Updated: Sep 5, 2020
Unless you are a member of a very rare group of individuals genetically able to survive on less sleep, you need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Here are a few of many reasons why:
The brain has its own lymphatic system, known as the glymphatic system, and it is active during sleep. This helps clear the metabolic waste of the day. Ever wonder why you have a foggy brain after a poor night’s rest? Here’s your answer.
Lack of sleep increases ghrelin, your “I’m hungry” hormone and decreases leptin, your “I’m satisfied” hormone. Increased BMI is found in people that chronically sleep fewer than 7 hours per night.
Sleep allows for normal cortisol output. Cortisol is our stress hormone and is highest in the morning and lowest at night, unless it’s not being secreted optimally. Cortisol also happens to increase blood sugar; therefore, increasing insulin and muffin top fat accumulation. Cortisol also inhibits collagen, that lovely protein that keeps skin elastic. Too much cortisol means faster aging of skin.
You release human growth hormone during sleep, which builds muscle mass, skin thickness, and bones.
Here are a couple natural ways to improve sleep:
If you have insomnia coupled with a coffee/caffeine habit, you may want to take some time off the sauce. Try weaning yourself off coffee and take 3 weeks completely caffeine free to assess whether sleep improves.
Speaking of sauce, if you have an alcohol habit, you will likely want to abstain for a period of time if not for good. Alcohol disturbs sleep by prompting your body wake up once it’s cleared from the system.
If you wake in the middle of the night and cannot sleep, try alternate nostril breathing. You need not use your fingers, just imagine: inhale left, exhale right, inhale right, exhale left. Allow the exhale to be slightly longer than the inhale, inhale to a count of 5, exhale to a count of 7. See my blog on breathing to learn how it can help us decrease sympathetic (fight/flight) dominance!
Sleep hygiene practices such as going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time everyday in a cool, dark room are always helpful. Google sleep hygiene for more details. Also, look into blue light blocking glasses if you're a night-time screen user - those screens will inhibit melatonin production. Speaking of melatonin - listen to that first yawn or feeling of sleepiness between 830-11pm, that's your melatonin saying "go to bed". If you don't, your body will think you're being threatened, cortisol will increase and you'll have a hard time going to sleep and staying asleep. Ever wonder where that 2nd wind came from?
Eat to your cortisol: Cortisol is highest in the morning and slopes down until we go to sleep. No reason to have sugar at breakfast! Sugar suppresses cortisol output. Have fat and protein instead with a ton of vegetables. At lunch you eat like royalty with larger servings of complex carbohydrates (a.k.a. those with fiber like beans, brown rice, whole wheat), protein and fat, and dinner is lunch but in smaller portions. Have each plate (yes, breakfast too!) with at least 50% vegetables, and choose a wide variety of different colors for optimal nutrition.
1. Jessen, N. A., Munk, A. S., Lundgaard, I., & Nedergaard, M. (2015, December). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4636982/
2. Taheri, S., Lin, L., Austin, D., Young, T., & Mignot, E. (2004). Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index. PLoS Medicine, 1(3). doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0010062
3. Watson, N. F., Badr, M. S., Belenky, G., Bliwise, D. L., Buxton, O. M., Buysse, D., . . . Tasali, E. (2015). Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society on the Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: Methodology and Discussion. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. doi:10.5664/jcsm.4950