep may place your body into a state of alert, which increases the production of stress hormones.  This in turn raises the blood pressure — right there a major biomarker for heart attacks and strokes. But it may the affects may go even one step further.  Those who are sleep-deprived also appear to have elevated levels of substances in their blood indicated a heightened state of inflammation in the body.  And recently, this has been associated as a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.

Maybe on second thought, you really don’t want to create the science fiction novel where no one sleeps.  It just might be your main characters won’t be around long enough to have that plot take much shape!

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