One of the most frequent questions I receive from Health Edge readers is:
“Alex, what is the most important step that I can take towards leading a
I never hesitate to respond…sleep.
Getting lots of sleep is the single most important thing you can do for yourself. I have absolutely zero doubt about this.
Let me tell you why:
The Girlfriend and the Buddy
Years ago, while I was still young, I dated a girl named Anna.
Anna used to sleep 10 hours every single night and could
go 14-15 hours on nights when she went out drinking.
I was young and industrious and always gave her a hard time.
She would laugh it off and say how it kept her young and happy.
Now, by our society’s definitions, Anna was a loser. She didn’t do
anything “of value”. She was lazy and we don’t want to be lazy, now
do we boys and girls?
See, thing was…Anna was beautiful and I don’t mean Runway Model
beautiful. I mean The Sun Climbs The Clouds Just So It Can Shine
For Her…kind of beautiful.
She glowed, her laughter made babies stop crying and angry dogs
calm down. She was never under any type of stress, never got sick,
always had boundless energy and seemed to wear a permanent smile.
Enter the buddy…
Steve was a sprinter on his high-school track team, who won All-State
honors his Junior and Senior year. But an injury ended his running career
and he focused himself on computers and technology.
Now this was back when computers were very new, so Steve quickly
became an expert at the forefront of his trade.
By the time we were two years out of college, Steve already had a private
consulting practice and was making six-figures a year at a time when that
meant a whole lot more than it does today!
But Steve was a workaholic, who practically refused to sleep.
He always had to be doing something and in the decades that followed,
he went from svelte sprinter to a very overweight and unhealthy guy.
I ran into both Steve and Anna a few years back.
I hadn’t talked to either for almost twenty years.
They are married now…
They ran into each other at the emergency room.
Anna was there volunteering, trying to cheer people up…while
Steve was there because of his 2nd heart attack.
One smile from Anna and Steve finally saw the light.
“She saved my life by teaching me how to get a good night’s rest.”
That’s a nice story, but most don’t end that way for folks who lack
the right amount of rest throughout their nightly routine.
The Numbers in the Study
We already know that people who sleep less than six hours per night
tend to gain much more weight (and struggle to lose it) than those who
sleep about eight hours per night.
People who are currently, or planning on, dieting should think about
this with even more care. Those who sleep six-hours or less per night
tend to lose LESS fat and MORE muscle while dieting than those who
are able to get at least eight hours worth of sleep per night.
Sleeping is not just a fitness aid, but an appetite suppressant, as well.
Sleep deprivation leads to a 20% spike in leptin, the hormone that
prevents weight loss. Leptin gives the feeling of fulness in the body.
Lack of sleep also boosts gherkin aka “the hunger hormone” by 30%.
Generally speaking, about 40% of us are sleep-deprived. But as it
goes with most modern health problems, it was not always this way.
Half-a-century ago, the typical person slept two hours more than
we do (on average) today! It’s almost like sleep is out of style!
A single hour of sleep lost can add an hour (or more) worth of
stress to the day that follows.
An hour of sleep less per evening can be a contributing factor to
becoming afflicted with diabetes, heart disease, premature aging,
cancer, general inflammation, stress, and pretty much every other
negative effect under the sun. A lack of rest is the most surefire way
to end up in health troubles, so take all of this very seriously, please.
A lack of sleep is also a great predictor for elder pain. I know this from
experience. I wasn’t as bad as Steve, but I was pretty bad myself.
I neglected proper sleep throughout my younger years and woke up
one day to find that everything hurt. Today, I sleep a minimum of six
hours, no matter what. Just this one change improved my life tenfold.
You see, while you sleep, your brain acts like a garbage disposal,
extracting the meaningful events from your day and discarding the rest.
This process can improve your insight by whopping 200% when it
comes to doing insightful thinking and researching data properly.
While you dream, your brain processes information on multiple levels.
This enhances, stabilizes, and integrates new memories, a huge
benefit and anti-aging agent. Meanwhile, lack of sleep leads to
depression…think of those two-to-three hour sleep nights, they
never turned into lovely mornings did they?
Twenty million Americans suffer from some sort of depression and
half of those have insomnia. Scientists once thought that insomnia
was a symptom of depression, but now it looks like it’s actually…
The other way around!
Sleep therapy just may be the best possible therapy for depression.
Tips for Getting Enough Sleep
Spend some time in the sunlight each day.
Studies have shown that exposure to sunlight made people go to sleep earlier than those who were inside all day.
Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
If it’s hot, your body has to work to cool itself, and your quality of sleep suffers.
Darkness makes your body produce more of the sleep hormone melatonin, and puts you to sleep in no time.
Limit your intake of caffeine. Don’t ingest caffeine after 1pm, because it stays in your body for many hours, blocking the brain chemicals that let you fall asleep.
Don’t eat before sleeping.
You need energy for recharging during sleep, and digesting food saps the energy you need during sleep.
Block out noise from your bedroom.
Sounds stimulate your nervous system, thus keeping you awake.
Get some exercise each day, even if it’s just a walk to the store.
People who exercise tend to fall asleep more easily.