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The importance of sleep cannot be overestimated, as sleep is essential to overall health and wellbeing. The National Institutes of Health says:

"Without enough sleep, you can’t focus and pay attention or respond quickly. A lack of sleep may even cause mood problems. Also, growing evidence shows that a chronic lack of sleep increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and infections."

How much is enough? If animals are any indication, carnivores tend to sleep more than herbivores, with meat-eaters like tigers requiring 16 hours of shut-eye per night to the leaf-eating giraffe's 2. As for humans, though individual "quotas" vary, and teenagers need more sleep than adults (generally between 9 and 10 hours), most grown-ups require at least 7 hours of sleep and as much as 9 hours or more!

Now you may think that you are an outlier, that you don't require even the bare minimum of what is recommended, and we all know people who function on 4 or 5 hours a night, but falsely elevating energy levels with caffeine, which overrides the body's ability to sense fatigue, can set you up for health problems down the road. One or two cups of java in the a.m. hours is one thing. But if you're functioning on a pot of coffee plus a shot or two of espresso and maybe a Red Bull or a 5-hour energy shot just to get you through the day you're probably sleep deprived. Not probably. You are!

So if your goal is weight loss, improved fitness/overall performance, enhanced mood and improved immunity, make sure you get enough ZZZZs.  And quality of sleep is important as well, since it is in deeper stages of sleep that your body releases important hormones such as human growth hormone, so refrain from drinking fluids in the evening (say, after 4 pm) so that you won't wake up more than once or twice per night to empty your bladder.

Good sleep hygiene includes going to bed at around the same time each night, and sleeping in a pitch dark room in total quiet. If you're smack dab in a big city, consider ear plugs to drown out ambient noise. Also, limit TV watching before bed in favor of relaxation techniques (breathing deeply and counting your breaths) or possibly some light reading. Watching your thoughts is another good strategy. Thoughts are like cockroaches and tend to disappear under close observation resulting in a clear mind and quicker onset of slumber. Finally, when choosing a night-time snack opt for foods with higher levels of tryptophan, a precursor to melatonin, which aids sleep. Bananas are a good option.

And remember to drink alcohol in moderation if at all. In amounts that exceed moderate levels (1 drink for a female, two for a male) alcohol is notorious for disrupting the sleep cycle, leading to headache, morning fogginess, and impairing memory and mood. Alcohol is also a diuretic and so drinking increases the likelihood you'll need to wake up to pee several times.

Of note: it may seem counter-intuitive, but the lighter/leaner you are, the more sleep you require. While heavier individuals may get by with closer to 7 hours per night, the lightest and leanest among us may require 9 hours or more. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, subjects needed more sleep as they lost weight, and sleep duration remained higher in the months that followed the study, provided they kept the weight off. The conclusion is simple: if you want an excuse to stay in bed an extra hour, get ripped, and you can say, "I'm lean, I need me my sleep!" And here's an added benefit: being lighter and leaner decreases daytime sleepiness and time to fall asleep. Do not expect to hear this from your doctor. One study, published in the May 2012 issue of Obesity found that 38 percent of doctors are overweight. That's more than the general population (33 percent)! Practice what you preach and others will hopefully do the same. Happy snoozing.



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