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Why sleep is important for metabolic health

From the time we’re born, we’re taught the importance of sleep. We need it to grow healthy and strong. To recover from the occasional illness or stressful experience—or just a regular day. It affects how we feel, how we look, and how much we’re able to do.

Despite this, many of us don't get enough sleep. Sleep often takes a backseat to other priorities, and many people have trouble falling asleep (or staying asleep), even if they do make the time for it.

Over time this can become a big problem, because sleep is vital to our overall well-being. Emerging research on the science of sleep is shedding even more light on how important it is, specifically on how it affects metabolic health.

3 ways sleep affects metabolic health

The state of our metabolic health can reveal clues about our overall health and why we feel the way we do. To be metabolically healthy, we need to have healthy levels of blood glucose, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference without medication—something most of the population struggles with.

However, good sleep can help us keep those numbers where we want them, as you’ll see below.

1. Helps regulate appetite

People who say you can lose weight by sleeping aren’t just spouting nonsense; there’s actually some truth to it. For starters, those who get less than seven hours of sleep a night tend to snack more, which can contribute to weight gain and increased risk of metabolic disorders like obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Furthermore, a bad night’s sleep can affect hormones that control appetite. Leptin, a hormone responsible for suppressing appetite, is reduced during periods of insufficient sleep, while ghrelin, an appetite-stimulating hormone, is elevated—the opposite of what we want to happen.

In short, insufficient sleep not only means we’re more likely to eat more, it also means we’ll feel hungrier. This disruption to the quality sleep we need can affect the body’s ability to regulate metabolism.

2. Helps improve insulin sensitivity

When we eat, our bodies break down the food into glucose. Glucose then enters the bloodstream, which signals to the pancreas to release insulin. Glucose is the body’s main energy source, and insulin helps get the glucose where it needs to go. Once glucose has entered the body’s cells, the glucose levels decrease and the pancreas stops producing insulin.

At least, this is what is supposed to happen. Many people, over time, become insulin resistant, which means cells in the body become less responsive to the effects of insulin. This is mainly due to diets high in carbs and processed foods, low physical activity, and excess body fat. Inadequate sleep can also affect the body’s insulin sensitivity, which can lead to excess glucose in the blood. This means your body is producing more insulin, which can lead to various metabolic health issues. Sleep troubles also disrupt circadian rhythms, which affects the body’s insulin and glucose levels.

3. Supports energy levels

We’re all familiar with the feeling of sluggishness following a bad night’s sleep. It’s not just the restful effects of sleep that we’re missing when this happens. Sleep also plays a vital role in restoring energy balance each day and optimizing our metabolic efficiency. During sleep, our bodies undergo essential processes of repair, restoration, and energy conservation. When we don’t get enough sleep, this process is disrupted, which can lead to reduced insulin sensitivity and changes in energy levels when we’re awake.

Our bodies are quite productive while we’re lying there “doing nothing.” Without our nightly restorative sleep sessions, metabolic health measures start to fluctuate and are more likely to stay in the unhealthy range, affecting our overall health.

Sleep on it

Sleep is more than just a state of rest; it’s a critical component of metabolic health. Sleep deprivation can disrupt multiple facets of metabolic regulation—and affect our quality of life.

We all have our sleep troubles from time to time, but practicing good sleep hygiene can help keep our metabolic health on track. Check out these essential tips for better sleep to get you started. If you have questions about how to get your sleep back on track, consult with your healthcare provider.

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