The Importance of Sleep

The Importance of Sleep - photo by nikolarakic

It struck me today that I have rarely touched on one of the most fundamental aspects of a healthy lifestyle: sleep. Well, actually, it struck me last night at 2am as I lay awake, staring at the ceiling in bed.

Sleep is one of those precious things we don’t realize we love until we can’t have it, isn’t it? We never love sleep so much as when our alarms go off. That’s the exact moment we say, “I’m gonna go to bed early tonight.”

Why is sleep important?

Sleep is crucial for both physical and emotional health. A proper amount of it improves brain function needed for learning, memory, problem solving, and mood. Sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of depression, heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke. Basically, getting enough sleep is the best thing you can do for your body and mind.

Experts tell us that adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night and perhaps especially if you’re trying to lose weight, getting enough sleep could be the difference between success and failure. Not only does adequate sleep help with mood and energy–which will allow you to make better choices about food and exercise, but studies have shown that your body even burns more fat when it gets enough rest. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that people who got under seven hours of sleep per night lost half as much fat as people who got adequate rest. The sleep deprived dieters also felt significantly hungrier, were less satisfied after meals, and lacked the energy to exercise.

I have struggled with sleep for most of my life. I can fall asleep; I just can’t stay asleep. If you look at a graph of my sleep (thanks Fitbit for more sleep related anxiety!), the periods of restful versus unrestful sleep look like the jagged up-and-down beat of a rap song. If you’re like me, you arrive at the eleven o’clock hour wishing we could fast-forward to morning. The notion of “going to bed” is never so simple. We’re in our heads, and if there were an OFF switch, we would have pushed that years ago.

Every single thing we do requires energy and when we don’t replenish that energy with restorative sleep, we rely on the cheap stuff, like caffeine or sugar. And where sleep would actually refuel us, sugar doesn’t. It lasts for an hour, two at most, then we want it again. The trouble is we’re so tired we become out of touch with our fullness cues. Dr. Kenneth Wright, Jr., the director of the sleep and chronobiology lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder noted that his sleep-deprived study patients preferred high calorie foods and the kinds they chose when they were sleep deprived added up to about 600 calories more than the foods that they wanted when they were well-rested. “There’s something that changes in our brain when we’re sleepy that’s irrespective of how much energy we need,” says Dr. Wright. “The brain wants more even when the energy need has been fulfilled.”

When I consider the triggers for most of my poor eating choices, my streaks of not exercising, my binge eating episodes, 90% of them come down to: feeling depleted physically and/or emotionally. Which makes me realize how critically important it is to try to maximize healthy sleep which is the biggest influencer on energy and mood.

Tell me: How is your sleep? 



11 thoughts on “The Importance of Sleep

  1. Jane C.

    So true Andie, I was an insomniac for 3 years before I decided to reach out for help. During that time I regained all the weight I has lost. Now I’m sleeping and super motivated to lose the weight again.

  2. Paige

    I’m so happy you touched on this! I have lost 45lbs in the past year and have 100% changed my lifestyle and my relationship with food and exercise. 100% of my rare binge eating episodes comes from lack of sleep and being overworked.

    I just finished your memoir and it was so inspiring. You are such a gifted writer!

  3. Susan

    Andie. Such an important topic. I was just diagnosed with sleep apnea and am one week into using my cpap. Machine. Already feel better and when I am tired I crave carbs and am never full. Thanks for posting.

  4. Judy

    Hey Andie,

    Such an important component that is too often pooh poohed.

    I heard this come in at 2 am. Made me smile when I saw what it was about. I am sure you had it set up for an automatic send at a certain time.

    Take care and Happy Wednesday. It is almost 4 am and heading to the gym. Yes I am lacking in sleep this morning. You never truly make up for lost sleep. I will take your advice to heart.


  5. Talia

    I also feel that quality sleep is an under discussed topic. I have never had a doctor ask me how well I sleep (until I asked for a sleep study due to snoring and, sure enough, I have sleep apnea). I never even thought I had a sleep disorder. I wasn’t awake for hours in the middle of the night. But once I got my CPAP I started to feel energized when I woke up. I think sleep disorders are grossly underdiagnosed. Thank you for bringing light to the subject!

  6. Katelyn Bobbitt

    I woke up feeling crappy and asking my Fitbit if I seriously got only 5 hours and 22 minutes of sleep last night when I saw your article in my inbox. I’m in dental school, so this amount of sleep is sadly pretty normal for me. Talk about feeling physically and emotionally depleted all the time! It certainly makes it much harder to stay away from the vending machine, or a heavy lunch, or a ton of caffeine and sugar to keep me going. Thanks for discussing this! It’s a great reminder that sometimes 1 more point on an exam might not be worth it. ;-)

  7. Anita Humphries

    I have to say that while I am obsessed with my Fitbit, I had to ditch the sleep tracker. I agree that sleep is so important to how we function….I didn’t need my Fitbit stressing me out more with sleep issues! I usually sleep well…..but I, too, find myself staring at the ceiling at 4 am several times each week. (The difference being that at my age, hormones play a large role.) I have found that exercise and sleep go hand in hand for me. When I am exercsing regularly, my sleep patterns are better. Thanks for this very important discussion!

  8. Rebekah

    Since conception I have been a sleep fighter. I was always afraid I was going to miss something important so I’d stay up super late and get up super early. I have to say since getting my Fitbit, I appreciate the sleep tracker. When I first started tracking my sleep I was only getting 5.5 – 6.5 hours per sleep each night, and believe me, I felt it! I made the decision to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night, and the difference in how I feel is amazing! Now I crave getting in bed early. Waking up feeling rejuvenated instead of angry at the alarm clock is almost euphoric. I never realized how important sleep actually is.

    Oh, and that OFF switch we are constantly searching for…this made me laugh because it’s so true! It reminded me of the many times growing up my dad would come by my room to check on me and I would still be awake. His advice was always, “Turn your wheels off Rebekah and get some rest”. (:

  9. Susan T

    Hi Andie,
    I am 67yrs old and have just discovered magnesium. It has cured so many things including sleep difficulties and constipation.
    Why has no doctor ever mentioned this I do not know. I like the brand Calm, which is a powder . Check it out on youtube which is where I discovered it. Take about two hours before bed. Hope it is a game changer for you like it was for me.

    1. Lucy Phillips

      I agree Susan, magnesium is a really great supplement. I take it for muscle pain and hypoglycemia and it definitely helps. Epsom salt baths are a lovely way to boost your magnesium too. ☺

  10. Kristen

    I am one of those people who fall apart, physically and emotionally, if I don’t get enough sleep. I also have horrible periodic insomnia. Such a delightful combo! I started using an app called Calm for a deep sleep meditation and it is amazing! I would say that 90% of the time I fall asleep before it’s over. I even got the paid version out of gratitude.


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