The Missing Ingredient to Better Health for You and Your Child

The Missing Ingredient to Better Health for You and Your Child

by Gayla Grace

More exercise. A better diet. We hear it all the time, right?

Lack of exercise and obesity seem connected to every conversation we hear regarding our health. But what if we’re missing an ingredient to better health?

What if we’re ignoring a likely component that contributes to weight gain, lethargy, depression, and even ADHD?

Research confirms it–the undeniable value of this missing ingredient for many of us. What is it? Adequate sleep.

It plays a critical role in determining if we’re functioning at our peak!

It’s imperative that children and adults get enough sleep every night. Yet, how often do we choose to ignore the implications of sleep deprivation? How often do we allow our kids to push back their bedtime hour? I’ll be the first to admit it. When my days get hectic or our son’s schedule revs up, sleep is the first to go.

I hear people brag about how little sleep they get. I’ve read articles titled, “The Sleepless Elite.” Margaret Thatcher, known to sleep four hours a night, once said sleep is “for wimps.” It’s not surprising that we think it’s OK to function on as little sleep as possible.

If we’re considering healthy habits, however, sleep needs to be at the top of the list, for us and our children! It plays a critical role in determining if we’re functioning at our peak. And the lack of sleep often goes unrecognized in behavior issues.

Sleep deprivation can mirror the symptoms of ADHD, particularly in children. Inattentiveness, impulsive behavior, trouble completing tasks, difficulty with organization, and hyperactivity are linked to ADHD, but could also be a result of poor sleep or not enough sleep. A study in the Journal of Sleep Research concluded that treating sleep problems in some children might be enough to reduce or possibly eliminate attention and hyperactivity/impulsivity issues.

Adults treated for ADHD could also be suffering from sleep issues that are contributing to their symptoms. It’s easier to give a simple diagnosis, however, and medicate a patient for ADHD than to search deeper for an underlying cause. If you or your child struggle with ADHD, consider how the sleep habits in your home might be contributing to the issue.

Sleep deprivation also contributes to weight gain. Low tolerance for discomfort keeps you from making healthy eating choices. It’s easier to grab whatever requires the least amount of effort or a sugar-laden, caffeinated drink instead of a healthier option. Sugary drinks and food make us crave more sugary items, creating a cycle of unhealthy choices. Lack of energy from a sleep-deprived state also keeps you from your regular exercise routine.

Nuclear pharmacist Donita Wittenberg, who works an all-night shift for a week every month, confirms the changes her body, and specifically her appetite, go through when she is sleep-deprived. “The week I work the night shift I’m hungry all the time, like my body is craving something-sleep–but I eat instead.” Wittenberg admits to having a more difficult time controlling what she eats the week she’s on the night shift, and says, “I’m thankful it’s only one week a month.”

Research confirms the benefits of adequate sleep when trying to lose weight. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine noted that participants in a sleep-deprived group were hungrier and had a smaller amount of fat loss than those getting enough sleep, with the same intake of food. In a University of Chicago Medicine press release, senior author of the study, Plamen Penev, MD, PhD, says, “If your goal is to lose fat, skipping sleep is like poking sticks in your bicycle wheels. Cutting back on sleep, a behavior that is ubiquitous in modern society, appears to compromise efforts to lose fat through dieting. In our study it reduced fat loss by 55 percent.” That’s a considerable amount on anyone’s scale.

Sleep deprivation leads to a host of other unhealthy problems. It can contribute to depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, slower cognition, forgetfulness, stroke, heart attack, and other debilitating issues. Our bodies need adequate sleep to function as they should.

If you’re determined to set healthy goals for you and your child, focus on your sleep habits in addition to diet and exercise. It takes intentional effort to get the sleep you need as a busy mom with kids who often have busy schedules, but why not try it? Sleep more and as a result, reap the benefits of a healthier household.

Gayla Grace is a wife and mom to five children in her blended family.

Despite a busy schedule, she tries hard to get adequate sleep!

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