Want to know what single thing can improve your athletic performance, fix your relationship woes, and help you eat better? No, it’s not a miracle drug (or cocaine), it’s sleep. Just sleep. Of course, it’s no revelation that sleep is important for health — any nutrition or workout program worth its salt at least pays it lip service by mentioning that everything goes better with at least eight hours of sleep. But more and more studies abound that prove it’s not just a nice supplement to our otherwise-healthy lifestyles; sleep is a powerful way to get your body (and life) back in shape. Since Monday, I’ve seen three new studies proving that point: 1)”Hey, Batter: How Your Sleep Affects Your Game,” 2)”Sleepiness Makes Fatty Foods Extra Tempting,” and 3)”When Wives Don’t Sleep, Marriage Suffers.” We took some issue with the last one (come on, now, relationship issues can’t all be women’s fault), but on the whole, the evidence is clear: You need your sleep.
For the first study, sleep researcher Dr. W. Christopher Winter surveyed Major League Baseball players to find out whether they were early birds or night owls; he found that early risers had a higher batting average during early games, while those who stayed up late tended to out-perform them in late-afternoon or evening games.
In the second study, researchers found that daytime drowsiness caused by lack of sleep often leads to worse food choices in the evening. “The sleepier you are, the less the prefrontal cortex — the inhibitory area of the brain — is activated when it’s shown high-calorie foods,” one of the researchers explained. In simple terms, it’s harder to resist dessert (and chips, and more dessert) when you’re running on empty, sleep-wise.
And finally, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are telling us that women’s sleep patterns could be the cause of marital discord. Apparently, women who tossed and turned instead of catching their zzz‘s were more likely to pick arguments the next morning. (Did we mention that we’re not in love with the idea that women are the sole bearers of responsibility for how their relationships are going.)
But even if you’re not married, a professional baseball player, or a midnight snacker, these studies serve as a good reminder that sleep shouldn’t just be an afterthought when you’re planning a healthy routine. Sure, carrot sticks and whole grains are important; so is staying active, seeing your therapist, and spending time around your friends. But if you’re sacrificing sleep time for any of those healthy things, you need to think again.