It’s the golden chalice, we hate it, we love it, but how much sleep should we have and whats the actual effect on our health and our waistline .

Firstly we need to ask the question why do we sleep? it doesn’t really make any sense, from an evolutionary point of view, we are ridiculously vulnerable when we sleep. This i’m sure many of you, like myself have experienced first hand when we have woken up sporting one less eyebrow or a phallus neatly drawn on your forehead in marker pen. You are getting off lightly with these pranks when you consider our ancestors must have laid down at night wondering if they would wake up being mauled by a lion or cuddling an anaconda. So if every other aspect of our being has been carved by the need to survive and yet we still need to take this huge risk.. millions of years into our evolution, it must be pretty important right?

So why do we sleep? and why can’t we do it in quick bursts stood up like a horse? 

Do we sleep to save energy and recover from the day? No we only actually save about 50 calories being asleep for 8 hours over being awake.

Im afraid the answer is no one really knows exactly why we sleep but what is known is just how important it is. We are not alone in this, it is one of the only biological necessities we can’t fully abstain from and neither can anything else in the animal kingdom! from Flies to Elephants everything needs sleep and has a drastic effect on it if it is denied.

However there is a lot that is known about sleep, mainly by studying what happens when we don’t get enough.

So how is your sleep linked to your health and body fat?

Firstly there is the obvious ones that may have already struck you. When you are tired you try and “boost your energy” so you eat more. It is hard for us to really differentiate between physical and mental tiredness so we associate the feeling of tiredness with low blood sugar making us more likely to reach for the dairy milk or sandwich, this in turn is a vicious cycle because the small and short boost you gain from these foods will then lead to you having another crash… so you do the same again… and all of these excess calories get stored. The next pretty straight forward one is motivation.. When you are tired the thought of lacing up the nikes and hitting the pavement seems about as appealing as a romantic weekend in Stains with Vanessa Feltz. All you want to do is get home and put your feet up, understandably. Stress is also a huge factor. When you are tired, you are stressed! you only have to spend a morning with my housemate after he’s had a bad night to see that this is true. When you are stressed your Cortisol levels are higher, Cortisol not only is bad for your heart and immune system in high doses but encourages fat storage – especially around the lower abdomen!

The other pretty well documented benefit of sleep is recovery…. now technically speaking this isn’t so much the sleep, rather the fact you are lying down and not using much muscle. Our muscles only improve/grow/tone when they are resting/repairing. So without adequate rest no matter how hard you hit the gym you will not be seeing the results you desire.

But is there more to it, On a Biological level? 

Yes. A recent breakthrough on a study on 9 “lucky” sleep deprived volunteers has shown that when you are sleep deprived your fat cells actually become less responsive to insulin, what this means in layman’s terms is they are harder to shift.. a lot harder. The study showed that their cells aged by 20 years i.e if you where 20 you would have the metabolic response of a 40 year old etc and unfortunately as we age the metabolism slows down. Here is the study for anyone interested click here

So getting a good nights sleep alone can literally be enough to start improving your body fat %. Not to mention the hundreds of well documented reasons we must sleep. Cognitive function declines dramatically when we are tired, motor skills, reaction times, social skills, higher anxiety levels… the list is endless. Yet we don’t really make that much of an effort to get a full night, we would rather stay up to watch TOWIE on iplayer or play football manager (guilty) or work well on into the night.

The amount of sleep we need is still a matter of debate. Each individual does differ. Too much sleep can also have adverse effects. But we should be aiming at a minimum of 7 good solid hours of sleep every night.

This is one area personally I have to really try hard to work on as a childhood insomniac and someone who finds it difficult to “switch off”

Here is a couple of sleep tips I have come across.. some may help:

  • Don’t go to bed feeling starving hungry (you should never have to feel like this) 
  • Plenty of exercise but none three hours before you want to sleep
  • create a relaxing sleep environment
  • A pre-sleep ritual that tells your body this must be the start of winding down, like reading.
  • try and steer clear of caffeine, nicotine and Alcohol after late afternoon

I actually listen to Audiobooks in a dark room until i feel tired enough to sleep.

So sleep now or forever hold your crease.