Rest is as necessary to survival as food, but people can’t wrap their heads around that fact. They also can’t understand how getting less sleep causes them to gain weight.
Though the physiology is complex, the answer is simple – stop treating your body like a machine. We rebuild and regenerate through rest. Without that regeneration, we can’t exist. Give your body the wrong signals and it’s not happy with you. Give the body the right signals, and you have a good shot at living long and well.
The Teenager’s Lament
Many teenagers around the globe are engaged in their own version of extreme sport – how little sleep and rest can I get before I collapse. I see these kids in my practice because they’re falling asleep in class and their parents would rather that they stop failing high school and go on to college.
The kids tell me the same thing – why should I sleep? I have plenty of energy. I love my cell phone, I love keeping up with friends. What’s so bad about that?
I explain sleep and active rest are necessary to long term survival, learning, memory, controlling mood, preventing infections and many serious illnesses – plus having normal skin and not gaining weight.
The teenagers generally pay attention only to the last two issues – though professing much disbelief. If I’m so active, they say, how can I possibly gain weight?
Because the proteins pumping in your heart are only lasting an hour or two. Because within a few days much of you has been replaced. No rest and the replacement doesn’t work. Sleep deprive animals and they die.
But how can I possibly gain weight? they ask. I try to explain that leptin, ghrelin, and insulin, critical to weight and metabolic control, get completely fouled up without rest. That their brain is getting rewired during rest, and if the rewiring doesn’t work right, they don’t work right. Many teenagers remain unimpressed. So I talk to them about sitting.
The Sitter’s Lament
Americans sit a lot. That’s one reason Sanjay Gupta got a lot of play when he highlighted a study that sitting more than six hours a day meant dying earlier. The effect was particularly prominent for women.
Sitting doesn’t take that much energy, I tell my teenagers. So people should eat less, right? They don’t need the fuel.
Except people who sit a lot don’t eat less. And interestingly, the more people weigh, the less well they sleep. Plus the less they sleep the more they gain weight, as dozens of international studies now demonstrate, creating the proverbial vicious cycle which partly explains our worldwide obesity and diabetes epidemic.
Why People Are Different From Cars
I then explain to the teenagers the humans are different from cars. Both of us need fuel. No fuel and the car stops running.
But cars are metal and plastic and rubber – we’re alive. Food is much more than fuel – it’s material and information. We need these materials because we rebuild so quickly through rest. Immobility does not mean inactivity – if it did, most plants would be considered dead. Even vegetables don’t “veg out.” There is enormous activity when a seed goes to an adult plant in a few months.
Like plants, we grow fast. Just like the acorn that turns into an oak, we are growing and rebuilding all the time. And you want that regrowing process to work right so that you are healthy, creative and productive, not tired, cranky, and slow.
The 60-7 Rule
At this point, some of the teenagers ‘get it.’ They realize rest is necessary but they want a rule of thumb.
I tell them remember two quantities – 60 minutes physical activity, 7 hours sleep. They really need more of each, and adolescents really need 9.5 hours of sleep a night to truly function, but I’ll get what I can, and 60-7 is not a bad rule of thumb for adults.
Why these particular numbers? Because populations live longer when people follow these guidelines. Humans are walking machines. Hunter gatherer populations walk 12 or more miles a day, and are in motion 6-8 hours a day. Yet just 60 minutes of physical activity seems to make a big difference to overall survival.
The beautiful part is, particularly regarding weight, all physical activity seems to count. Walking to the kitchen or the car; doing yardwork and housework; “activity” that prevents weight gain also seems to include standing as opposed to sitting, though I certainly would not add standing time to the 60 minute equation.
The seven hours sleep is truly minimal, but for many it is doable.
So to obtain weight control and better health you need to recognize you need to follow the body’s own system – not just sleep, and eating, and moving, but all together. When put together rhythmically in the form of going FAR, food followed by physical activity followed by active rest, you start to resynch your whole body, making them work in concert with your powerful body clocks.
And that makes it much easier for you to lose weight.
Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news