Health Hack #4 - Sleep (pt. 1)
Sleep is both one of the most important aspects of our life and yet easily one of the most neglected. In recent years the spotlight on sleep and its positive effects on our health and longevity has grown larger. Concurrently, the dangerous effects of deficient sleep and its causal links to diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, to name a few, have also become clear. It should be understood that sleep isn’t just one of the pillars that we build our temple of healthy living with, but in actuality it is the foundation that the temple is built upon.
Why do I need sleep?
Two-thirds of people in the world today are underslept, falling short of reaching the nightly quota of 8 hours of sleep. In 1942, a Gallup poll indicated the average person slept for 7.9 hours per night. Today we see this number has eroded to 6.5 hours per night. It’s not hard to understand why we have trended in this direction. The invasion of technology, such as smartphones and computers distracting us for long hours of the night, outside pressures to start work days sooner and end them later, and general stress and anxiety are a few examples.
Quite simply, sleep is Mother Nature’s way of cleansing and restoring our bodies on a daily basis. Sleep’s function in fortifying our immune system is crucial and the shorter your sleep duration, the higher your risk of contracting infections, as well as being more susceptible to a number of cancers. Sleep has a direct link to our cardiovascular health as well. We see this play out in an apparent way two times a year when we practice Daylight Savings Time. In the spring, when we set our clocks forward and lose just 1 hour of sleep we see a 24% increase in heart attacks! A spike in suicide attempts and traffic accidents subsequently follow. In the fall, when we gain just 1 hour of sleep, we actually see a 21% decrease of heart attacks! If there’s one positive surrounding the days getting shorter, it's that we see an increase in our sleep duration.
In recent years studies have shown that one of the most significant lifestyle factors that determine whether or not you are more prone to Alzheimer’s disease is, you guessed it, the amount of sleep that you are getting! When you sleep, your brain undergoes cleansing processes that prevent the buildup of toxic proteins called beta-amyloids which have been directly linked to Alzheimer's disease.
It’s no surprise that sleep is also vital in the learning process. We need to be properly slept both before and after learning something new. The shorter we sleep, the less efficient our brains are in laying down and retaining new memories or skills.
Lastly, a warning for all of you men. Men who sleep only 5-6 hours a night will have a level of testosterone of someone 10 years their senior! Effectively, aging you 10 years in wellness virility.
The list goes on and on with one thing being abundantly clear: sleep loss can affect every aspect of your physiology.
In the spirit of brevity, we’ll leave you this to chew on for now and circle back next week with a list of recommendations for improving your sleep. In the meantime, SLEEP WELL!