Studies have linked short, sleepless nights with an increased risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. For example, fewer than 6 hours of sleep per night has been shown to increase low-grade chronic inflammation and insulin resistance, two metabolic processes associated with the development of those health conditions, and a worsening of general health and well-being.
Insufficient sleep can slow muscle recovery, impair insulin sensitivity, increase cortisol levels and even mess with your appetite-suppressing hormone, leptin. It can also lower your serum levels of testosterone, reduce your natural levels of human growth hormone, and kill your cognitive performance.
Our sleep patterns are synched with light exposure. This is what our bodies are adapted for. This natural cycle (circadian rhythm) dictates that cortisol should be high in the morning to give us energy, mental focus, clarity, and be ready to manage daily stressors. As the day progresses, our cortisol levels should taper off and our melatonin levels should increase.
Melatonin is also the first step in a series of metabolic reactions that lead to the production of many hormones, including cortisol and sex hormones. Ever felt a loss of libido after a few bad nights of sleep? It's no wonder. In fact, the most influential factor in your testosterone production is actually sleep quantity and quality.
Here are some easy ways to improve it:
- Turn off electronics: An hour before bedtime turn off your phone, TV, computer, etc. Exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the eye to parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature and other functions that play a role in making us feel sleepy or wide-awake. One study found that exposure to unnatural light cycles may have real consequences for our health, including increased risk for depression. Some have gone as far as only using candlelight before bed.
- Be thankful: Right before you go to bed, jot down three things you're thankful for. Having positive thoughts before bed decreases stress levels even more. This is really powerful.
- Supplement right: My recommendation for awesome sleep: One serving of ZMA®.