Title: Is Your Metabolism Working Against You? How to Tell if Your Sleep Habits Are Killing You
“I don’t sleep that well.”
Of all the comments I’ve heard from patients in my cardiology career, concerns about lack of sleep are one of the most common.
For years, I thought it was likely the health problems were contributing to their poor sleep.
But now I see it differently.
Now I know, it’s more likely the other way around.
It’s the poor sleep that has contributed to their health problems.
And this point is critical to know if you’re not getting restorative sleep – because knowing lack of sleep is likely going to cost you some quality years off your life, you may be able to change your sleep, so it is working for not against you.
And in fact, I will go one step further – if you’re not sleeping well and you are struggling with:
· Losing weight
· Lowering your blood pressure
· Improving your blood sugars
· Improving your cholesterol
Then inadequate sleep will not only cost you years of life, but it’s also probably a big reason why your health isn’t as good as you want it to be now.
Sleep deprivation is rampant
More than ½ of adults in the United States feel they are not getting adequate sleep and up to 1 in 3 adults have either chronic insomnia or sleep apnea. The numbers of people affected may be even greater in those with heart disease, with some estimates that 4 in 10 people in a cardiologist’s office have poor sleep.
Now we all know that poor sleep makes us feel bad. It’s not news to anyone who has had a sleepless night that lack of sleep leads to irritability, a decrease in memory, cognition, job performance, and an increase in car accidents.
But there is more.
A growing body of research associates poor sleep (sleeping less than 7 hours or more than 9 hours a night) with high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, atrial fibrillation, heart attack, stroke, and even early death.
Here are the numbers: Chronic lack of sleep leads to:
· Four times more colds
· 4-5 times increase in anxiety/depression
· ~5 mm Hg increase in blood pressure
· 250% increase in diabetes
· 45% increase in heart attacks
· 750% increase in unhealthy weight
· 15% higher risk of death
These are striking numbers, and research is starting to explain why lack of sleep is so impactful on our health.
And why it is that if you’re not sleeping well, it will be almost impossible to lose weight and improve your health.
Here’s the take-home lesson – lack of sleep sets your metabolism up to work against you.
Losing weight and keeping it off – getting healthier – is very difficult to begin with but nearly impossible if you’re not sleeping.
When you’re sleep-deprived, your metabolism resists your best efforts at improving your health and weight loss. Sleep deprivation does this by driving up appetite by stimulating ghrelin, increasing cortisol levels, promoting insulin resistance, and decreasing leptin, which helps tell us when we’re full.
The result? We’re hungrier and have a hard time getting full.
To make matters worse, lack of sleep makes us more likely to eat emotionally. And our willpower is lower. As a result, we are more likely to eat low-quality “comfort” food and drink more alcohol, further fueling the stress response-inflammation cycle.
Which ultimately drives energy into our fat cells and increases blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.
All because we are too busy to sleep. Only 10% of people prioritize sleep over fitness, social life, work, and hobbies.
So, while prioritizing sleep is often viewed as a weakness, in our “There’s time for sleep when I’m dead.” society.
The issue is, without adequate sleep, death may come sooner than you would like.
One of my favorite patient stories – and favorite patients – is Virginia’s miraculous weight loss story.
Virginia first came to see me because her blood pressure was out of control, despite taking five blood pressure medications. She had also struggled with her weight for decades. Despite “trying everything,” she was 40-50 pounds heavier than she wanted.
Virginia’s husband laughed when I asked if she snored because her snoring regularly kept him up at night.
Testing revealed that Virginia had severe sleep apnea. After starting treatment, her sleep immediately improved, as did her energy.
Her metabolism started working for her. She wasn’t hungry all the time anymore. And for the first time, she WANTED to exercise.
Six months later, she had lost 40-pounds – and as she said, it didn’t even feel hard.
And the reason for her success after decades of failure, the reason it wasn’t hard for her anymore, was that her metabolism was now working for her.
All BECAUSE she fixed her sleep.
And her blood pressure? Although her blood pressure was out of control on five medications when we first met, now she only needed a small dose of one medicine to keep her blood pressure within a healthy range.
How to Tell if Your Sleep Habits Are Killing You
Here are the three questions to ask if you’re not sure if your sleep habits are killing you:
1. Do you have a chronic illness or any signs of an unhealthy metabolism?
Common chronic illnesses include heart disease, history of cancer, anxiety disorder, depression, chronic pain, etc.
Signs of an unhealthy metabolism are high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol, high blood sugar, and unhealthy weight.
If you have any of these conditions, you should look at your sleep closely because it may be contributing to your health issues.
2. Do you sleep 7-9 hours per day?
More than half of us get less than 7 hours of sleep a night, And while not everyone needs 7 hours, most do.
If you believe you’re one of the few people who can get by on less sleep – be careful you’re not telling yourself a false story. Could it be that you have so much to do because your sleep-deprived brain isn’t getting things done efficiently?
3. Do you feel well-rested when you wake up, or do you feel tired and sleepy during the day? Do you need an alarm clock to get up most of the time?
If you don’t feel rested when you wake up – or feel sleepy during the day – or usually can’t get up without an alarm clock – that’s a good indicator that your sleep quality isn’t adequate even if you are sleeping 7-9 hours a night.
One of the first steps we take with our clients looking to get healthier, lose weight, heal their metabolism, and increase their longevity is to address their sleep.
And the first step to fixing your sleep is recognizing that it’s preventing you from living the long, vital life you were meant to live.
How do you fix your sleep? We do it by working with our clients to build their own sleep system – and next week, we will talk about how to create your longevity sleep system.
Until then, I will leave you with one of my favorite sleep quotes from the greatest writer of all time:
“Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care…
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”
Lead the best life,
R. Todd Hurst, MD, FACC, FASE