Mark Twain couldn't resist joking, “I have never taken any exercise except sleeping and resting.”
While you can't categorize sleep as exercise, you can take it to the bank that getting enough sleep is crucial to your health!
In our fast-paced lives, we often resort to burning the candle at both ends. Thus, sleep time suffers accordingly. The National Sleep Foundation reports that in 1910, the average person slept 9 hours a night. By 2002, that number had fallen to 6.9 hours per night. The foundation also estimates that some 47 million American adults suffer from sleep deprivation, leading to exhaustion, fatigue, and lack of energy. But that's just for starters!
Here are some important health reasons to encourage you to get enough sleep:
When the natural rhythms of the body are disrupted, health suffers and disease increases. In a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers destroyed the part of the mouse brain that controls the body's natural rhythms: sleep-wake cycles, body temperature, hormone release patterns, immune response, and metabolism. Tumors were implanted into these animals and in control groups. The investigators found that tumors grew two to three times faster in the animals whose rhythms had been disrupted.1
A March 2005 study noted the role of circadian (relating to a 24-hour period) disruption from a light-altered environment (such as light at night) and how it can affect circulating melatonin levels and may increase breast cancer risk.2 Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the body clock.
Artificial light at night can be bright enough to halt melatonin production in the pineal gland.
People who work night shifts or are awake in the light during regular sleep hours may be interfering with the body's hormone production. The suppression of melatonin by exposure to light at night is believed to be one reason for higher rates of breast and colorectal cancers.3
This conclusion is well documented. Researchers at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center at the University of Louisville School of Medicine wrote: “stress-related circadian disruption may have negative implications for cancer prognosis.”4
Sleeplessness because of stress can lead to more than bags under the eyes. Dr. Joseph Mercola reported on a study in The Lancet that showed chronic loss of sleep may speed the onset or increase severity in age-related conditions such as type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and memory loss.5
After following 70,000 women in the Nurses Health Study for ten years, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital found that women who slept 5 hours or less every night were 34 percent more likely to develop diabetes symptoms than those who got 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night. Uncertain of why less sleep was linked to diabetes, the scientists suggested that the hormone leptin, which signals the body to stop eating, may be reduced in people who get too little sleep.6
Reporting on a joint meeting of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society, Lynne Lamberg wrote: “Many medical illnesses disrupt sleep and impair alertness …. Improving sleep problems in the medically ill, sleep specialists say, may enhance patients' overall health and quality of life.”7
Have you ever had to work consecutive, back-to-back shifts? Did you get sick afterward? You probably made the obvious connection. Scientists decided to test this common belief that sleep deprivation increases susceptibility to illness.
Sixteen healthy young men were chosen for a study. Ten of the volunteers underwent 48 hours of sleep deprivation-the others maintained regular sleep schedules and acted as controls. Blood samples were taken at 24 and 48 hours and after allowing sleep, at 72 hours. Dr. Zerrin Pelin reported on her findings at a meeting of the American Sleep Disorders. In the sleep deprived, levels of natural killer (NK) cells dropped significantly.8 This study suggested that the decrease in natural killer cells reflected a suppression of the immune response and an increased susceptibility to viral infection. (Natural killer cells are one of the immune system's most powerful weapons against bacterial invaders.)
Here are some suggestions for getting a good night's sleep, naturally!
One of the nicest things you can do for yourself is to take sleep seriously. Don't crowd your day with too many activities and shortchange yourself on sleep. Take the time to relax and get ready for bedtime. Jot down your worries in a journal and let them go! With a little lavender on your pillow, you can forget counting sheep!
Reprinted with permission of Young Living, Lehi, UT 84043