Sleep is one of the few things humans cannot live without. Yet, while people know that sleep is crucial, many forego nature’s battery recharger. Sleep is mainly regulated by your circadian rhythm. This cycle essentially controls your wake-sleep cycle. The master genes of this rhythm are known as CLOCK and BMAL1. Sleep quality and quantity is most likely a combination of genetic factors, such as CLOCK and BMAL1, as well as environmental factors such as electronic gadgets, ambient temperature, and noise.
For anyone who has ever been sleep-deprived, dragging through the day can be a miserable experience. It is recommended that adults need approximately 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Depending on the source, it is estimated that 30% or 50% of surveyed American adults are not achieving that requirement.
Why is this happening? It could be a product of our culture. America has forced everyone to be a “morning” person and it is well-studied that some people are naturally night owls, dictated by CLOCK and BMAL1, as opposed to morning larks. These people have different chronotypes, which is the preference of when they desire to be awake, and thus by forcing them to work mornings, they are not well-rested. Additionally, in a culture that runs on energy and caffeine reliance, this could prevent people from not sleeping well since they are stimulants that block adenosine from binding to its receptor, a key “switch” to promoting sleep. Lastly, by having electronics at the touch of our fingertips, being exposed to the harmful blue-light can affect key hormones that regulate sleep.
In addition to the underlying causes of poor sleep, there are detrimental consequences to poor sleep beyond the all-too-familiar feeling of lethargy and cognitive fuzziness. Poor sleep quality can even be linked to weight gain.
The effects of low-quality sleep on the body does not even have to take that long. One study compared the effects of 4 hours versus 10 hours of sleep for a single night. Results demonstrated that ghrelin, your body’s main hunger/appetite stimulate hormone, was elevated much higher in the sleep-deprived group. The subjects also had decreased released of leptin, which is your body’s main satiety hormone and counteracts ghrelin by creating feelings of fullness. Combined, the subjects who had increased ghrelin had increased feelings of hunger and appetite. Extrapolating this data, it has been suggested that sleep deprivation can be one of the few proposed causal pathways directly responsible for weight gain.
Other potential mechanisms linking sleep deprivation to weight gain includes increased opportunities to eat paralleled by reduced motivation to exercise, altered thermoregulation and metabolism, increased craving for higher fat and carbohydrate foods that are more calorie-dense, and altered mood states which would cyclically drive people to eat more. All these mechanisms summate to create a catalyst of excess caloric consumption, decreased caloric expenditure and ultimately an obesogenic environment.
How Can You Improve Sleep?
While it is not (yet) possible to alter your genes to sleep better, you can improve your surroundings to create a better sleep atmosphere. Here are a few tips:
- Go to bed and wake up at a consistent schedule – even on weekends
- Avoid food, cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, and other stimulants late at night
- Try not to nap late in the day, this can impact your circadian rhythm
- Turn off electronics late at night
- Create a cool, dark room for sleeping
- If you’re having trouble sleeping, do something relaxing and wind down
- Wear blue-light protection glasses if staring at an electronic screen for long periods of time, even if you do not need prescription glasses
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.