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Sleep: A Luxury or a Necessity?

I have written about sleep and the consequences of sleep deprivation in a couple of previous posts but recently there were three new studies about sleep and its influence on health that  I thought would be worth sharing with you.

The first adds strength to the relationship between sleep deprivation and weight gain. Researchers at the University of Colorado closely monitored 16 young, healthy adults for two weeks in a very controlled environment. At first, all participants were allowed to sleep up to nine hours a night for 3 nights and were provided the right amount of calories to maintain their weight. The participants were then divided into two groups, one that was allowed to sleep up to nine hours and the other was restricted to five hours. After five days they switched. Both groups were offered larger meals and snacks including fruit, yogurt, ice cream and potato chips. They found that even though those sleeping 5 hours burned 5% more calories, they consumed enough extra calories to gain an average of almost two extra pounds.

The second study is actually a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation. The results of the poll challenged a long held belief about sleep and exercise. First of all, the results of the poll did confirm the basic belief that those who exercise regularly sleep better. David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation, summarized the results by saying, “Exercise is great for sleep.” Those who got light, moderate or vigorous exercise were much more likely to report that they got a good night sleep every night or most nights than those who didn’t exercise. But conventional wisdom has been that exercise just before going to bed might stimulate your metabolism, “rev you up” and make it difficult to fall asleep. The results of the poll, however, suggest that exercise, including brisk exercise, even shortly before bed time improves sleep. So as you have no doubt heard here many times before, any exercise, at any time, is better than no exercise.

The third study might prove to be one of the most significant studies ever done looking at the relationship between sleep and health. What has been clearly established is that sleep deprivation is bad for our health. What this study focused on is why. The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that sleeping less than six hours a night will affect the activity of up to 700 different genes, genes that control or influence metabolism, inflammation, immunity and stress. To learn more about the findings of this important new study check out this video.

We can no longer afford to think of sleep as a luxury, it is time to give sleep its due as an essential health behavior having as big or bigger an impact on health as eating right and exercise.

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