How Much Does Sleep Affect You? 

How Much Does Sleep Affect You Sunday Funday is over and as you prepare for the work week you find yourself yawning.  While it may not seem like a big deal, sleep deprivation can have a profound effect on 3 key areas of your health.  Struggling to lose those last 5 pounds or keep the weight off you recently loss?  Blame a lack of sleep.  Haven’t been in the mood to hit the sack with your partner for some cardio?  Blame a lack of sleep.  Feeling anxious, depressed, or having thoughts of suicide?  Blame a lack of sleep.

While many Americans sacrifice sleep to get in an early AM workout or stay up later to squeeze in a gym session after work, they may be doing more harm than good.  Sufficient rest supports key functions for both weight loss and maintenance.  A good night’s rest keeps the frontal lobe of the brain which is responsible for decision making and impulse control working optimally as well as maintains the body’s ability to process insulin properly and keep cortisol levels stable.   All of which help the body process fats from the bloodstream, help prevent fat storage and lead to healthier choices.  The bottom line when it comes to sleep and weight maintenance is that a sleepy person craves food that lacks nutritional value.  Coupled with a lack of impulse control, it is a deadly combination leading to weight gain.

Fewer than 6 hours of sleep can also affect one’s libido or a lack of interest in sex.  When the body does not receive enough rest, it can decrease the levels of testosterone and dopamine receptors cannot function optimally.  The combination reduces the body’s ability to become aroused.  Aside from lowered libido, sleep deprivation can also cause infertility because it reduces the production of sex hormones in both men and women leading to erectile dysfunction and menstrual cycle disruptions.

Most importantly, sleep deprivation can have a significant impact on one’s mental health.  Researchers are still evaluating the relationship between sleep and mental health, but it appears to have a bidirectional relationship in which a lack of sleep is both a cause and consequence of mental health problems.  What scientists do know is that the brain needs substantial amounts of REM sleep to help the brain process emotional information.  Such a lack of sleep hurts the consolidation of positive emotional content that affects moods.  This can lead to depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and make treating disorders like bi-polar more difficult.  More research is needed to identify the ways sleep and mental health affect one another, but current evidence indicates they have a profound impact on one another bringing new meaning to the colloquial saying “they woke up on the wrong side of the bed.”

Maintaining one’s weight, a strong libido and mental health are all important aspects of a healthy lifestyle.  To help forgo the Sunday night blues and yawns, see below for tips on how to improve your sleep routine:

  • Try to shut down your computer, cell phone and TV an hour before bedtime. They all admit light that can disrupt the body’s natural production of melatonin which aides in sleep.
  • Save the bedroom for sleep and sex; avoid doing work or other activities that can keep the minding running at full speed.
  • Create a bedtime ritual such as a warm shower or bath, reading, listening to calming music or meditating.
  • Avoid heavy meals and alcohol close to bedtime. At the same time, avoid caffeine from soda, coffee, tea and even chocolate which can stay in your system for 5-6 hours.
  • Turn out the lights and invest in room darkening shades if you work night shift as darkness cues the natural release of the sleep hormone, melatonin.

Additionally, there are a variety of ways to track your sleep to make sure you are on target for a restful week.  Much like a report card, many of these trackers can give you nightly account of your “deep sleep”, restlessness, and overall sleep patterns.  Many of these trackers are apps through your smartwatch and phone and can be inexpensive or even free.  Consider “white noise” machines or if you are looking to dive into the high-tech work, there are a variety of noise-canceling earbuds that can also play sounds that range from rain to a low airplane hum.  Investing in your sleep is an investment in your health and can yield rapid results in your overall performance.

Written by Kelly Reising who is passionate about nutrition, fitness, and health. 

Dr. Mc Millan is a Board-Certified orthopedic sports medicine surgeon practicing in the Virtua Health System of south Jersey.  For more information please visit www.drseanmcmillan.com or follow us on twitter @sportsdrsean. 

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