Sleep is essential to health. Adults need 7-9 hours of restorative sleep. But it’s not enough to just sleep eight hours. Quality of sleep is important as well.
What sleep does to restore us is based on our response to stress and our autonomic nervous system. This system is about the balance of our sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. Sympathetic provides our fight or flight response. This elevates our heart rate, our blood pressure and the stress hormone cortisol, so we can get out of danger. The parasympathetic is our rest and digest system. This system lowers blood pressure, heart rate and mobilizes our gut. Both systems should be equal and active to keep us in balance. Sleep is our part of our parasympathetic and recharge system.
1 – Detoxification:
Our brain detoxifies while we sleep by sweeping up all the toxins from the chemical reactions in our brain. Glutathione is an antioxidant in our body made in the liver. Decreased sleep leads to decreased glutathione, which leads to chronic illness.
2 –Hormone balance:
Sleep debt results in decreased growth hormone. This hormone grows bones, and helps heal our injuries. Sleep debt affects our body’s ability to grow and heal.
3 –Glucose control and (4) Control of blood pressure:
Cortisol is our stress hormone. Some stress is actually good for our body. We need some cortisol to get us out of danger — as in fight or flight. However, persistent elevation of cortisol is a problem. When we stress our bodies with poor sleep, our bodies maintain high cortisol levels. Cortisol also serves as our wake up hormone. It peaks in the morning and goes down as the day goes on. When we do not get adequate, quality sleep, cortisol levels go up at night, which actually causes our sleep habits to worsen. Poor sleep leads to more poor sleep, keeping cortisol levels from changing as they should. Sustained, increased levels of cortisol cause elevation in our morning glucose, as well as elevation in our blood pressure, which can increase our cardiovascular risk for heart attacks and strokes.
5 –Weight management:
Leptin and ghrelin control our hunger and satiety. Both hormones are disturbed by lack of sleep. This means that we are hungrier with less satiety when we don’t sleep. As a result, we crave foods that are not healthy for us, like high sugar foods. This directly impacts our weight control.
6 – Memory:
Neural pathways to our memory center are directly impacted by sleep disturbance, causing poor memory storage. When we are stressed, cortisol levels are higher. Higher cortisol levels lead to trouble sleeping. Poor sleep results in decreased ability to retain memory.
7 –Risk for certain cancers:
Studies have shown that darkness when we sleep induces the hormone melatonin, which normally peaks at night. Melatonin can protect us from certain cancers. Melatonin is suppressed when we look at our phones or tablets or are working in bright lights.
8 –Manage Immune System:
Sleep disturbance can lead to a suppression of our immune system, which is why we tend to get colds more quickly when we don’t sleep.
Studies have proven that even a decrease in sleep for one night by approximately 1.5 hours can lead to a decrease in alertness and performance the next day. Leave the task and work on it in the morning.
10 — Improved energy:
Restorative sleep leads to a refreshed state. We charge our battery and reinforce the ‘rest and digest’ part of the system.
About Jyothi Rao MD
Dr. Jyothi Rao, MD, ABAAHP, FAARM, has been practicing medicine for the past 16 years. She received her Doctorate of Medicine from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and completed her residency at New England Medical Center (Tufts) in Boston. She heads the holistic medical practice of Shakthi Health and Wellness Center, located in Mt. Airy, MD. She is certified inMedical Acupuncture from UCLA as well as certified in Cardiopulmonary Stress Testing, a personalized assessment of cardio and pulmonary disease. In addition, she is Board Certified inInternal Medicine and in Anti-Aging Medicine. She is an Instructor at Maryland University ofIntegrative Health. Dr. Rao appears as a medical expert in the TOP Interviews that can be seen on, Fox News, CNBC and other television networks. She lives in Elliott City, Maryland. Her book Finding Balance: Empower Yourself with Tools to Combat Stress and Illness is out now.