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Studies illustrate why sleep is important

Published October 05. 2013 09:00AM

How would you like to look 17.5 years younger than you are?

Now I'm not really sure that I really do (especially if you focus on my Friar Tuck-like hair loss), but I'm not going to lie to you. The fact that one of my students kept insisting that I couldn't be any more than 35 instead of halfway to 53 certainly made my day a few weeks ago.

Thank you, Miss Courtney Murray.

During a discussion about the importance of learning all you can in order to avoid going out in the world and becoming somebody's fool, I mentioned my father. A boy in Courtney's class raised his hand and asked my dad's age. Before I could answer, he added that he only wanted to know so he could guess at mine.

I told him he didn't have to guess. When I said my next birthday would make me 53, Courtney said, "No way" in such a way the class just stopped whatever and listened to her.

"You can't be," she explained. "My dad's 35 and you don't look any older than him."

Let me reiterate. Thank you so much, Miss Courtney Murray.

When she added that I probably looked younger because of all that healthy stuff I eat, I said, "That's only part of it."

My response to Courtney's compliment is the reason to share the story. If you truly want to look younger and feel younger, you need to do far more than just eat well.

You need to exercise obviously learn how to handle (and avoid) stress, and get plenty of rest.

The fast pace of today's world makes the last on the list difficult, but four recent studies stress the importance of sleep.

Research performed at the University of Pennsylvania used 225 healthy subjects and proved that a lack of sleep in healthy individuals leads to extra eating, poor eating choices, and weight gain.

All healthy subjects received the same main meals at the same time of day, were given free round-the-clock access to a well-stocked kitchen, and asked not to exercise. Sleep times, however, were manipulated.

Half the subjects slept from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. each night. Half slept from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. Patterns emerged in the study that lasted as long as 18 days for some subjects.

The sleep-deprived group not only consumed more total calories which led to weight gain but also the foods they consumed late at night had a far higher fat content than the foods they ate during other times in the day.

Prior studies have shown that a lack of sleep produces hormone secretion that creates a metabolic environment conducive to weight gain, so the U of P study shows that night owls are clearly cursed.

Don't smoke; exercise regularly; eat a healthy diet; drink alcohol moderately. Research performed in the Netherlands recently reestablished these four components as the keys to heart health, but the researchers also found out something else.

These four habits are enhanced if you get sufficient sleep, defined by the researchers as seven or more hours a night. In fact, when the researchers analyzed the data, they found sufficient sleep reduced the incidence of dying from heart disease to the same degree as not smoking.

This finding prompted Monique Verschuren, the principal investigator of the aforementioned study, to say that sufficient sleep should be seen as the fifth way to reduce the risk of heart disease.

In the study, more than 14,000 men and women free of heart disease were tracked for 12 years. Those who at the start of the study exercised regularly reduced their chance of dying from heart disease during the study by 26 percent. Those who were getting sufficient sleep reduced the risk of dying from heart disease by 43 percent.

The same percentage as those who were not smoking at the start.

For children to thrive, it seems, they not only need sufficient sleep but also a fixed bedtime. In a study of 11,000 seven-year-olds, researchers found that girls who had varying bedtimes did not fare as well as those who had an established bedtime in tests measuring reading, math, and spatial awareness.

When three-year-olds were tested, both boys and girls were adversely affected by varying bedtimes.

The researchers believe that an inconsistent sleeping pattern in children disrupts their natural body rhythms to such a degree that it undermines the brain's ability to acquire and retain information.

Finally, a study published in the journal Obesity linked a lack of sleep to poor grocery purchases.

The 14 men in this study went grocery shopping on two occasions, once after what they deemed a full-night's sleep and once after they did not sleep at all.

Each time each subject was given a typical breakfast, $50, and told the point of the study was to see how much they could buy from a list of 40 items, 20 of which were high in calories and 20 of which were low in calories.

Shopping after no sleep led to a 9 percent increase in calories dropped in the cart, as well as an 18 percent increase in total food.

Another important element: Blood work done on the subjects revealed a significantly higher concentration of ghrelin the hormone that creates hunger after a night of no sleep.

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