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“Engage” Series Part 1: Get Enough Sleep

You know that feeling you have after a really wonderful night’s sleep? You feel awake, engaged and ready to take on anything life throws your way. Sleep can sometimes feel like a cure-all for your mind and body, and in some ways it is. Quality sleep in the right amount can impact your total health, from your weight to your immune system and your brain function.

So why is it that sleep is so quickly pushed aside when we get busy, are faced with too many things to do in one day or just want to watch one more episode of our favorite show? Here are some reasons you shouldn’t skimp on sleep, plus some tips to make sure you’re getting enough.

Sleep Keeps Your Weight On Track

There are two hormones responsible for making you feel hungry and alerting you to when you are full: ghrelin and leptin, respectively. Sleep helps your body to maintain a healthy balance of them. When you don’t get enough good quality sleep, your levels of ghrelin grow and your leptin levels fall, which makes you feel hungrier than you would when you’re well-rested. In one study, participants who stayed up later and got less sleep consumed significantly more calories than those who called it a night at 10 p.m. and got a full night’s sleep. If you make skimping on sleep a habit, the negative effects could have a damaging impact on your weight.

Sleep also affects your levels of insulin, the hormone responsible for controlling your blood sugar. A sleep deficiency can result in a higher than normal blood sugar level, but remember – you’re in control of your sleep habits and you can choose to get back on track and turn that around. Researchers found that after three nights of catch-up sleep, normal sleepers improved their insulin sensitivity by 31 percent, compared to those who continued to have poor sleep schedules.

Sleep Can Boost Your Immunity

Getting the right amount of sleep can help boost your immunity, whereas sleep deficiency impairs it. One study found that people who get less than seven hours of sleep per night are three times more likely to catch a cold. This impact can even be seen in the efficacy of vaccinations. Compared to people who were well-rested, sleep-deprived subjects in one study had half as many disease-fighting antibodies 10 days after they received a flu shot.

Sleep Improves Your Brain

You can feel it when you wake up in the morning after not getting enough sleep. You’re tired, sure, but your brain is foggy, you’re not thinking right and you’re just not on your A game. This is because sleep affects the way your brain functions. Getting a good night’s sleep can sharpen your decision-making and keep you in control. After a few nights of lost sleep, your ability to function can suffer to a point where it feels like you haven’t slept at all. Lack of sleep impacts your ability to make sound decisions and the lack of impulse control you experience after slacking on sleep for a few days can trigger a meltdown. This is because sleep deficiency weakens the connection between your amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates your emotions, and the prefrontal cortex that is responsible for making high-level decisions.

Tips For Getting The Right Amount Of Sleep

It’s easy to push quality sleep aside. In a constantly moving world, there’s always something more to do and often times getting enough sleep gets put on the back burner. But getting the right amount of high-quality sleep should be a priority. One way to make sure you’re getting the rest your body needs is to put yourself on a sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same times every day. Keep it consistent, even through the weekend. This sets your body’s internal clock.

Spend some time outside every day as well, even if it’s cloudy. This, too, stimulates your body’s internal clock, helping you maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. You get bonus points if you use your time outside to move your body and get in a little exercise. Exercise helps you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly throughout the night. Just make sure you’re not working out within four hours of your bedtime, since this can raise your body temperature and make it more difficult to fall asleep.
For more advice about how to get your best night’s sleep (and reap all of the health benefits), see the Engage section of the Younger In 8 Weeks program on which this post is based.