How Sleep Affects Your Health: A Special Report

Sleep has a profound effect on your life. It is the behind-the-scenes arm of the machine that is the human body. Everybody sees how you look during that day and that is due largely to the work that happens when you sleep.

There is a difference between people who get enough sleep and those who don’t. Those who do are definitely at an advantage throughout their day, whether it is dealing with stress or simply enjoying life. Who knew that catching a few Zs could do so much?

For the rest of us who lock the sandman out of our lives, there are consequences. Depriving the body of sleep is not often a decision that we make rationally. Usually we have so much to do that sleep is the first part of our lives that gets the ax. After all, we can catch up later, can’t we?

However, you will soon learn that not only does sleep loss lead to problems in daily life but also to situations that can be life threatening. It is definitely something that needs to be addressed.

So how does sleep affect our lives? It affects our health and wellbeing over time on the good and bad end of the scale. The same goes for the question of weight control. If your weight is out of control, then getting your sleep under control can change things for you in a dramatic way.

Want to hear more? In this report you will learn more than you ever knew before about the science of sleep. Why do we need to sleep? What happens when we do?

You will also learn about how lack of sleep can affect how you act, as well as how you look. Finally, gain knowledge about the health benefits of a good night’s sleep and also naps. They aren’t just for kids. Once you understand how important sleep can be to you, you’ll be running to bed to get your full eight.

What Happens When You Sleep?

The process seems to be shrouded in mystery. You start to yawn; your eyes roll around in your head and then your lids get really, really heavy. Before you know it you are drifting off in a sea of blue. When you wake up you feel better. But, what happened in between?

When you close your eyes, the rest of the body goes to work. There are changes in your body. Your breathing slows down and becomes steady. The metabolism slows down as you are not moving and are not eating to give the body fuel. Brain wave activity changes as you pass through the stages of sleep. We will get to those in a minute.

The main focus of sleep is repair and reconnaissance. Your body goes through a lot of wear and tear during the day. Here's an example of what could happen in a normal day:

Maybe you hit your arm as you got into the car. Eating too fast could have given you indigestion. Too many screaming kids in the car lead you to a headache.

All of these things affect your body externally and internally in some way. Rushing through traffic to get to work when you are late can lead to higher blood pressure, anxiety and irritability. All of it happens so fast that you might not even recognize that it is going on.

The body takes note of all this during the day and then the body goes to work on it when sleep sets in.

That bump could have caused a bruise or a scrape. The white blood cells are ready to go to work. They are dispatched to the site of the problem to fight off any bacteria or other foreign substance that are trying to enter the body.

What about the headache and the rest? When we are under pressure, the body systems can initiate the fight-or-flight stress response.

This puts the body on heightened alert in the event of perceived danger. The body releases adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline causes the heart to race and more blood to pump into the extremities. That means more oxygen to the muscles in preparation for fighting or running like the wind.

This type of stress can also lead to a release of free radicals into the body. Free radicals are a by-product of cellular respiration and also other processes in the body. Free radicals do damage to organs when they bump into cells and steal electrons. These by-products are unstable and need the extra electron. Then, the cells they steal from become unstable and can set off a chain of events such as aging (wrinkles and all that), inflammation, cataracts, as well as cancer and other illnesses and conditions.

The body still tries to repair and restore itself after incidents of stress. Eating foods that contain antioxidants give the body something to fight with. They can use the antioxidants in your food to fight back and neutralize the free radicals and repair their damage before it gets out of hand.

The cycles of sleep can accomplish a lot in eight hours when you get proper sleep.

How Much Sleep is Necessary?

Some people would tell you that they don’t need as much sleep as their other counterparts. Maybe you are a busy mom or dad who thinks of sleep as only a last resort. Well, for the first few days, you may be able to get away with little sleep and feel terrific, but your time will run out.

Experts recommend that the body get eight hours of sleep a night. This is eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. The body goes through its sleep cycles and repairs, destroys and returns your body to a state of optimum balance (as much as it depends on what happens during sleep) to get ready for the next day.

Unfortunately, some surveys have shown that most people get between six and eight hours. And 25 percent only get about five hours of sleep at night. You are at greater risk for health problems that way. In fact, research says that those who get less than eight hours are cutting their life expectancy. If the average life expectancy is around 78, then you could be compromising that by several years when you cut your sleep down to half of what it should be.

Exceptions to the rule are seniors and babies. Babies sleep many hours a day due to the fact that they are growing. Seniors have different sleep patterns due to changes in the body as they age. For the majority of us, however, eight is the magic number.

Power Naps

Children are allowed to sleep during the day. In kindergarten they require it. They may go down hard for that nap but they wake up like new little people.

What about adults? We also need a little nap time in the middle of the day. Power naps are a way to refresh the body and the mind.

After a full eight hours of sleep, you are ready for the day. Most people work for eight hours a day or more. After eight waking hours, the body gets an inkling that it needs a little respite. Most of us ignore that body signal and plough through the rest of the day, but with reduced productivity.

How about a power nap? According to researchers who have studied different aspects of sleep, taking a power nap gives the body enough time to tap into those reserves and make you feel like a new man or woman.

The optimal power nap is between 15 and 30 minutes. Your body can relax and gain some restorative sleep. It seems like a short amount of time but you would be surprised at how much it affects your performance from that point forward.

There is a fine line, however, between too much of a nap and the right amount of time for a breather. Some experts believe that an hour is the absolute limit for a power nap. And realistically, most people don’t have 60 minutes to spare in the middle of their day for a nap.

So, what are the benefits of a power nap?

* Relieves stress
* Increases focus for the rest of your day
* Reduces heart disease risk
* Improves your ability to learn and retain memories
* Boosts creativity

These are just a few of the benefits. Around two o’clock if you feel like your eyes could roll back in your head, give it a try. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Those words that just won’t come to you will jump out of your head after a power nap. Go to your car or put an ‘Out to Lunch’ sign on your office door and catch some Zs.

Five Stages of Sleep

Now that we have talked about the amount of sleep, what happens during sleep and the awesome power of power naps, we will see what happens during each sleep cycle.

First of all, before you ever go to sleep, a process begins that pertains to light. Have you ever noticed that it is harder to sleep during the day than at night unless you are tired? There is a reason for that.

The body secretes a hormone called melatonin. You may have heard of it in conjunction with women and menopause. When hot flashes keep you awake, taking melatonin supplements can make it easier to sleep.

As the sun goes down, the pineal gland secretes melatonin. In your body, you will begin to feel relaxed and the eyelids get heavy. You are not going to fall asleep on the spot, but the die is cast.

Now, we are ready to discuss the stages.

Stage 1 is light sleep. We all fall into this at one time or another - in the car or even at your desk. Because you are not in deep sleep, sounds and other interruptions can cause your body to jerk this way and that. You awake with a start and then fall back asleep several times.

Stage 2 is a deeper level of sleep. Most of the time that you sleep, you are in this stage. You are hard to wake up because your brain activity is slowing down. Your eyes stop moving under your eyelids also.

Stage 3 is a deep sleep stage. The brain is giving off delta waves which are slow, along with faster waves. If you wake up at this stage you feel groggy and foggy headed.

Stage 4 is the second stage of deep sleep. Delta waves take over and the brain activity is even slower. Both stages are needed for restorative sleep.

Stage 5 is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is the stage at which we all dream. It is different from the eye movement in light sleep because you are in a deeper sleep and it is involuntary. Some people remember their dreams in the morning and others do not.

No one knows why we go so deep into sleep or why we dream.

The sleep cycle begins again. Each stage varies in length at the beginning of sleep as you prepare to tuck in for the night. During the later cycles, the deeper cycles are shorter as the body prepares to wake. When the body senses light, melatonin production stops and you are less sleepy.

How Sleep Affects Overall Health

There are two sides to every story. Sleep can be a benefit (we’ll discuss those later) when we get enough. When we don’t, it can be a disaster.

The Loss of Sleep

What causes us as human beings to lose sleep? One of the main causes is our own stubbornness. There, we said it. A project that has to be completed or a last-minute emergency can interrupt your sleep program. If you are used to having eight hours of sleep at night this can make you tired and groggy the next morning.

Stress is a major contributor to loss of sleep. We talked earlier about the fight-or-flight response. When you are constantly coming under fire from unmanaged stress (we did say ‘unmanaged’), the body enters that excited state several times during the day. It is almost like getting an intravenous caffeine shot. Who can sleep in that state?

Stress can also lead to bouts of insomnia and depression. This throws the hormone levels out of whack. It affects melatonin, cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol is the hormone that helps to regulate blood pressure, immune function and the inflammatory response. It is also instrumental in the release of insulin and glucose metabolism.

Sleep Deprivation

Sleep is cumulative. If you miss some today, then the body wants that time back tomorrow. Constantly missing sleep leads to deprivation. Over time, the body is affected by the lack of a proper sleep cycle.

You will experience:

* Irritability
* Lack of focus
* Increase in risk of heart disease (heart attack, failure and arrhythmias)
* Increased forgetfulness
* Loss of sex drive
* Increases in chance of depression

This is only a short list. Your relationships and your productivity will suffer. At work, it will become harder to maintain your previous level of efficiency.

What you once could handle will now be hard to cope with. This can lead to arguments, irrational behavior and mood swings where previously there were none.

Over time, you can appear to others like a person who is under the influence of alcohol. Just like a person who's been drinking, your reaction time and judgment are off. This can lead to an increased incidence of accidents. People who work third shifts and have their sleep cycles reversed from normal are more likely to wreck on the road.

How Sleep Affects Weight

It always has to come into the equation at some point. Even sleep affects weight gain and weight loss. Not receiving enough sleep can lead to weight gain in most people. Here, cortisol comes into play again along with two other hormones, leptin and ghrelin.

Cortisol is a funny hormone. You see it mentioned a lot in those diet commercials. It is secreted more in the morning to help you get up and get going. It helps give your body a kick. That is why breakfast is so important to give the body something to work with for a steady blood sugar level throughout the day.

At night it tapers off as melatonin takes over.

So, when the body is under stress and doesn’t sleep for eight hours or you toss and turn all night, more cortisol is released. This occurs in response to the fight-or-flight syndrome. While you get a quick burst of energy, it isn’t supposed to last for long.

Excess cortisol in the body increases the stores of abdominal fat. This leads to negative effects like imbalances in blood sugar, decrease in muscle tissue, high blood pressure, low immunity, and increases in abdominal fat. No matter how much you are trying to lose weight, your body can be working against you if you don’t get proper sleep.

There are other hormones that also affect your weight when you lack sleep. Leptin (produced in fat cells) signals to the brain that you are full and suppresses your appetite. Ghrelin (produced in the GI tract) on the other hand signals to the brain that your body is hungry and feeds the appetite so that you eat something to keep your metabolism going.

In the presence of a normal sleep cycle, this works just like described above. When you constantly lose sleep every night, these two hormones can become out of whack.

Ghrelin increases when you lose sleep. To your brain, the body is in starvation mode. Cortisol causes you to retain abdominal fat. The increase in appetite leads to cravings for high-fat foods (those that are calorie dense).

When the body thinks it is starving, it wants foods that will give it cushion in case the next meal is not forthcoming. Also, the body will hold on to all of that added weight.

This is not the reason for obesity in the world, but it is definitely something to consider. Those who are trying to lose weight may have considered diet and exercise but skipped over their stress levels and how much sleep they get each day.

Benefits of Sleep

Why We Need to Sleep at Night to Retain a Positive Wellbeing and a Healthy Weight

There are many ways that a full night’s sleep can make the difference between waking up in a good mood ready for the day and waking up stressed. It can also affect how long you may live and if you will be affected by certain diseases.

Sleep encourages healthy blood pressure and lower cholesterol. Heart disease risk increases as you lose hours of sleep.

Along with lower risk of heart disease, there is a lower risk of some cancers like breast and colon if you get enough sleep. Melatonin is secreted in normal levels and can help suppress the growth of tumors.

Stress is reduced. Lack of stress management can lead to all sorts of bodily consequences. Learning to sleep despite stress can be the key to getting it under control. Start there; then, try other techniques like meditation, exercise and behavioral modification to diffuse stressful situations.

Focus and memory are increased. Are you a multitasker? Sleeping all night can help you be the best you can be. Small details won’t escape your notice and you will increase your long and short-term memory.

Sleep helps you to lose weight. The two hormones we discussed above, leptin and ghrelin, operate as normal when you sleep eight hours a night. Your body will signal so that you don’t overeat. Also, you can avoid the cravings for lots of carbohydrates and your blood sugar levels can stay level throughout the day.

Sleep improves mood. Thinking about your frame of mind? Well, if you went to bed happy, you can wake up the same way after a full night of sleep. Levels of neurotransmitters in the blood help to maintain present mood. Lack of sleep lowers serotonin levels which can increase your risk of depression.

Getting Better Sleep

We know that getting a full night’s sleep not only can help us to lose unwanted weight but also can help increase our mood. But, how do you get to that point? Here are some habits to cultivate to get the sleep you need and deserve.

* Keep your bedroom ‘sleep ready.’ This involves hanging room-darkening curtains and maintaining a cooler temperature that is conducive for sleep. Try not to use your bedroom for reading or watching television. It is far too easy to try and stay open to see the cliffhanger of a show instead of going to bed on time.

* Keep a set bedtime. This is doable if you do what you can to stick to it. What time do you get up in the morning? Count back eight hours and use that as the latest time you will get into bed. You can go earlier but try not to go later.

* Have a bedtime routine. Just jumping into bed at the last minute won’t cause you to fall asleep right away. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. Try a warm bath, reading a book (in the living room), meditation or a little snack. This prepares your body to relax.

* Exercise. Working out the muscles helps them to grow more flexible and get warm. A good workout is one of the primers for a relaxing sleep. Just don’t work out too close to bedtime or you will be wired and not too sleepy.

* Don’t eat a meal before bedtime. A snack is okay but a full meal can lead to indigestion and problems sleeping.

These are just some of the ways that you can change the length and quality of your nightly sleep.

So, sleep does have a bearing on how you feel. It also affects your weight-loss efforts. The bottom line: If you want to get the most out of your days (and your nights), aim for a full eight hours of sleep. Your body and your mind will thank you.