Sleep proves important aspect of health, research shows

A new study from experts at Texas A&M University shows that, while diet and exercise are an important component in staying healthy, sleep plays an even more vital role in maintaining health. Photo credit: Jessica Hubble

By Megan Rule | Staff Writer

In trying to live a healthier lifestyle, the debate over the importance of diet and exercise just got thrown a curve ball as recent Texas A&M University research shows that sleep is of even more importance than just diet and exercise.

“Sleep is what most people most commonly don’t account for when they’re looking at factors to improve or negatively affect health,” said Dr. David Earnest, professor in the department of neural science and experimental therapeutics at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. “It’s what people most commonly ignore in their life.”

Based on research from experts at the Texas A&M Health Science Center, all three factors are important to overall health, but the ratio of sleep, diet and exercise is about 60-20-20 or 60-30-10 respectively. The main point of the research states that sleep is the most important because by maintaining regular sleep cycles and regular timing of sleeping and waking, the body’s internal clocks stay on schedule. If a person doesn’t stay on schedule, the body clocks are confused, and that translates to problems with regulating metabolism, leading to weight gain, Earnest said.

“We certainly can verify that sleep plays a crucial role in daily functions,” said Dr. Paul Gordon, chair of the department of health, human performance and recreation at Baylor. “You can see from the study the impact that sleep has on health and exercise.”

In terms of applying this to daily life, there are a few recommendations experts have. Dr. Jesse Parr, clinical professor with the Texas A&M College of Medicine and team physician for the Texas A&M University athletic department, said it is best to make one resolution to stick to, then it will be easier to implement the new ones, according to the press release from Texas A&M University Health Science Center. The experts recommend going to bed within the same hour every day to start noticing improvements.

“You could expect that there would be a shift in your diet due to a lack of sleep and a lack of activity, leading to putting on weight,” Gordon said. “There’s a benefit in maintaining consistent sleep patterns.”

Earnest said this research is important to pay attention to, especially for college students who tend to have irregular sleep schedules. Earnest said that college students are prime examples of social jet lag because as weekends approach, schedules change and students go to sleep even later and sleep in longer. This impacts one’s well being as a whole because the factor most commonly ignored is sleep, so students are seriously messing up their body cycles by doing this, Earnest said.

“Sleep is at the keystone because it’s not just the amount of sleep but the timing of sleep that is important because that is how our internal body clocks are being regulated,” Earnest said. “It’s not just sleep and wake times, but also meal times. The two really go hand in hand.”

Inconsistent sleep patterns have been linked to a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, Earnest said. This is because when you sleep less, you’re tired and are more likely to eat fatty, sugary foods to get energy, Gordon said. Gordon recommends trying to maintain normal patterns, putting the phone away and limiting alcohol consumption in order to jumpstart sleep patterns, leading to a healthy diet and more energy to workout.

“We’re biologically designed to be active, but we can’t be active unless we eat properly and get plenty of sleep,” Parr said in the press release.