We’ve talked about sleep here on the Share the Health blog before. We all know it’s important and that trying to tackle our busy lives on too little sleep can be hazardous at best.
Now, researchers have determined the “metabolic cost” of both being unable to fall asleep and of waking up during the night. According to the study (published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Physiology), spending eight hours awake in bed burns the same number of calories as walking nearly two miles.
So, which would you rather do?
Obviously, the vast majority of people who can’t sleep or can’t stay asleep would do just about anything to get a good night’s rest. If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to offer you a short-term solution (a sleeping pill to re-establish a healthy sleep routine), or perhaps order a sleep study if a condition like sleep apnea is suspected.
As part of the study, the researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder also calculated how the subjects’ energy expenditures varied through different stages of sleep (e.g. light sleep to rapid-eye movement sleep to deep, “slow wave” sleep and awakenings from sleep). They found that waking up — even naturally — in the middle of the night caused an energy spike.
Study leader and CU-Boulder Associate Professor Kenneth Wright says that might mean people with insomnia or sleep apnea “are burning the furnace at a higher rate at night because their sleep is disturbed”. He adds that further research is necessary, and that while burning calories at a higher rate is typically seen as a good thing — it’s definitely counter-productive when you’re trying to sleep (and can actually lead to weight gain).
My point in mentioning this study is that sleep disturbances come with a cost. Yes, it’s really hard to fight through the day after a rough night tossing and turning. We turn to coffee and comfort food to help us through the day (thanks to reduced levels of the hormone that tells us we’re no longer hungry) — but those are short-term issues.
Longer term effects of too little sleep include difficulty with memory and concentration, irratibility, high blood pressure, a reduced ability to fight off diseases, and safety issues like drowsy driving.
Again, getting enough sleep is an important factor in your overall health. If you’re not sleeping well, talk to your doctor about it. If you’re not making enough time to sleep, examine your priorities.