Can you guess what it is?
It’s something you love to do. It’s absolutely free. You do it literally every day (I missed one day in my life; that was a special day).
It boosts your wellness and it’s a great way to lose excess bodyfat (or prevent the accumulation of excess bodyfat).
It’s not an exercise program. It’s not an eating program.
A study article published in the interdisciplinary medical journal Science Translational Medicine (1) has the answer: sleep.
In the study, subjects spent five weeks getting normal sleep and three weeks getting 5.6 hours of sleep per night. Measures of blood-insulin levels, blood-glucose levels, and resting metabolic rate were taken from the subjects. Lack of sleep was associated with lower blood-insulin levels, higher blood-glucose levels, and lower resting metabolic rates.
That glorious Sunday morning feeling when you linger there. That delicious feeling when your head hits the pillow and you cozy up under the covers after a full day. Oh, how good it feels to sleep.
And just how good for you is it? Let’s ask the researchers:
“The robust changes we observed with exposure to chronic and concurrent circadian disruption and sleep restriction have potential relevance to the millions of people who experience these challenges on a daily basis and who are more likely to develop the metabolic syndrome and diabetes.”
“Findings of particular clinical relevance for exposure to chronic sleep restriction with circadian disruption include a 32% decrease in insulin secretion in response to a standardized meal, a very large effect that led to inadequate glucose regulation: glucose levels were higher for a longer time and rose to pre-diabetic (type-2) levels in some participants.”
“Finally, the 8% drop in RMR [resting metabolic rate] with sleep restriction and circadian disruption, assuming no changes in activity or food intake, would translate into ~12.5 pounds [sic] increase in weight over a single year (120 kcal/day X 365 days / 3500 kcal of fat mass), which has clear clinical relevance as chronic sleep restriction with circadian disruption is endemic in our society.”
Three weeks of lousy sleep led to a pre-diabetic metabolic state in the subjects and lowered their resting metabolic rate by an amount that would result in 12.5 pounds of bodyfat gain in a year if they continued their sleep-deprived ways.
It’s good and it’s true: Sleep makes you well and lean. Sweet, decadent pleasure can be very good for you.
Wellness isn’t a no pain, no gain game. In wellness, exercise and eating are the cool kids in our Puritan culture. When it comes to wellness, sleep is certainly not a cool kid; it’s one big outcast. Tell your friends you get eight or nine hours of sleep per night and they look at you like you’re a jerk. With exercise, you can push yourself to the point of exhaustion. With eating, you can deny yourself the sensuous enjoyment of food and the satisfaction of a fully belly. Pushing and denying are gods in Puritan culture. Pleasure is about as big a sin as you can commit. That’s why most people who get feedback from a physician that they’re on the road to type-2 diabetes or who’ve got that 12.5 pounds of excess bodyfat hanging around don’t turn to sleep as part of their solution. Science tells us they should. If art is more your thing, so does William Shakespeare:
“O sleep, O gentle sleep, Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frightened thee?” (Henry IV)
“Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber.” (Julius Caesar)
(1) Metabolic Consequences in Humans of Prolonged Sleep Restriction Combined with Circadian Disruption. Science Translational Medicine, 2012, 4(129), 1-19.
Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.