Some people need eight hours a night and some claim to only need six or seven hours to feel refreshed, but the fact is we all need sleep just like we need food and water to survive. Lack of sleep, and its prevalence in high-stress lifestyles, is a dangerous thing.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation leads to car accidents, work-related mishaps, chronic diseases and difficulty carrying out daily tasks. Lack of sleep also can influence weight gain, especially in young children whose hormones are fluctuating. A team of sleep experts has gone a step further; they say regular sleep patterns can help you maintain a healthier weight.
The team at Brigham Young University in Utah followed over 300 female students for several weeks. Researchers first examined participants’ body composition, and gave them a tracker to record their activities during the day and their sleep routines at night.
The women who had the “best” sleep routines had healthier weights. They tended to go to bed at a consistent time and wake up at the same time every day. Those whose sleep schedules were inconsistent had higher body fat. Getting less than 6.5 hours of sleep every night, or more than 8.5 hours, was linked to a higher body fat measurement.
While the focus of the study was sleep patterns, the researchers also looked at the quality of sleep the students were getting. Their findings showed a strong link between the effectiveness of the sleep and body fat. Quality counts: Did they wake up during the night, toss and turn, or sleep through, waking up refreshed? The women who experienced a better quality of sleep also had lower body fat.
In our never-ending quest to get things done, we sacrifice sleep. Often school or work gets in the way of people getting the quality sleep they need to rejuvenate their bodies. The lead researcher in the Brigham study has said that throwing off our internal clocks – not allowing our bodies to establish and maintain a regular pattern – goes against our physiology.
We often sacrifice sleep to try to accomplish more, yet this lack of sleep catches up with us and eventually we struggle to reach our goals because our bodies are simply exhausted. According to the study, some of that exhaustion can be attributed to weight gain and the lack of energy that comes along with it.
The problem is widespread. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says between 50 and 70 million adults in the U.S. have difficulty getting enough sleep. The Institute of Medicine continues to encourage more research collaboration among organizations such as the CDC and the National Center on Sleep Disorders to monitor sleep behavior and create public awareness about the issue.
If you’re tossing and turning at night, there are many strategies to rest better. Sleep experts offer the following suggestions: