Chris Freytag by Chris Freytag

If you are a night owl, an early bird or a combination of both, there is one thing we all have in common: You probably aren’t getting enough sleep. While many of us aspire to get those recommended eight hours of sleep, we often try and get by with five or six. Let’s face it—sometimes life gets in the way. We might get absorbed watching a favorite show, get lost reading a good book, or feel excited about a new project and we just don’t get as much sleep as we should. One of the challenges of sleep is we view it as unproductive time. Many of us look at sleep time as hours we could use for something more pressing. The truth is sleep is as important for your health as what you choose to eat and the exercise you do. It’s time to make a mental shift and view sleep as an investment in our health. Let’s take a look at how sleep directly affects your weight and your performance during the day.

A lack of sleep leads to a slew of negatives, including weight gain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, depression, lower immune-system response, premature aging and impaired thinking. Lack of sleep is also a primary cause of car accidents, with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine reporting an estimated 250,000 sleep-related traffic accidents each year. 

Sleep deprivation can cause weight gain.

If you’ve ever had a sleepless night and the next day felt ravaged by hunger, your body has experienced the negative impact of a lack of sleep on your hormones. The hormones leptin and ghrelin are influenced by how much we sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, it drives leptin levels down, which means you don’t feel as satisfied after you eat. Your ghrelin levels rise and your appetite is stimulated so you want more food. The two combined make you overeat, according to the Mayo Clinic. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who got less than the optimal amount of sleep showed an increase intake of about 300 hundred calories per day. When you are sleep deprived, you reach for snacks. (Plus, a lack of sleep impairs your judgment, so it becomes more difficult to reach for healthy snacks when you are sleep deprived.) If you want to lose weight or maintain your current weight, make sure you get enough sleep. 

Sleep gives your body time to rest and rejuvenate.

While you are asleep, your body is busy repairing and rejuvenating. Rest is your recharger, just like charging your cell phone. With seven hours of sleep most nights, your systems will work right. Sleep gives your body and mind the best opportunity to be at your best.  

Sleep can impact your metabolism.

When you sleep, your body’s central nervous system is restoring itself. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that the role sleep plays in your metabolism may be just as important. This study also showed evidence that inadequate amounts of sleep may play a role in developing or aggravating existing metabolic disorders. 

Sleep is critical for athletic performance.

A good night’s sleep can greatly improve an athlete’s speed, accuracy and reaction time. Athletes in training need sleep to repair their bodies so they can perform at their best. If you are training intensely for an upcoming event, you may need a bit more sleep than the recommended eight, just as you likely need to take in more calories than usual. Some elite athletes aim to get nine or more hours of sleep at night. 

Lack of sleep causes fuzzing thinking.

When you are sleep deprived your judgment becomes impaired and you can’t think clearly. Lack of sleep can make it difficult to concentrate and you can become easily distracted. You may not even be aware of the increased energy you could have if you got a full eight hours of sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping at night …

  • Try sticking to a set schedule, even on the weekends.
  • Have a winding down routine at night.
  • Skip caffeine after 5 p.m. and skip alcohol as it can disrupt your sleep.
  • Make sure your bedroom is conducive to sleep.
  • Most people sleep better in total darkness.
  • Silence your smartphone. Better yet, keep it out of your bedroom.
  • Choosing the right mattress, sheets, pillows and comforter can dramatically improve your comfort and quality of sleep, so make sure you think your bed is comfortable.
  • Avoid doing anything you consider remotely stressful in your bedroom—like work.
  • Make your bedroom a peaceful environment where you get the seven to eight hours of sleep your body needs for optimal health and performance.