2019: A new year, a fresh start... and more sleep!

Many people see the new year as an excellent opportunity to start over. New resolutions or goals are set. Quit smoking, les sugar and sweets, less alcohol, more physical activities, eating healthier,... Name it! However, there is 1 important resolution that is rarely seen, but that can be considered a the number 1 resolution of 2019: More or better sleep!

First of all, sleep is considered 1 of the 3 pillars of health! So why not invest in it? But more importantly, sleep will increase the probability of succes of most other typical new year resolutions.

Important skills necessary to help you stick to your new year resolutions are willpower and self control. They make it possible to hold on to a new habit long enough to consolidate it.  

Research shows that people trying to control their impulses or behavior, show increased activity in the prefrontal cortex (the most frontal part of your brain). Here recedes the "CEO" of our brain. Brain imaging studies (fMRI) show that sleep deprivation, on the other hand, results in a decrease in activity of the prefrontal cortex. This means that our "CEO" functions are disrupted, including our capacity for self control and willpower. If we sleep deprive ourselves, we are more prone to give in too the sweets, a sigaret, junkfood or binge-watching on Netflix instead of going for a run or the gym.  Moreover, sleep shortage also results in a general heightened stress level. As such we will respond quicker to stressful stimuli. The consequence is a negative vicious cycle in which we use an extra sweet or cookie, another sigaret, that extra glass of wine at the end of the day to decrease our stress levels... 

To summarize, here are 5 good reasons to invest in sleep as your main new year resolution for 2019. The rest will follow! 

  1.  Enough quality sleep will improve your willpower and impuls control. As such, you will be better in ignoring tempting external stimuli and sticking to new habits. 

  2.  Enough quality sleep will influence your metabolism and your feeling of being hungry. When we are sleep deprived, we produce less leptine, the 'hunger hormone' which creates a sensation of satisfaction and decreases your hunger. Moreover, sleep deprivation increases our fatigue, which in turn will increase the probability that we need a quick energy shot during the day. We will be more tempted to eat an extra chocolate bar, chips, more coffee or another energy drink. When we sleep enough, we will produce leptine much quicker and as such eat less and have less craving for junkfood (high in fat or sugar). So, sleeping will increase the chances for keeping up healthy eating habits and/or losing weight the correct way.  

  3. Enough sleep will result in a general decrease of your stress levels during the day. You will respond less automatic and reflexive to stressful stimuli and feel more resilient.

  4. Enough sleep improves your general mood. As such, you will perceive your environment more positive, be more attentive for positive situations and experiences, as well as memorize them. This will help you to stay positive and motivated when you go through a more difficult day and it's harder to stick to your resolutions. 

  5. We all know that physical activity will improve your sleep, but sleeping is crucial for your general endurance and recuperation. Sleep deprivation will result in more fatigue and as such we often don't feel like going to the gym or for a run. Moreover, sleep deprivation will destroy part of the benefits of sports. We recuperate less during the night, our body is not able to fully repair and we often have the subjective feeling that it is too hard to continue. A such, we will give up much quicker. 

A good start begins with more sleep! 

Aisha Cortoos
Clinical Psychologist - Psychotherapist - PhD in Psychology
sleep/stress expert