Is better sleep the secret to better health?

by Rena Rubin-Hines, CNP

Many of us are focused on healthy eating and exercise, which, of course, are two of the most important things you can do for your health. But what about the 3rd important piece of the health puzzle? In our busy society, a lot of people – even many health-focused people -- aren’t getting enough sleep. It may not seem like a big deal if you’re otherwise living a healthy lifestyle, but insufficient sleep could be sabotaging your health.

Not enough sleep is bad for your waistline

Not getting enough sleep affects the hormones that regulate hunger. A hormone called ghrelin is responsible for triggering hunger, and another called leptin tells your brain when to stop eating. Lack of sleep causes an increase in the release of ghrelin, making you hungrier, and a decrease in the release of leptin, making it more difficult to stop eating.


Studies show that lack of sleep can affect not only how much you eat, but it can also affect what you eat. People who’ve had insufficient sleep are more likely to make poor choices, and are especially prone to eating sweets and carbohydrates. Studies have also shown that when people are dieting, those who get enough sleep tend to lose more fat, while those who don’t get enough sleep tend to lose more muscle.


It also increases the release of the hormone cortisol, which can lead to weight gain, especially in the abdominal area, and lowers levels of thyroid hormone, which regulates your metabolic rate. So if you’re trying to control or reduce your weight, make sure you add a good night’s sleep to your health regime.

Insufficient sleep increases risk of disease

Sleep deficiency increases the release of stress hormones, including cortisol. Increased stress increases your risk of a host of conditions and diseases, from digestive problems and depression to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, it also makes it harder to get to sleep, creating a vicious circle.  Lack of sleep can also affect the immune system and increase your risk of getting sick. This increases levels of C-reactive protein, which is associated with risk of heart attack. Risk of stroke has also been shown to be higher in people who don’t get enough sleep.


Studies show that people who regularly get inadequate amounts of sleep become less sensitive to insulin and have increased glucose tolerance, leading to increased risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes. It also increases inflammation and cholesterol levels, and increased levels of cortisol also lead to wrinkles and aging of the skin. Doesn't that make you want to crawl into bed nice and early?

Sleep improves memory and brain function

The brain needs sleep in order to regenerate neurons. Mental speed and accuracy are directly affected by sleep. Studies show that university students who don’t get enough sleep have lower grades than those who do.  Insufficient sleep also impairs our attention. Lack of sleep is the cause of more single-car accidents than even alcohol. And, through a process scientists call memory consolidation, sleep helps solidify memories. When studying for a test, for example, you’ll find the information is absorbed better the next day after a good night’s sleep. Interestingly, this applies to physical skills, too, such as learning a new sport or dance.

Sleep improves mood and behaviour

Insufficient sleep also affects mood and behaviour. People who haven’t had enough sleep tend to be agitated and moody. Long term sleep deprivation can lead to severe anxiety and inability to manage emotions. And because sleep affects serotonin levels, chronic lack of sleep can also lead to depression.

How can you be sure to get enough sleep?

The average adult needs approximately seven hours of sleep per night. Here are some tips to help you make sure you’re getting enough:


-          Avoid caffeine, especially after noon

-          Avoid alcohol. While it might make you drowsy at first, it affects the quality of your sleep.

-          Ensure your room is completely dark. Invest in black-out curtains or a sleep mask.

-          Reserve your bed for sleep and sex. Don’t watch TV, read or eat in bed.

-          Try to go to bed at the same time every night, preferably before 11:00 pm.

-          Exercise regularly, but not right before bed

-          Do something relaxing before bed, like reading, taking a bath or meditating

-          Avoid drinking anything too close to bed time


Rena Rubin-Hines  is a nutritionist specializing in women’s health issues. Rena’s philosophy is if we eat better, we feel better and we look better. With a no-nonsense approach to health and nutrition, Rena offers straight answers, practical advice and effective solutions to a wide range of women’s health issues including weight loss, anti-aging, digestive health, as well as prevention and treatment of a variety of health conditions. Rena is dedicated to helping women live healthier lives, naturally.

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