Despite knowing that sleep is important for optimal health, many will shave down their shut-eye to make time for other things. Sleep-deprived individuals, beware: Even modest reductions in sleep can have detrimental effects.
In a recent study, researchers wanted to learn what would happen when the body was subjected to repeated bouts of modest sleep reduction. To do this, they recruited 19 healthy young men who either cut sleep time by 1.5 hours or maintained regular sleep patterns for 3 weeks.
Throughout the intervention, all participants underwent tests to measure insulin sensitivity, vascular function, and levels of leptin (a hormone that regulates energy intake and expenditure) and adopinectin (a protein that plays a role in the development of insulin resistance and atherosclerosis).
How did the sleep-restricted group fare?
“Sleep restriction led to changes in insulin sensitivity, body weight and plasma concentrations of leptin, which varied during the three week period,” the study authors reported. “There was no effect on plasma adiponectin or vascular function.”
They added, “Even minor reductions in sleep duration led to changes in insulin sensitivity, body weight and other metabolic parameters . . . during the exposure period.” The study was published in Metabolism—Clinical and Experimental (2013; 62 , 204–11).
Want to improve your sleep quality? Implement these tips from Craig Weller, a coach for Scrawny To Brawny, an online workout and nutrition program for guys:
Ditch the cell phone. Radiation emitted from cell phones can lengthen the time it takes to reach deep sleep cycles and shorten the time spent in those cycles.
If you’re using your cell phone as an alarm clock, stop. Replace it with a battery-powered clock. Either turn off your phone or plug it in somewhere other than your bedroom to charge overnight. You’ll get the added benefit of not being distracted by the buzz of an incoming text or email.
Read for 15 minutes before bed. Avoid intellectually stimulating fare and use this time for “candy” reading. It will reduce mental chatter and allow you to relax and let go of the day’s preoccupations.
“Candy” reading differs from your usual reading. If you normally read nonfiction, try reading fiction; if you prefer fiction, try some history.
Improve the cortisol awakening response. A good way to improve sleep quality is to strengthen the initial spike in wakefulness that occurs in the morning. The more awake you feel in the morning, the more tired you’ll feel in the evening.
How do you do this? Expose your body to natural sunlight for as little as 10 minutes shortly after waking. Sunlight adds the bonus of boosting vitamin D production, which is important for overall health.
If exposure to natural sunlight is unrealistic or you’re up before the sun, try using artificially simulated sunlight. There are lots of lights and alarm clocks that provide.