Is your diet nailed in but you are still having some health issues?
Are you having trouble losing weight, despite nutrition changes or lots of exercise?
Do you ever crave sugar or carbohydrates, especially at night?
Do you have an afternoon slump and a huge second wind in the late evening?
If you said yes to any of the above, chances are that your sleep (or lack thereof) is sabotaging your health and it could be the missing link between you and your goals.
We’ve all heard how important sleep is, but it turns out that it is likely even more important than we thought.
I recently read the book Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival, which though poorly written in parts, has a lot of good information on the science behind the importance of sleep. I’ve also gotten about 20 emails in the last week from readers who have an almost-perfect diet but still are struggling with weight, depression, skin issues or other problems… so I decided this post was well overdue.
It turns out that lack of sleep impacts your health (and your heart disease and cancer risk) just as much as a bad diet or constant exposure to toxins.
A report published by the CDC 11 years ago showed some fascinating evidence linking lack of sleep to cancer. The study reported that profoundly blind women had less than half the breast cancer risk of women with normal vision and profoundly blind men had less than half the risk of prostate, lung, colon and other cancers as normally sighted men.
Even more interesting, this reduced risk of cancer was not present in those who were legally blind but could still see light.
This led researchers to investigate the link between exposure to light (especially after the sun has gone down) and rates of disease.
Further studies revealed that night shift workers have higher rates of many diseases and that blue and green types of lights (from computers, TVs, alarm clocks, mobile phones, etc.) are the worst offenders.
The hormone Melatonin is secreted by the brain during night-time hours and when a person is sleeping. Melatonin also happens to be one of the body’s most powerful antioxidants.
When a person misses even a few hours of sleep, Melatonin levels decline sharply, which can lead to an imbalance of many other hormones. Proper melatonin balance is especially important for keeping estrogen in check as it reduces estrogen production in the body.
This link between estrogen and melatonin helps explain why the correlation between lack of sleep and reproductive cancers is so strong. It also shows why proper sleep is absolutely vital for maximum fertility and healthy reproduction.
As one study showed:
Two groups of laboratory rats were injected breast-cancer-causing agents. One of the two groups was injected with Melatonin – sometimes called the hormone of darkness. Studies showed that the melatonin in the rats prevented them from getting breast cancer; the other group of rats that did not receive melatonin was not prevented from getting breast cancer.
Since estrogen in the body also promotes fat storage, this also helps explain the link between lack of sleep and weight gain or inability to gain weight.
Lack of sleep also interferes with insulin levels and makes the body crave carbohydrates and sugars. This makes dieting difficult to impossible and often causes weight gain.
Light During Sleep
It turns out that even if you are getting enough sleep, having lights of any kind in the room can still lower Melatonin levels enough to cause problems. Some people are more sensitive to this than others, but for some, having complete darkness is vital.
So cover the windows with blackout curtains, get rid of the nightlight and cover the alarm clock!
How To Get Enough of the Right Kind of Sleep
It’s certainly easier to acknowledge that sleep is important than it is to actually get enough of it (*ahem* speaking from personal experience here as sleep is my biggest health challenge).
If you’re having trouble with any of the above issues or are struggling to reach your health goals, give yourself two weeks and see if getting enough sleep makes a difference.
For the next two weeks, try this:
- Sleep for at least 8.5 (preferably 9) hours a night.
- Minimize or eliminate blue light after dark (TV, Computer, etc.)
- Sleep in complete darkness where you can’t even see your hand in front of your face (no clock light, nightlight, etc.)
- Cover windows with blankets or blackout curtains
- Sleep with the temperature below 70 (68 is optimal) for optimal Melatonin production (Bonus: you save on your heating bill)
- Be in bed before 10 pm if at all possible
- Avoid caffeine after 2 p.m.
- Drink some chamomile tea or other relaxing drink to help fall asleep if you have trouble adjusting
Here are some additional tips to help improve your sleep.
Do you get enough sleep? If not, will you take this two week challenge? Tell me about it below!