T Nation

Health Benefits of Sleep


Analyzing the Health Benefits of Sleep

Many times I encounter people who are telling me they dont need sleep. --I can sleep when I am dead-- is what they say. What they may not know is that if they do not get enough sleep then death may be coming sooner than they think. This is an extreme, but I am stating that a lack of sleep wont just make you reach for that extra cup of coffee in the morning; it may harm your health in more ways than one.

Sleep is the regular state of natural rest observed in all mammals, birds and fish. Sleep is not actually "unconsciousness," but rather, it is a natural state of rest characterized by a reduction in voluntary body movement and decreased awareness of the surroundings. When you are sleeping your body burns fat, builds muscle and builds up your immune system.

The human body is not a machine or invincible, each person is a living organism which needs to repair damaged skin, fight off infections, and burn off a couple pounds from day to day. Sleeping isn't too tough; I make sure I got 8-10 hours. 8 hours is the recommended amount per say but, the number ranges depending on what age you are:

Age Group Sleep Recommendation Poll Findings
(3-11 months) 14-15 hours 12.7 hours
(12-35 months) 12-14 hours 11.7 hours
(3-6 years old) 11-13 hours 10.4 hours
(Grades 1-5) 10-11 hours 9.5 hours


This chart only covers children, but as you can see, younger children need more sleep, whereas older adults need around 8 hours, and even seniors may get less sleep, but 8 hours is a safe bet. Unfortunately you can also see in this March 2004 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation that children are not getting the recommended amount of sleep in any of the age groups.

--Fat Burning

            Sleep is just as important when trying to lose body fat as anything else which I have stated above. When you sleep you are actually burning fat. This is the point in time where you build muscle as well so why not maximize this time and try to get in your sleep? I would recommend at least 8 hours of sleep per night.

Some people need more sleep, once you get older you need less, but as far as fat loss is concerned I would recommend getting in a solid 8 hours. When you are awake you may burn many calories at the moment of exercise but with an increased metabolism, and intense periodic training, you can jumpstart the body to burn calories when you are resting.

            First off, lets think of what fat really is. Fat is adipose tissue or fatty tissue; its the human body's means of storing metabolic energy over extended periods of time. This is important because too many times people think fat is something terrible and unchangeable; this is simply not the case. Fat does serve a purpose and to understand how to lose a little extra fat around the stomach or thighs we need to understand its purpose and what it is actually. The breakdown of fat molecules is also known as lipolysis. 

            During sleep you may encounter ketosis which is a stage in metabolism occurring when the liver has been depleted of stored glycogen and switches to a fasting mode which occurs during sleep, dieting, and during the body's response to starvation. The energy from fat is mobilized to the liver and used to synthesize glucose (a process called gluconeogenesis) from lactic acid, glucogenic amino acids, and glycerol carbon substrates. 

             A diet consideration here is to stay away from high carbohydrate and high caloric foods before bed. I would say 2-3 hours before bed. This is because higher levels of insulin are produced after these types of meals are ingested and if you are not expending energy at this time, then the insulin will take glucose out of the blood and store it into body cells to be metabolized at a later time, in this case fat cells;

So stay away from the high carbohydrate and high caloric foods before bed. In order to deter a catabolic period rather consume a higher amount of protein and good (unsaturated) fats to increase the muscle building effects throughout the night, while you are burning fat.

--Muscle Building

You build muscle when you sleep, not when you're in the gym, so this is when you're actually doing your growing. Since your body has no fuel for eight hours (if you are getting that much sleep), it may start to breakdown muscle tissue in order to use it as fuel, coupled with adipose tissue. This could be a problem and be very counterproductive if you're trying to gain muscle mass.

Sleep is an anabolic state marked by physiological processes of growth and rejuvenation of your immune, nervous, muscular, and skeletal systems. Therefore being awake may be viewed as a cyclical, temporary catabolic state during which you eat nutrients and procreate.

One thing I would do, and recommend to others, is to wake up in the middle of the night and actually have a small meal prepared, a protein shake, some cottage cheese, milk, nuts, fish, as well as a new Nighttime protein which came out last year, which combines whey protein with a Casein protein to create a higher anabolic state while you are sleeping, and not only create this state but to keep it going throughout the night.

Casein protein digests at a slower rate than whey, which is digested rather quickly in comparison. Casein is found in dairy products such as cottage cheese, milks, yogurt etc. This gave my body fuel for the night. Another thing people do if they don't want to be bothered with waking up is get some protein before they go to bed.

Lets say that you lift weights during the day or do any type of resistance training, what you are doing is creating microtears in your muscle fibers being trained, this is also referred to as microtrauma. The repair of these microtears is what is known as muscle growth (anabolism) because the muscle grows back larger and stronger to prevent future microtrauma.

--Sleep Deprivation

A 1999 University of Chicago team led by Eve Van Cauter limited a group of lean young men to four hours of sleep for 16 days. The subjects showed decreased levels of leptin and increased levels of cortisol. The subjects also increased their daily caloric intake by 1,000 calories. The team discovered that the subjects' insulin and blood sugar levels resembled the impaired glucose tolerance of prediabetics; this was an indication that they were no longer properly processing carbohydrates. Studies have also linked sleep deprivation to an increased incidence of obesity.

At Harvard Medical School, researchers have identified associations between sleep deprivation and illnesses ranging from hypertension and heart attacks to cancer. Poor sleepers generate increased levels of stress hormones and show more inflammatory changes in the walls of their small blood vessels, both of which contribute to elevated blood pressure. In another example;

Because of their exposure to light at night, night-shift workers produce less melatonin, a hormone which not only promotes sleep but has been shown to prevent some types of cancer as well.

Experiments on sleep-deprived medical trainees, for example, have shown them less able to interpret EKGs and x-rays than their well rested peers. As late as early 21st century people thought that too little sleep could be fixed per say by "paying back the sleep debt," for instance catching up on weekends, etc. However, recent studies have shown this to not be the case.

After a prolonged period of awareness, average humans can sleep comfortably for as long as about 14 hours in row, any amount over that has no effect for your health. Sleeping over it causes dizziness, lack of muscular control, numbness and several other symptoms often confronted with too little sleep. This is why many times when you get too much sleep you may wake up feeling more tired than when you went to bed.

Sleep deprivation can impair the restructuring of memories before they are stored and even be fatal in extreme instances. Adequate rest and a properly functioning immune system are closely related. Sleep deprivation hurts the immune system by lowering the blood levels of specialized immune cells and important proteins called cytokines, resulting in an increased chance of infection.

We can begin to understand why sleep is so important if we see it as a necessary anabolic restorative state for organisms.

	--Methods to Improve Sleeping

o Decrease the light levels in the sleeping environment. Studies have indicated that the brain has a separate neural pathway to the optical nerve, separate from the visual path, to detect whether it's day or night. This detection system could have a direct effect on successful sleep inducement. Other studies have shown sleep inducement is increased by reducing the light level where you sleep.

o Setting a quiet time, approximately 30 minutes before bedtime no computer, video games, office work, housework, or other stressful, or mentally stimulating activities.

o Reading, watching TV or other light mental activity at bedtime.

o Warm milk contains tryptophan, which can help relax the nervous system and cause drowsiness.

o Getting up to do some quiet activity or slowly walking around until feeling tired, if one does not fall asleep in bed after 20 to 30 minutes.

o Make sure one's sleeping posture is comfortable and provides enough support, especially for the lower back and spine.

o Quiet slow paced simplistic music can also help you sleep. Audio products are in stores to help with this; For instance CDs of nature sounds.

o Avoid using the bed for activities other than sleep, to maintain an association between getting into bed and sleeping.

o Avoid certain drugs (e.g., cocaine and Ritalin), which are stimulants and can adversely affect sleep.

o Avoid coffee, tea, soft drinks and beverages containing caffeine.

o Inducing an orgasm before bed. The refractory period, more so seen in men than in women, is highly influenced by the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin in this case serves various anti stress functions: such as reducing blood pressure, cortisol levels, and reducing anxiety --which may help you sleep easier.

o Decrease in body temperature can also help. Studies have shown that lowering body temperature helps you sleep easier.

o Avoid vigorous physical activity and exercise for a few hours before bedtime.

o Avoid excessive stress and worrying, especially in the hours just before bedtime.

? "When Kids Don't Get Enough Sleep, Parents Suffer." Survey: Children Aren't Getting Enough Shuteye. 30 March 2004. National Sleep Foundation. 26 Dec. 2005
? Gottlieb, D. J., Punjabi, N. M., Newman, A. B., Resnick, H. E., Redline, S., Baldwin, C. M., et al. (2005). Association of sleep time with diabetes mellitus and impaired glucose tolerance. Arch Intern Med, 165(8), 863-867.
? Fouad, M.D., Dr. Tamer. "A new study sheds light on the importance of sleep on mental performance." Sleep importance - The Doctors Lounge(TM). 9 Feb. 2004. The Doctors Lounge(TM). 26 Dec. 2005


? "Approaches to better sleeping." Sleep- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 26 Dec. 2005 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep.

By: ~Brian Strider