"I'm tired." You hear people say it all the time (my oldest son for example), but what is the route behind this tiredness? Often, it is a consequence of lack of sleep.
I've spoken about the significance that sleep plays in bodily function previously, but a recent article published in The New York Times has gone even further to say that lack of sleep can shorten life expectancy--a scary thought considering how many millions of individuals are not getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night, according to research.
Having just returned from helping to prepare the #1 female tennis player in the world, Serena Williams, for the rigors of grass court play at the Wimbledon Championships starting next week, I know firsthand how a lack of sleep can affect performance. I usually take a 6 a.m. flight out, which means that I get up at 3:40 a.m. to have a light snack and prepare to depart for the airport.
Arriving at 11:30 a.m. in West Palm Beach, Florida- our training site- and having eaten my lunch on the plane (I prepare it at home), I go right into a four-hour training session with Serena. Living at a hotel in a different time zone, along with a strange bed, can make for a broken sleep pattern.
The Times article discusses a published report from The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic stating that sleep is crucial to maintain optimum physical and emotional health. Their research has determined that sleep plays an important role in our mental health and a lack of it could lead an individual to depression and even substance abuse.
These findings, backed by Assistant Professor, Anne Garmain, say people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are more likely to suffer these symptoms due to lack of sleep because many "relive [their] trauma through sleep, as it keeps the brain in a heightened sense of alertness," potentially disrupting a person's ability to stay asleep.
Along with the emotional effects a lack of sleep has on the body, there are many physical effects you should be made aware. "Sleep affects almost every tissue in our body," says Sleep Specialist at the National Institute of Health, Michael J. Terry. According to research, lack of sleep effects heart, lung and kidney function, it impacts appetite and metabolism, which ultimately effects weight control. Our mental health can be affected through our reaction time, mood, and overall brain function, all from getting less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
As I've stated before, weight gain is significantly affected by sleep. When an individual stays up through the night, they are more likely to snack (on mostly carbohydrates), and because lack of sleep slows down the metabolism, the body's ability to burn calories is also compromised.
Not only is the metabolism affected, but the two hormones- ghrelin and leptin- are, as well. Ghrelin is much higher in concentration when an individual lacks sleep, which will then increase the appetite, while leptin, which signals the brain when enough food is consumed, is significantly lower, resulting in a difficulty to feel full. So, if you are having a hard time losing weight, ask yourself how much sleep you're getting.
Even more chilling is the fact that lack of sleep can raise your susceptibility to cancer and can lead to Type II diabetes. According to Leonard Kancher, medical director of the Center For Longevity and Wellness in Metairie, "decreased sleep over a period of time may lead to insulin resistance - which decreases the effectiveness of the hormone insulin to control blood sugar."
If you remember last week, I wrote about overweight linemen and the risk they place on their cardiovascular health. Well, lack of sleep increases an individual's chances of complications such as stroke or heart attack, so you can imagine how necessary sleep is to the overweight individual. People with hypertension (high blood pressure) should be aware that an inadequate amount of sleep may raise their overall blood pressure throughout the day.
"Poor sleep may also increase the risk for certain forms of cancer such as colon cancer," says Kancher.
Parents of adolescents should be aware that children benefit from sleep the most. During the adolescent sleep cycle, the body produces a steady amount of human growth hormone (HGH), which allows for building muscle mass, as well as, repairing cells and tissue. Children who lack sleep are disrupting their body's ability to produce HGH.
Consider this: How many of you have a child or know a child with Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.)? It was determined in a study that many cases of A.D.D. have been "erroneously diagnosed [because of lack of sleep]," according to psychiatrist affiliated with New York University, Vastal G. Thakkar.
Adding to the list is the body's inability to fight infections due to a weaker immune system when lacking sleep, so you are more likely to catch a cold (or worse). Finally, cognitive function is greatly affected, and in a study it was determined that individuals who lacked sleep were more likely to drive similarly to that of a drunk driver.
It's clear that sleep is a necessity to a better life. Despite my extensive travel in multiple time zones, I strive to attempt to maintain a consistent sleep schedule and routine that has kept me running with athletes like Serena at my age of 62. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms as I've stated above, and you think sleep may be the culprit, consider maintaining a regular sleep schedule (hour to bed and hour to rise--seven to eight hours), avoid consuming caffeinated beverages like coffee or tea in the late afternoon, and steer clear of afternoon naps.
Stay away from distractions at night like bright light, and avoid keeping up with high-energy pets. If you can maintain consistency in your sleep schedule, you will be able to maintain your life's daytime schedule. It's worked for me all of these years, and I know it could do the same for you.-- Mackie Shilstone
Mackie Shilstone, a regular contributor to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, has been involved in the wellness sports performance industry for nearly 40 years. He is currently the fitness coach for Serena Williams and has trained numerous other professional athletes and consulted a litany of professional sports franchises. He's the Executive Director of the Fitness Principle with Mackie Shilstone at East Jefferson General Hospital. Contact him at mackieshilstone.com.