It is pretty well understood that getting enough sleep is important to our overall health, yet many of us push ourselves to the limit.
We are often too preoccupied with our hectic lives to get enough sleep. Many of us also tend to fail to recognize the importance of combining adequate sleep with a regular sleeping routine. Having a sleeping schedule that is all over the place can be detrimental to our overall physical and mental health.
What Controls Our Sleep Cycle?
Our lives and our sleep habits are naturally governed by circadian rhythms, which is the natural biological rhythm our bodies follow in a 24-hour cycle, letting our bodies know when it is time to sleep and when it is time to be awake. One thing that controls our circadian system is the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a tiny region of the brain located directly above our optic chiasma. We get environmental cues through our optic nerves that trigger our SCN. When our eyes begin to take in less light, the SCN triggers the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Our ancient ancestors would get this same trigger with the setting and rising of the sun, signaling to their bodies when to sleep and when to wake. The presence of the sun naturally helped to keep our ancestors on a natural circadian rhythm.
Light, Disruptions and Electronics
With the invention of artificial light and its increasing use, especially with the increasing use of artificial light from electronic devices, such as smartphones, our circadian rhythm is constantly being effected. This can have damaging effects to our mental and physical health.
A study shows that the disruption of our circadian rhythm, which is often disrupted by late-night activities, shift work or frequent jet lag, has been linked to health issues such as metabolic disturbances, obesity, metabolic syndrome, other chronic conditions, diabetes and mental disorders.
Research suggests that disruption or alteration of the circadian rhythm, brought on by the lifestyles and lighting conditions of the modern world, can lead to a wide range of mood disorders, such as impulsivity, mania and depression, as well as the loss of internal temporal order and neurobiological and behavioral dysfunctions. This happens as a result of the altering of hormones, such as serotonin, noradrenalin and dopamine.
Sleep and Metabolic Regulations
Disruptions and alterations of our sleep cycles, especially when related to an internal biological clock, also alter our feeding times and the way our metabolism works. It has been noted that people who regularly get too little sleep or too much sleep are more at risk for type 2 diabetes, as well as developing a higher risk for a night-eating disorder. One reason was because an altered sleep/wake times increase the range of circulating leptin, the satiety hormone, with the lowest leptin levels occurring upon wakefulness. When we are low on leptin, it tells our body that we are need to eat to replenish our fat storage, as if we were going into starvation mode. This causes us to overeat.
Steps to Overall Health and Getting Enough Sleep
Understanding why sleep is important to our overall health is the first step in understanding how to live healthier. Sleep controls so many of our essential functions that ignoring it not only can make your health journey difficult but can put your long term health at risk. Committing to getting enough sleep each night, is the second important step. That means, realizing that choosing a workout over enough sleep hurts you more in the end than just rescheduling your workout. The same goes for overcommitting your day, and sacrificing sleep to “get a little extra done.” Putting sleep first puts your health first.