The impact of poor sleep

by | Sep 8, 2023 | Blog, Fitness & Wellness

More than half (57%) of Americans are snoozers, according to a study by French tech firm Withings, with results showing we spend a total of 3.5 months of our lives hitting the snooze button.

How many times did you hit snooze this morning? Go on, say it out loud! 

You started your day late, again, and you’re left wondering, “Why can’t I just get out of bed? I just don’t have the discipline.” 

The truth is, it’s nothing to do with discipline. You’re just not getting enough sleep. 

As well as starting off your day rushed, lack of sleep and hitting the snooze button five times could be one of the underlying reasons you cannot shift the extra 20lbs, despite solid nutrition and a balanced fitness schedule. The impact of poor sleep is significant.

According to Dr. Jennifer Martin, “sleep is a biological necessity akin to drinking water”. It’s necessary and required and without it, your health and wellness will suffer.

The Three Factors That Impact Sleep

System #1: Sleep Drive

The first biological system that impacts sleep is called the Sleep Drive. Simply, the longer you’re awake, the more likely you are to fall asleep, and most people need about 16 hours of wakefulness to get adequate rest. A neurotransmitter called adenosine lowers your brain activity and makes you feel sleepy. During your waking hours, adenosine levels rise faster than your brain can clear them. The higher your adenosine, the higher your sleep drive so we need enough wakeful hours to build your sleep drive. While we sleep, however, adenosine is metabolized and cleared from our brains and we need a certain amount of sleep to clear it completely. The result: if we sleep long enough, we wake up feeling well-rested and alert. If you don’t, you will be dragging. 

Problems start to occur when we try to catch up after going to bed too late and  sleep until 10am on a Saturday. Sure, you might wake feeling great because you’ve adequately lowered your adenosine levels, and thus, your sleep drive. But the problem occurs later, when you hop into bed at 10 pm, aiming to get a good night’s sleep before Monday morning. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t fall asleep.

Why? You’ve only been awake for 12 hours. For an adult, this isn’t enough time. Even if you do fall asleep, you might wake up in the middle of the night, having satisfied your sleep need with just a few hours. (Hello, ceiling.)

System #2: Circadian Rhythm

The second process that impacts our sleep is the Circadian Rhythm, which is the 24-hour biological clock that controls how alert you feel. It fluctuates throughout the day, sending out “signals.” These alerting signals can either ramp up and override your sleep drive (keeping you awake) or quiet down and allow you to succumb to it (causing you to feel sleepy). This is  also why we feel sleepy after lunch (which has nothing to do with food, the system just quietens down after eight or nine hours after rising) or why you might get a second wind before bedtime.  

System #3: Fight or Flight Response

The last factor that controls our sleep is our Fight or Flight Response. Yes, that means stress. Modern day stressors like work deadlines, kids grades and credit card debt will keep you up at night. Read more about stress here and how you can start eliminating it today. 

So now that we understand the systems that impact your sleep, how can you get more of it and how does that impact weight loss?

Weight Loss and Sleep

There are still questions around whether lack of sleep causes obesity, or whether obesity causes poor sleep, but we know they go hand in hand. Studies have shown that those who sleep less than 7 hours per night on average gain more weight over a five year period. 

Without adequate rest, scientists speculate that sleep deprivation disrupts the hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin, which results in body fat accumulation. And no one is craving kale when they are tired! When we miss out on sleep, we are more likely to reach for caffeine, sugar, salt and all the processed things for a quick fix. Similarly, a decrease in growth hormone, thyroid stimulating hormones as well as increased cortisol were all noted in studies, which only promotes body fat gains. It’s really the perfect storm. 

Creating A Sleep Schedule

An important tool in getting more sleep into your life is figuring out where you are now. Whether you are in program with us at Wellthy Soul where we track sleep daily, or flying solo, monitoring your sleep for five to seven days will be key in setting yourself up for success. 

Once you know where you are, you can work backwards and figure out when you need to be awake, and take into consideration your “ideal scenario”. Ask yourself, do you want to wake earlier than your kiddos, do you want to coffee in peace to journal, or would you like to exercise before they wake? Let’s say you decide you must be awake and out of bed by 6. 

Count backwards from there. Seven to nine hours is ideal, so let’s shoot for eight. That means lights out by 10pm. 

During the day, try to limit naps and caffeine, even if you are exhausted. It’s a sign that you need more sleep, need to work your sleep routine and will cause even more disruption long term. Workout and eat well consistently, and maybe consider stopping water at dinner if you find yourself waking up in the night to use the bathroom. 

Finally understanding the impact of poor sleep

So take the challenge. Clear your space from distractions and clutter and create your perfect snooze zone. Build your own schedule and work on the skill of sleeping. Your body, its processes and hormones will thank you. The impact of poor sleep is greater than you know.

Sleep tight.