Sleep: The (Undeserved) Least Respected Piece of a Healthy Lifestyle

Andrew Siegel MD  10/13/2018


Photo above: my two daughters in peaceful repose (quite a few years ago!)


Exercise is king. Nutrition is queen. Put them together and you’ve got a kingdom.
Jack Lalanne

In addition to Lalanne’s emphasis on exercise and healthy eating as the key pieces to a healthy lifestyle, modern science supports adequate quality and quantity of sleep as a third component of equal importance.  More than one- third of Americans suffer with chronic sleep deprivation and today’s entry explores the consequences and solutions to  this.

Nature has not intended mankind to work from 8 in the morning to midnight without the refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts 20 minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.

Winston Churchill

What’s Obvious

That adequate quantity and quality of sleep is vital to our well-being and optimal functioning is readily apparent. We have all enjoyed the blissful experience of a great night’s sleep, awakening well-rested, energetic, optimistic and ready to approach the new day with vigor. Conversely, we have all experienced a poor night’s sleep, awakening feeling physically exhausted, mentally spent, lids heavy, dark circles under our eyes, and often in a disassociated “zombie” state, totally unmotivated and unenthusiastic about facing the new day (a situation not unlike jet lag).

The amount of sleep one needs is biologically determined and different for each person. Some can make do with five hours of sleep while others require ten hours, but as a general rule, seven to eight hours is recommended.  Regardless, sleeping has an essential restorative function as our brains and bodies require this important down time for optimal functioning.

What’s not so obvious

Good quality sleep is an important component of overall health, wellness, and fitness with potential dire consequences to the chronically deprived. Sleep disruption or deprivation has numerous negative mental and physical effects including disturbed cognitive, endocrine, metabolic, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and immune function. While sleeping, there is an increased rate of anabolism (cellular growth and synthesis) and a decreased rate of catabolism (cellular breakdown), processes that are disrupted by sleep deprivation. Chronic sleep issues can result in making one feel ill and appearing much older than they are chronologically.

Sleep disruption results in decreased levels of leptin (a chemical appetite suppressant), increased ghrelin levels (a chemical appetite stimulant), increased corticosteroids (stress hormones) and increased glucose levels (higher amounts of sugar in the bloodstream). As a result, chronic sleep deprivation commonly gives rise to increased appetite, increased caloric intake and the disassociated “zombie” state lends itself to dysfunctional eating patterns and consumption of unhealthy foods, and as such, weight gain is a predictable consequence.  Compounding the issue, a chronically-fatigued state impairs one’s ability to exercise properly, if at all.

Chronic sleep deficits results in irritability, impaired cognitive function and poor judgment.  The inability to be attentive and focused interferes with work and school performance and causes increased injuries (such as falls) and motor vehicle accidents.

Fact: Shift work sleep disorder.   Non-standard shift workers (health professionals, emergency workers, airline pilots, plant and manufacturing operators, etc.) make up nearly 20% of the U.S. work force. Their irregular working hours are often associated with disturbance of circadian rhythms and resultant insomnia and poor quality and quantity of sleep.  Scientific evidence shows an increased risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, peptic ulcer disease and depression.

What to do

The good news is that sleep deprivation is a modifiable risk factor, with a variety of ways to facilitate a good night’s sleep.

Sensible measures to help ensure a good night’s sleep:

  • Lead an active lifestyle with abundant exercise and stimulation.
  • Whether you are an early riser or a night owl, try to be consistent with respect to wake-up and bedtimes on both weekdays and weekends; if these times vary greatly it is a setup for sleep problems by disturbing your internal body clock.
  • Maintain a comfortable sleeping environment—a good quality supportive bed, comfortable pillows, a dark room, cool temperature and, if you like, “white noise” (I find that the monotonous sound of the sea produced by a sound machine, coupled with the gentle whirring of an overhead fan, is an instant relaxer).
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages—coffee, tea, cola, etc.—particularly after 6:00 p.m.  On the other hand, herbal teas, e.g., chamomile, can be soothing and relaxing.
  • Avoid consuming a large meal at dinner or eating very late at night.
  • Avoid imbibing too much alcohol.
  • Avoid exercising late in the evening.
  • Minimize the stress in your life, as much as is conceivable. Engage in a de-stressing activity immediately before sleep—reading, watching a movie or television show, crossword puzzle, sudoku, sex—whatever helps relax you and bring upon sleepiness.
  • Try to minimize evening exposure to the bright light (“blue light”) of cell phones, tablets and computers that inhibits production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, levels of which under normal circumstances rise coincident with darkness. If possible, dim the light settings on electronic devices that are used at night.
  • Supplemental melatonin seems to help some people, but is ineffective for many others (including myself), but may be worth a try 

Wishing you the best of health,

2014-04-23 20:16:29

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Dr. Andrew Siegel is a physician and urological surgeon who is board-certified in urology as well as in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.  He is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and is a Castle Connolly Top Doctor New York Metro Area, Inside Jersey Top Doctor and Inside Jersey Top Doctor for Women’s Health. His mission is to “bridge the gap” between the public and the medical community.

Dr. Siegel has authored the following books that are available on Amazon, iBooks, Nook and Kobo:

MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual & Urinary Health

THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health


PROMISCUOUS EATING: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food

These books are written for educated and discerning men and women who care about health, well-being, fitness and nutrition and enjoy feeling confident and strong.

Dr. Siegel is co-creator of the male pelvic floor exercise instructional DVD (female version is in the works): PelvicRx

New video on female pelvic floor exercises:  Learn about your pelvic floor


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2 Responses to “Sleep: The (Undeserved) Least Respected Piece of a Healthy Lifestyle”

  1. Seasonal Weight Gain, Pre-diabetes and E.D.: The Hard Facts | Our Greatest Wealth Is Health Says:

    […] eating habits, weight loss and thereafter maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in exercise, adequate sleep, alcohol in moderation, avoiding tobacco and minimizing […]

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