Why Sleep is the Most Important, Yet Underrated Part of Your Health Regimen

Why Sleep is the Most Important, Yet Underrated Part of Your Health Regimen

To truly understand how it fits into your healthy lifestyle, let's look at what exactly a full night's sleep does for you in terms of improving your fitness and overall well-being.

Eating clean and staying active are widely considered the key pillars of a fit lifestyle, but that leaves out one more crucial ingredient to a fit life: sleep. Getting a good night's rest on a consistent basis is an invaluable part of any healthy lifestyle, and yet most Americans fail to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

According to a 2013 study from Gallup, U.S. citizens currently get an average of 6.8 hours of sleep per night, which is an hour less than they slept in 1942. This lack of quality rest not only has an effect on our levels of physical fitness and health, but is also a key contributor to cognitive impairments.

To truly understand how it fits into your healthy lifestyle, let's look at what exactly a full night's sleep does for you in terms of improving your fitness and overall well-being.

Sleep Helps You Control Your Eating
You might think dieting is simply a matter of controlling what you eat, but if you find this to be too difficult, you shouldn't look at it as a matter of your willpower. Instead, consider your sleep habits. Shape Magazine pointed out an interesting connection based on research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 35 people in the U.S. are considered sleep-deprived, which is roughly the amount of Americans who are obese.

While there are certainly other factors that play into both sleep deprivation and obesity, researchers believe there is a link between the two that is contributing to both problems. Shape also looked at research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine based on a study of two groups of people who were put on the same diet, but had different sleep schedules.

The group that had less rest reported feeling less satisfied by meals and lacked the energy to exercise frequently. These sleep deprived subjects also burned fat at a much slower rate than those who got an adequate amount of sleep. The takeaway is simple here: If you're struggling to stay full after meals and lose fat, you may need to make more time for sleeping.

Sleep Helps You Optimize Athletic Performance
Whether you're a busy professional just trying to get the most out of your time in the gym or you're ready to compete in an athletic event, sleep is a crucial part of reaching your peak performance level. In numerous studies on athletes in different sports, the results were clear: Sleeping makes you a better competitor.

In one study published by the National Institutes of Health, researchers monitored 11 members of the Stanford University basketball team. First, they recorded the team's baseline sleep levels and tracked its performance on activities like shooting a basketball and timed sprints. Next, the team was asked to sleep for longer each night over a two-week period. The results? The players saw a noticeable improvement in their shooting accuracy and sprint speed, in addition to a clear improvement in their overall moods.

Being well-rested can give you a clear edge in whatever athletic activities you participate in, as well as help you get the most out of your workouts.

Sleep Helps Ward Off Disease
Nothing will make you completely immune from disease, but getting enough sleep each night will go a long way toward preventing chronic illnesses. There have been countless studies that link sleep deprivation with serious health problems like strokes, heart attacks and diabetes, to say nothing of the mental illnesses that can come from a lack of sleep, such as depression.

According to the National Institutes of Health, a review of 15 studies aiming to establish a connection between sleep deprivation and negative health outcomes — particularly cardiovascular diseases — revealed that there is a correlation between the two. At this point, it's a well-established truth that failing to get enough sleep can lead to long-term heart health issues.

Don't think that you can get away with a bad sleep schedule for very long. WebMD wrote that one study found that among a group of 10 young adults, disturbed sleep schedules over the course of four days led to signs of pre-diabetes. Losing just a few days' worth of good sleep can have an immediate effect on your health.

Sleep Keeps Your Fat Cells Normal
Shape Magazine looked at research from the University of Chicago and found that your fat cells can actually feel sleep deprived the same way you do when you don't get enough rest. Just as you struggle to focus and do routine tasks when you're tired, your fat cells won't work properly if you miss too much quality sleep time.

The researchers found that after just four days of sleep debt, your body's ability to produce insulin — which is the primary hormone for fat storage — will be thrown off completely. As Shape wrote, when your insulin is functioning normally, your fat cells can remove lipids and fatty acids from your bloodstream. As your insulin resistance increases due to a lack of sleep, your body will produce more insulin that will end up being stored as fat in your liver and other tissues in your body. This leads to noticeable weight gain and can even be a precursor to diabetes.

You could have perfect attendance at the gym and not let one crumb of junk food pass your lips and it will all be for nothing if you aren't getting the right amount of sleep each night. Without it, your ability to control your eating and reach your highest levels of performance at the gym will be diminished, while also making you more susceptible to short- and long-term health problems. If you find that you're not meeting your fitness and health goals, a good way to fix it may simply be to get more sleep.


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