We all love it and hate ourselves when we don’t get enough of it.
It is without a doubt that sleep is essential in our lives and I am willing to bet that all of you know how important it is. Heck, we’ve been nagged by our moms to sleep early since we were toddlers! And you know what? Mom is always right, well, mostly right. I’m not going to turn this article into one that makes you feel like your mom’s nagging at you. Instead this article will highlight the importance of sleep and what the absence of sleep can do to you.
We all feel like we can dominate the world after a good night’s rest. However, there are those that have adapted to their poor sleeping habits and feel completely fine with the lack of sleep, usually after 50 cups of coffee. If we lack sleep, our cognitive output (mental focus) is reduced and we display similar patterns to those who are undergoing depression; probably explains the zombie-like effect that lack of sleep induces.
But before jumping to the effects sleep (or lack of it) can have on us, let’s briefly talk about the stages of sleep.
Stage 1: This stage begins when someone falls asleep. This is the transition point from being awake to light sleep.
Stage 2: This is light sleep and when the body begins to actually “sleep”. Body temperature starts to drop and heart rates begin to slow down.
Stage 3: This is another transition phase from light sleep to heavy sleep.
Stage 4: This is when heavy sleep occurs. Weird stuff like bed wetting and sleep walking can occur during this stage.
REM sleep: This is the deepest stage of sleep. This is when you dream and the body is completely paralysed just so you don’t jump down a cliff thinking you are superman when it is only happening in your dreams.
Now we have a rough understanding of the stages of sleep, let’s move on to how sleep affects us.
I will not just focus on how sleep makes us feel, but more on how sleep affects the functions of your body and the things that happen “inside”.
Sleep and Fat Mass
There are studies that shows the correlation between sleep and fat mass. This relationship shows that the more deprived you are of sleep, the higher the chances of gaining weight. This is not a direct causation. I theorise that the longer you are awake, the higher the chances of you eating something, which will cause an increase in caloric intake.
What is interesting is that sleep-deprived people on a calorie restricted diet lost more lean mass compared to fat mass. In simple terms, you could be losing more muscle instead of fat even though weight loss is present. This could be affected by hormonal changes in your body.
Sleep and Hormones
The reason why sleep plays an important role in both our performance and our physique is due to the hormonal changes that take place in our body.
Adequate sleep makes our hormones happy while a deficit will turn our hormones into the hulk. You won’t like them when they are angry.
Subject 1: Insulin
The first hormone that will be affected by sleep would be insulin. For the sake of simplicity, the function of insulin is to regulate blood sugar and is important especially to the population who have diabetes. Research has shown that too much or too little sleep causes insulin resistance and insulin resistance will lead to higher chances of fat gain. So too much sleep is not necessarily a good thing. One should aim for 7-8 hours rest
Subject 2: Cortisol
The next hormone I would like to touch on would be cortisol. Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone because it is present when we are stressed or feeling like poop. It is also higher in the morning and lower at night. The increase of cortisol in the morning is what actually wakes us up and is probably the reason why you shouldn’t mess with someone who just had a bad night’s sleep. Lack of sleep will also cause an increase in the total amount of cortisol secreted throughout the entire day. Too much cortisol results in muscle loss, crankiness and unnecessary stress; all of these are bad for your body.
Subject 3: Ghrelin and Leptin
Ghrelin and leptin are two other hormones that are affected by sleep. The reason I’m pairing them together is because they play a similar function; they regulate hunger. Leptin is the hormone that causes you to feel satisfied after eating while ghrelin triggers hunger. Sleep deprivation causes an increase of ghrelin and a decrease of leptin. This means you get a double whammy of feeling hungry and not feeling satisfied after you eat which may cause you to consume more food hence leading to weight gain. Talk about double trouble.
Subject 4: Testosterone
Testosterone is an important hormone especially in the male population and those wanting to gain muscle. Before females label this section as irrelevant, let me say that testosterone plays an important role for females as well. A healthy level of testosterone in females is needed for the production of strong bones, robust muscle and is crucial for a woman’s sex drive. Yes, you read that right, testosterone is important for both the male and female libido. It also has a protective effect on the heart because it reduces inflammatory proteins that can cause heart damage. It is shown that a reduction of 10% - 30% of testosterone can be seen in the sleep-deprived population and effects can be more profound if a complete absence of sleep occurs within 24 hours.
So men and women, to be good in bed, you actually need to spend more time in bed— sleeping.
Subject 5: Melatonin
Before I overload you with too much science, this is the last hormone I will be talking about.
This hormone is called Melatonin and is by far one of the most important hormones when it comes to sleep. Melatonin plays an essential role in regulating sleep patterns and people who lack melatonin are those who have difficulties sleeping. Aside from regulating sleep, melatonin also plays a role in keeping our bodies healthy. Melatonin possesses anti-oxidative properties which shield us against carcinogens that can cause cancer. Melatonin enhances our immune system as well. This immune system enhancing effect can be seen lacking especially in those who burn the midnight oil to rush for exams or complete some work. These people would usually fall sick soon after for the next couple of days.
Besides the fact that I’ve been training regularly, I think that having good sleep has kept me sick-free for nearly 3 years straight.
That’s it for Part 1. I hope that after reading this you have a brief understanding on how sleep affects the way our bodies function. Look out for Part 2 where I will provide practical steps that you can implement to ensure that you get enough sleep.