Sleep – A macronutrient

We all need sleep. In fact if we don’t get it, things get mighty peculiar. There are some strange folks who seem to need less sleep, and those who need more. How much do we really need, and how do sleep patterns affect our lives?

Why we need sleep remains elusive and many theories abound. The most logical to me is the replenishment and repair theory. During physical downtime, housekeeping molecules such as hormones are manufactured and topped up, and infrastructure like muscles and bones are mended since the body is not using them while we sleep.

In terms of metabolism and weight, sleep influences the hormones leptin (satiety/fat-burning) and ghrelin (hunger/fat-storing). Adequate sleep boosts leptin and diminishes ghrelin at the right times, balancing your energy intake with activity requirements. Sleep deprivation results in mismanaged timing and levels of these hormones such that we feel hungry when we aren’t really, and store energy as fat when we should be burning it.

Optimum sleep amounts for adults is 7-9 hrs a night and more for children and adolescents. Ways to help sleep include; daily exercise (best to wait 3 hrs after exercise to sleep), less screen time before bed, stress management and lower caffeine, among others.