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Science of your urgent need for sleep

Getting by on four hours of sleep isn’t a testament to your physical strength and endurance. In fact, insufficient sleep detracts from your overall well-being. Lack of sleep can lead to obesity, increased risk of heart disease, and even early death. Read on to learn about the importance of quality sleep, and what happens when you don’t get it. 278x328_The_Science_Of_Sleep_1

Lack of Sleep Makes You Hungry

Without enough sleep, your appetite increases, encouraging you to overeat and gain weight. Research from Uppsala University found that a single night of total sleep loss in young, normal-weight men resulted in increased hunger. Brain MRIs of 12 normal-weight males revealed that after a night of total sleep loss, an area of the brain that controls the desire to eat showed a high activation level.

Lead author Christian Benedict recommended eight hours of sleep nightly to maintain a healthy weight.

Less Sleep = More Weight

A study that recorded the sleep patterns of 9,000 people indicated that those who averaged only six hours of sleep per night were 27 percent more likely to be overweight than those who slept seven to nine hours. Study participants who averaged five hours of sleep per night were 73 percent more likely to be overweight. The research suggests that sleep may be an important tool for weight control.

Haywire Appetite Hormones

When you are sleep-deprived, your body produces too little leptin, the hormone that tells you you’re full, and too much ghrelin, the hormone that tells you you’re hungry. The next day, your hormones spur you to eat more and burn fewer calories. With all these hormones stacked against you, you’ll likely find it extremely difficult to resist that morning donut or afternoon candy bar.

The Threat of Early Death

Researchers in the United Kingdom and Italy analyzed 16 studies conducted over 25 years, covering more than 1.3 million people and 100,000 deaths. Those who slept for less than six hours a night were 12 percent more likely to experience premature death than those who consistently got six to eight hours’ sleep. These findings confirm an earlier studythat showed that people who reduced their sleep from seven hours a night to five hours or less faced a 1.7-fold increased risk of mortality from all causes.

Sleep Deprivation May Raise Risk of Breast Cancer, Polyps

Here are more reasons to make a good night’s sleep part of your health regimen. A Japanese study found that women who slept fewer than six hours a night had a 62 percent higher risk of breast cancer. Additionally, a 2011 study from Case Western University found that those who slept fewer than six hours a night were 47 percent more likely to have colorectal polyps, which can become cancerous.

Set Yourself Up for Sleep

Prepare for your good night’s sleep with the following measures:

  • Make it comfy. Get the best mattress you can afford, use shades, earplugs, and a fan to create a restful environment. Keep electronics and pets away.
  • Exercise. Physical activity during the day can help you fall asleep faster at night.
  • Relieve stress. If your mind races when your head hits the pillow, keep a journal by your bedside to note what’s bothering you. Yoga, meditation, regular massages, and long walks also may help.

Make Sleep a Priority

The science is clear: getting a good night’s sleep is a key component of good health. Without sleep, our bodies become weary, face increased hunger, and crave unhealthy foods. By following a few simple steps—like scheduling your bedtime and avoiding coffee at night—you will be well on your way to enjoying longer, more restful nights. Remember, sleep is not a luxury—it is a health necessity.

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