Several years ago, an evening news program on ABC-TV made a profound impression on me. The topic was “Inadequate sleep promotes overeating and can result in obesity.” I had never thought about this, but it made a lot of sense. The reporter pointed out that most people get only about five or six hours of sleep per night—an insufficient amount.
When health is stressed, one usually blames the quality of food we eat and the exercise we donʼt get, but rarely is sleep taken into consideration. Some people diet and exercise excessively and still find it difficult to lose weight. Sufficient sleep is necessary to maintain health. Recent research links lack of sleep to health problems such as obesity, diabetes, the common cold and even cancer. Lack of sufficient sleep may reduce a personʼs chances for a long and healthy life. (Read the article “Sleeplessness in America” by Susan Brink, published in U.S. News & World Report on October 16, 2000).
During sleep, nerve energy is recharged. The nervous system requires this energy to function well. During sleep, healing and repair takes place. The body also detoxifies during vital sleep. Signs of stress require the body to discontinue expending energy and focus on rest and sleep.
Dr. Ritamarie Loscalzo, in her article “How a Lack of Sufficient Sleep Makes You Fat,” points out, “Resistant weight loss and belly fat are intimately related to your hormones, and your hormone balance can be severely disrupted by chronic sleep disruption.” Dr. Loscalzo believes your sleep habits are as important as what you eat when it comes to losing weight, especially the extra weight around the middle area. She describes in detail how insufficient sleep affects your weight:
- Decreased serotonin and dopamine production, which leads to cravings for sugary foods to bring the levels back up.
- Increased ghrelin (a hormone that makes you feel hungry even if your body has enough food) and decreased leptin, making you feel full and satisfied after eating—the result means sugar cravings and continued hunger even after youʼve eaten a full meal.
- Decreased growth hormone, leading to decreased ability to burn fat and lay down lean muscle.
- Increased cortisol, “the stress hormone,” which triggers the breakdown of muscle stores, increased blood sugar and increased insulin. This leads to the deposition of fat, mainly around your waist.
Most research on human sleep needs is done on subjects living on a mainstream standard American diet, far from a healthful raw food lifestyle. When I first went 100 percent raw in 1994, I experienced a tremendous surge in energy and continued with this positive energy, although sleeping much less than previously. In her book Quantum Eating, Tonya Zavasta writes: “Sleep is like a recovery room. The more you are hurting yourself (she refers here to eating cooked and processed food), the more time you need to spend there to recover. I just want you to see how irrelevant general recommendations are to you. When you are following the raw food lifestyle, you are not general, typical, average or generic—you are unique and special.”
It is best not to have sleep expectations but simply to follow your own sleep needs. There will be times that five to six hours of sleep will suffice, and you will wake energized and ready for the day. Other times, you will feel the need for eight to nine hours or even more. The body works hard digesting food, so it makes sense to say that the more food we eat, the more sleep we will need.
I have often observed heavy eaters of animal products and/or cooked and processed foods in relation to their heightened need to nap or sleep during the arduous digestive experience. I personally found the most difficult addictions to give up were to bread and pasta. The chemical reaction to cooked starch in the stomach acts similarly to a drug, causing a sedating effect. That knocked-out feeling was also due to the high salt content needed to give starches taste. Eating cooked starches during the holidays used to make me feel weak and lethargic, even to the point of experiencing difficulty getting up off the chair. As a longtime raw vegan, I now have energy following my meals, even on holidays, and I never feel the need to take a nap in the middle of the day.
I have found it beneficial not to eat anything for at least four hours prior to going to sleep for the night. On nights when I did eat close to bedtime, I often didnʼt sleep as well because my body had to focus on digestion rather than repair. Eating close to bedtime can result in the need to get up to go to the bathroom one or more times, also disrupting the sleep cycle. When eating late in the evening, our focus will necessarily be on all-night digestion. When most of our energy is used for digestion, one awakens tired and lacking energy.
Avoiding eating at night is crucial for totally restful sleep. Eating only during the day has powerful rejuvenation and health benefits. Deep, sound sleep is essential to good health. Eating at night forces digestion to take place during sleep, thereby diminishing the primary focus of sleeping—cleansing and healing.
The right amount of sleep will vary for each of us, depending on variations in diet and lifestyle. When thriving on uncooked plant foods, there will ensue a heightened innate understanding of natural rhythms regarding when to eat and sleep. We learn to listen more carefully to our physical needs and rely on its signals for rest and sleep.
If problems arise causing stress to the extent that falling asleep becomes difficult, it is important never to take sleeping pills of any kind. Swami Satchidananda was famous for saying: “The sleeping pills will sleep, but you wonʼt. After all, they are sleeping pills.” Real, beneficial sleep can come only naturally. Before going to sleep, acknowledge that you have valiantly done all you could do to deal with todayʼs problems. Now itʼs time to yield control and thankfully abandon yourself to the hands of your Creator. Healing sleep will soon ensue.
“Tomorrow is another day.”