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30 May, 2016
I have had many clients on initial consults say to me “I am one of those people who only need 5 hours of sleep a night”. These people don’t rely on coffee, are not tired, they honestly have limited sleep but still seem to be fine and can power through a busy work schedule. Infact they can get more done because that literally have more hours in the day.
Let me make this as clear and as simple as I can: YOU NEED MORE THAN 5 HOURS A NIGHT: just because you are not showing any negative health symptoms does not mean you are healthy.
Understanding Cortisol can explain why someone can be performing quite well on limited sleep and still be seemingly ok.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released by the adrenal glands under the presence of an internal or external perceived stress. Cortisol gets a pretty bad rap but really cortisol is awesome. It is what wakes you up in the morning (try getting out of bed in the morning with low cortisol!!) and is what helps you power through the day. Cortisol is a natural anti-inflammatory so it stops you from getting sick, infact cortisol allows you drive your life in a faster gear than normal – awesome right?
The above graph is a simply reflection that daily cortisol can be elevated or depressed. Green would be a normal total daily amount (more in the morning and fading off at night) and the yellow is representing that you can have elevated daily cortisol. A analogy that I often use is: if you drive your car fast once in a while then that is no problem, you will also slow down and drive at normal speeds. Infact maybe you had to drive your car fast to get out of a tricky situation and that extra speed really helped. The problem comes when you try to drive with your foot continually on the accelerator. Just because the car hasn’t slowed down yet, doesn’t mean the engine is healthy, the deterioration and eventual damage is being done. Eventually your car will slow down even though your foot is still hard to the floor – this is where the problem is.
“Negative stress is any influence, internal or external, that causes or leads to malfunction”
Reed Davis: FDN Founder
The above quote is hugely relevant as psychological stress is only one element of stress. The sleep conundrum is this – if you don’t sleep your body is stressed (take your heart rate after 3 nights of lack of sleep – it is elevated, hence it is preparing for flight or fight), and if you become stressed you won’t be able to sleep as well and the downward spiral continues.
So what the hell is the big deal? So you lack some sleep and become stressed – So what?
Sleep is when the body does several important things. One thing is detoxification. When you are not sleeping you are not detoxifying, this is one reason why a lack of sleep has been linked to cancer by the World Health Organisation. When you are in a state of stress, your digestion is impaired. Through your digestive system you have the ability to absorbs nutrients – so a poor digestion can be linked to tiredness due to the inability to absorb nutrients. B Vitamins are made from bacteria in your digestive system, so a poor digestive system will be linked to low B Vitamins. B Vitamins are linked to your ability to detoxify and energy productions within a cell (low B vitamins – low energy). Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is linked to your ability to happy thoughts. A lack of sleep has also been linked to insulin resistance.
So….yes you need more than 5 hours of sleep over night. Due to your ability to adapt via cortisol, you maybe feeling pretty good even after months and months of lack of sleep. But the crash is coming – just like keeping your foot on the accelerator of a fast car – you will eventually hit a brick wall. That crash maybe in developing depression, diabetes or even cancer. What time are you going to go to bed tonight?