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The Missing Ingredient of Wellness

“What’s your sleep pattern like?”

When I’m meeting with a client and reviewing their nutrition history, they often seem to be caught off-guard by this question. I ask about their typical food choices, weight history, physical activity level, dietary supplements, and medical history (including blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood glucose, and the like). But I also ask about sleep.

The typical response is an eye-roll or shrug and “It’s not very good, does that matter?”

It absolutely does.

Just as a poor diet can lessen the benefits of quality physical activity, sleep can affect both our food choices and our ability to fully engage in physical activity.

Research has shown that inadequate sleep has an effect on the hormones in our body that control hunger and fullness – specifically, ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin, known as the “hunger hormone”, stimulates appetite when released in the body. Leptin, known as the “fullness hormone”, lets us know when our body is satisfied.

In sleep-deprived individuals, levels of ghrelin are elevated, while leptin is suppressed. What does this mean? The less sleep you get, the hungrier you are likely to be throughout the day. This can lead to habitual overeating and unwanted weight gain. A correlation between poor sleep and elevated BMI has indeed been established in large populations.

Of course, weight regulation is not the only reason to prioritize your sleep. Your brain and hormones depend on a regular sleep cycle to recuperate. Diabetes and cardiovascular disease are correlated with chronic sleep deprivation, as are mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Lack of sleep is also likely to lead to reduced athletic performance, poor production in the workplace, and increased risk of automobile accidents.

How much sleep should you be getting? A basic goal of 7-9 hours per night is a good place to start, but don’t assume that 7 will be adequate. Sleep needs are individual (just like dietary needs), and assuming you can get by on the minimum recommendations may be a mistake. Notice your energy levels throughout the day at your desk, at home, and at the gym. Also take note if your appetite seems to be irregular. Sleep might just be the wellness ingredient your body is missing.

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