Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sleep Deprivation

It can be hard to get enough sleep these days. Different people have different reasons behind their sleep deprivation, but I don't know your life. So let's talk about mine. Lately, too much sleep has been a problem, but I seem to be oscillating between too much & too little. I work at 6am Monday-Thursday. My alarm goes off at 4:30am on each of these days, although I usually get up around 5. Fridays, mercifully, I work at 8am and my alarm doesn't go off until 6:30. I tend to feel more awake & alert on Fridays, because it's very difficult for me to get to sleep when I should - between 8:30 and 9:30, according to most conventional wisdom. Not only is it naturally difficult for me to go to bed & get to sleep that early (especially when it's still light out), but it's also difficult for me to get to sleep without my husband. Since he works at 8:00am and therefore gets up two to two & a half hours later than me, he's also going to bed later - even if I go to bed on time, I'll toss & turn, or worse, fall asleep and then wake up when he comes to bed. He has the same struggles in the morning. 

Amelia the cat never has a problem getting to sleep.
It would seem a lot of adults aren't meeting that 7-8 hour goal - 30% of adults between 30 and 64 report sleeping less than 6 hours per night. Everybody is familiar with the common complaints from sleep deprivation - feeling foggy, wiped out, falling asleep at the wheel, etc. But it turns out that not getting enough sleep can also be a factor in weight gain. A 1999 study performed at the University of Chicago found that building up a sleep debt over a matter of days can impair metabolism and disrupt hormone levels. WebMD explains that the hormones in question are leptin and ghrelin. Ghrelin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract and stimulates appetite, while leptin is produced in fat cells and lets you know when you're full. When the amount of sleep goes down, your ghrelin levels go up and your leptin levels go down. This can cause you to overeat. 

Unfortunately, it's not as simple as "sleep more." Some sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, can prevent your body from getting the deep sleep it needs. What's more, it seems that folks with sleep apnea can become resistant to leptin, much in the same way diabetics become resistant to insulin. A study performed at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland in 2004 found that patients with sleep apnea had lower levels of leptin in the morning and higher levels in the evening, relative to patients without sleep apnea. 

A handy diagram about leptin. {Source}
Like every subject explored by health professionals to explain the sudden uptick in the rate of the U.S. population that is overweight or obese, it's hard to pin anything specific down as a root cause or an answer. It seems that our lack of sleep may have something to do with it - According to Dr. Susan Redline, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, 

"In the sixties, the average American was reporting sleeping 8.5 hours a night. Now most studies are showing six to seven hours. That's a huge change." {Source}
In this same article, Dr. Redline stresses the difference between sleeping more hours and getting quality sleep (like the difference between a person with sleep apnea falling asleep in front of the TV & a normal person practicing good sleep hygiene). It's hard to know how much sleep is good for you, or if you're getting enough of the good stuff. According to The Sleep Foundation, everybody is different, and I think we can all attest to that - I feel my best with about 9 hours of sleep (which I am not getting during the majority of the week), but others need more or less. Only you can figure out how much sleep works best for you, and you figure that out by trial & error. Once you've had enough of the error, try a few tips for better sleep and see if they help. The first one I'll be trying out is "constructive worrying" - setting aside a time during the day where it is okay & perhaps productive to worry, so it doesn't pop up in my head when I'm trying to get to sleep. I'll let you know how it goes! 


  1. I sleep about 7 hours a night. I wish I could sleep for 8-9... but when I get home and its night-time I am more wide awake than I was in the morning or at work. I wonder what the science behind that is? Maybe it's because it's ME time and I am able to do what I want to? Interesting post! :-)

  2. I feel the same way. When it's me time, I'm totally awake and ready to go. Even on the weekends when I have to get up with an alarm for something, I'm more alert and energized for a non work related event. So strange the way our bodies work.
    You know what I like about reading your blog? It's like having an intelligent conversation, and learning new things without ever making me feel like I'm dumb. I'm a fan.

  3. Thanks Kaylyn! I consider this blog very much a work in progress (but then, a blog always is), and I haven't written on a regular basis in years. I'm glad it's off to a good start!