In this country, it is normal for us to work at least 10 hours a day, try to exercise a few hours a week and try to get by on 5-6 hours of sleep a night. We use alarm clocks, coffee, chocolate, soda, energy drinks and many other tricks to help us “push through” the fatigue and get on with our day. Does this sound like you?
What you don’t know is how exceedingly important sleep is and how not getting enough sleep can cause us to gain weight. Just one or two nights of missed or inadequate sleep are enough to make you as insulin resistant as a Type II diabetic! While adequate diet and exercise can help, your physiology will never be normal without enough sleep. At the end of the day, neglected sleep or poor sleep quality is a significant stressor to your body. It compromises your immune system, reduces your memory and makes you gain weight.
In addition to insulin, two other important hormones related to sleep and weight gain are melatonin and prolactin. Known as the “hormone of darkness,” melatonin is secreted in darkness, at night and tells the body it is time to sleep. Prolactin is critical to our immune systems and one of our first lines of cancer defense. Research shows that longer periods of sleep with increased melatonin production enhanced immunity. Long nights also produced higher levels of prolactin. If we get less sleep at night, more prolactin is produced during the day. And if prolactin is secreted during the day, it leads to autoimmunity and carbohydrate craving.
If you put together the imbalance between insulin, cortisol, prolactin and melatonin, you have a recipe for disaster. The biggest problem with short night sleep is that insulin will stay higher in the dark when it should be flat and cortisol falls so late it will come up normally in the morning. This is the reversal of your normal hormone rhythms. You’re supposed to wake up with high cortisol in the morning to deal with the stress of the day and a low insulin so you’re hungry. However, with reversed hormone rhythms it is easy to skip breakfast because your insulin is high and you’re not hungry. The reversal also causes melatonin and prolactin to be too high in the morning and throughout the daylight hours making it difficult to concentrate. By 3:00 in the afternoon you crave carbohydrates, get inpatient and have even more trouble concentrating.
Now do you see why getting enough sleep is so important? It’s more than just resting. It recharges your body, controls appetite, supports the immune system, balances hormones and improves concentration.