Craig Leonard

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Is The Need For Sleep Consistency Overrated?

Craig Leonard January 21, 2016
Need for Sleep

Everyone knows high quality sleep is important. You did know that, right?

Okay. Good.

It’s also a consensus among health professionals that getting an average of 7-8 hours of sleep each night is necessary to achieve the full rest, recovery, and health-invigorating benefits adequate sleep provides.

While going to bed at night and rising well rested 8 hours later is certainly ideal, how many of us actually maintain this kind of consistency with our sleep patterns?

Our actual sleep schedules tend to follow a pattern of a few days of five or six hours of sleep followed by a day or two of eight to nine hours of sleep to “catch up” on our lost Zs. Few of us ever take the time to consider if our catch-up sleep is really able to reverse the unhealthy consequences of not getting enough sleep several nights in a row.

The results of an interesting recent study published by The University of Chicago Medicine shines some light on this question for us.

Appropriately, some of the undesirable consequences of lackluster sleep habits were noted in the published study results. Specifically mentioned was the statistic that even short-term sleep restriction can increase the risk of developing diabetes by about 16 percent, which is comparable to the increase in diabetes risk correlated with obesity.

When the consequences of poor sleep habits are being correlated with the consequences of obesity it should get our attention. It’s also worth mentioning that poor sleep and obesity aren’t mutually exclusive.

As the scientists involved in this research project rightly pointed out, sleep-deprived adults have a propensity for eating more, with a strong preference for sweets and high-fat foods. This combination brought on by inadequate sleep is obviously a prescription for packing on body fat in rapid order that we ought to intentionally avoid at all cost.

To learn the biological science behind why mild sleep deprivation encourages overeating and junk food cravings, see my article: Sleep and Weight Loss: How Not Getting Enough Sleep Will Damn Your Fat Loss Efforts.

The researchers also went on to state that chronically sleep-deprived people are more likely to develop other health problems beyond diabetes and obesity, such as increased inflammation and high blood pressure.

It’s no secret that diabetes and obesity often go hand-in-hand.

If you read my recent posting on The Truth About Eggs, Cholesterol, And Heart Disease, you’re also educated enough not to be surprised about inflammation and high blood pressure being mentioned together, either.

Needless to say, sleep is a major player in our daily fight to live fit, strong, and healthy.

The first phase of this sleep study consisted of depriving the participants of sleep for 4 nights, allowing them an average of 4.3 hours of sleep each night. After 4 nights of sleep deprivation, the subjects, unsurprisingly, experienced a 23 percent decrease in insulin sensitivity and their diabetes risk increased by 16 percent.

The second phase immediately followed the first and consisted of 2 consecutive nights of extended “catch up” sleep averaging 9.7 hours of sleep per night.

The average nightly sleep duration for the entirety of the study was just 6.1 hours – much less than the eight hours typically prescribed – yet the researchers discovered that after just two nights of extended rest the participants were able to completely reverse the detrimental effects caused by four consecutive nights of sleep deprivation.

While it’s encouraging to see how efficiently the body can rebound from the negative physiological effects brought on from not getting enough sleep, this doesn’t mean you should consider it wise or healthy to follow the type of sleep patterns utilized in this study.

As the researchers aptly pointed out, this is evidence that weekend catch-up sleep may help someone recover from a single sleep-deprived week. This was not a long-term study and the subjects went through this process only once. It’s still unknown what the effects might be for those who repeatedly curtail their weekday sleep deficiencies with extended episodes of sleeping over the weekend.

The point that needs to be made here – and has been made – is that this study simply showed that the body can quickly recover after a single bout of four days of being deprived of sleep. There could very well be a cumulative impact of consistently playing catch-up on our sleep, which this study was obviously not designed to investigate.

Regardless, I must state the obvious: Four days each week of poor sleep is a terrible idea unless you desire to feel lethargic, lack mental clarity, be irritable, and have no motivation to exercise.

Our target should still be to get as close to eight hours of high quality sleep each and every night, though it’s definitely encouraging to know that the negative impact a couple of late nights can have on our insulin resistance can swiftly be corrected with a good night’s rest or two.

When it comes to the importance of sleep, it has yet to be summed it up in a single statement more succinctly than this:

“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” – Ben Franklin

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