Sleep: Health's Right Hand Man

It doesn’t take a complicated study to tell us that a lack of sleep affects our cognitive capacities. Sleep is critical for higher cortical function, the most important of which is multitasking. Have you ever gotten behind the wheel after only four or five hours of hours of sleep, and then suddenly found yourself dozing off for a split second or feeling distracted? Driving is one of the most intensive multitasking activities we do as it incorporates hands, feet, vision, and a keen awareness of what’s going on. Not surprisingly insufficient sleep is one of the major causes of most motor vehicle accidents. Sleep deprivation drains your executive function and has also been shown to have a negative impact on cognitive abilities like attention and working memory. Aside from cognitive functions, sleep deprivation can affect everything from health to overall wellbeing.

Sleep loss linked to depression

It only takes one week of insufficient sleep to alter your body chemistry. Depression and sleep issues are intimately connected. For instance, lack of sleep causes a decrease in neurotransmitters, which regulate our mood. People with depression often have a hard time sleeping, or, on the flipside, its common perception that they may sleep a ton. It also seems to be true that sleep deprivation can, if not cause depression, certainly worsen it. Part of the rationalization for these connections may come from the fact that the part of the brain that governs circadian rhythm (daily sleep-wake cycle, and all the body functions that depend on it) is disrupted. Additionally, sleep loss leads to a lack in white blood cell production, which in effect weakens our physical stress response. So with all of these details in mind, this may partly explain why depression and sleep problems go hand-in-hand.

Physical health and longevity

Although the body doesn’t technically need sleep in the same way the brain does, there are a number of physical diseases and disorders it seems to affect. A new study presented at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual conference found that when health professionals got an average of three hours of sleep during a 24-hours shift, their hearts suffered. More specific, the participants had increases in contractility of their hearts, blood pressure, heart rate and levels of thyroid hormone and the stress hormone cortisol.

There are correlations between lack of sleep to overweight and obesity, and poorer glucose control. For instance, regularly sleeping less than six hours a night has been shown to increase hunger and appetite, particularly for high carbohydrate food that promote excessive insulin secretion and lead to body fat storage.  Many studies have linked poor sleep to mortality—but there seems to be a sweet spot, where people getting under six hours are at greater risk, and those getting nine or more hours per night are at risk. 

So what are some habits that will improve the quality of sleep? I highly recommend creating and incorporating your own PM-Ritual that includes some or all of the following for starters.

  •    -Limit alcohol, caffeine or sugars
  •    -Don’t eat past 7 pm
  •    -Turn off electronics a full hour before bedtime
  •    -Read
  •    -Meditate
  •    -Journal
  •    -Go to bed and get up a the exact same time
  •    -Exercise daily
  •    -Limit bright lights
  •    -Eliminate greasy, processed foods and red meat
  •    -Rub lavender essential oil on your feet and temples


written for Cliff Original by Frederick Entenmann, Best-Selling Author, Health & Wellness Consultant, Life Performance Coach for CEOs and Professional Athletes, Founder of Mind-Body-Life. Frederick is a former professional athlete who is a leader in the fields of corrective, high-performance exercise kinesiology, mind and body holistic health.