Sleep Is Your Superpower – And You’re Probably Not Getting Enough [Research]
Everyone is exhausted – and it’s killing us.
I’m going to start this week’s blog by talking about testicles. Didn’t expect to be reading about that from your chiropractor on a Monday morning, did you? Here’s the down and dirty:
New research out of the LA Biomedical Research Institute shows that men who sleep 5 hours a night have significantly smaller testicles than those who sleep 7 hours or more. Plus, those men who sleep 5 hours per night or less will have testosterone levels of someone 10 years older. That means not getting enough sleep will literally make you feel a decade older.
Women see equivalent impairments in their hormone regulation (namely estrogen synthesis) if they’re being deprived of sleep as well.
Got your attention? I know, the usual reaction to recommendations to get more sleep is to tune it out because we hear it so often. But there’s some legit, evidence-based science coming out that’s showing we’re doing serious damage to our health — and life — by not sleeping enough.
This is your brain. This is your brain on no sleep.
From this point, it might only get more depressing for those who burn the candle from both ends.
Let’s start with the brain and the functions of learning and memory. It’s relatively old news now that science has shown we need sleep after learning to essentially hit the save button on new memories. But recently, researchers have demonstrated that you actually also need sleep before learning to prepare your brain, like a dry sponge ready to soak up new information. And without it, the memory-forming apparatuses in the brain get waterlogged and are unable to absorb new information.
A study published in Nature Neuroscience recently examined whether, basically, pulling an all-nighter was a good idea. A group of students were assigned to one of two experimental groups: a sleep group (who slept a full 8 hours) and a sleep-deprivation group (who stayed up all night). The next day the participants were placed inside an MRI scanner and asked to try to memorize a list of facts as the researchers took snapshots of their brain activity.
The results surprised even the researchers: there was a 40% reduction in the ability of the brain to make new memories without sleep. In a practical sense, that’s easily the difference between a student scoring 100 on an exam and failing it.
What’s happening in your brain?
There’s a structure called the hippocampus that sits deep in both the right and left sides of your brain that acts as the information “inbox” – it receives new memory messages and stores them temporarily. In the participants who’d had a full night’s worth of sleep, there was plenty of healthy learning-related activity going on in the hippocampus.
In those who were sleep deprived, though, there was essentially no significant signal being detected in the hippocampus. Lack of sleep shuts down the memory inbox, and any new messages simply get bounced.
So sleep is both necessary before learning, as well as after, because during deep sleep bursts of electrical activity called sleep spindles act like a file-transfer mechanism and shift memories from a short-term reservoir to a more permanent long-term storage site within the brain.
All this new research suggests that the disruption of deep sleep is an underappreciated factor that is contributing to cognitive decline in aging and to diseases like Alzheimer’s as well.
Sleep is just as essential for your body.
There have been a ton of studies linking sleep with cardiovascular health over the years, but it turns out we don’t really even need them. There’s a global experiment performed on 1.6 billion people twice a year, and it’s called daylight saving time. In the spring, when we lose one hour of sleep, we see a subsequent 24% increase in heart attacks that following day. In the autumn, when we gain an hour of sleep, we see a 21% reduction in heart attacks.
You see exactly the same profile for car crashes, road traffic accidents, even suicide rates the day after daylight savings.
But I’d like to focus on sleep’s effect on your immune system. We have some really cool immune cells called natural killer cells (NK’s) – they’re the big blue blobs devouring a tumor in the image below.
Ideally, you’d like a healthy, virile set of these immuno-assassins on call at all times. What happens when you don’t get enough sleep? A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine took a group of participants, restricted their sleep to four hours and looked at the change in immune cell activity after just one night of reduced sleep.
It wasn’t small. There was a 70%(!) drop in natural killer cell activity after only a single night of four hours of sleep. That’s a concerning state for your immune system, and it’s easy to understand why scientists are now finding significant links between short sleep duration and your risk for the development of bowel cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer.
In fact, the link is so strong that the World Health Organization has classified any form of night-time shift work as a probable carcinogen.
Sleep loss even messes with your DNA.
Researchers at the University of Surrey in England found that losing sleep changed rhythmic patterns in the way genes turn on and off, disrupting the genes’ circadian clock.
They found that after a week of study volunteers only getting 6 hours of sleep per night (instead of their normal 8), 711 genes were expressed differently: 444 were turned down, and 267 were amped up.
Further analysis revealed that genes involved in inflammation, down-regulation of the immune system, tumor promotion and protein damage were activated. Most of the deactivated genes, in contrast, were involved in producing and repairing proteins, cells and tissues, as well as sensitizing your body to insulin.
Sleep when you’re dead?
I’m being serious when I say that following that old axiom is extremely unwise advice. Epidemiological studies across millions of individuals proves it.
Here’s the bottom line: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. A lack of sleep predicts all-cause mortality, and people who lack sleep have higher rates of diabetes, stroke and high blood pressure. Sleep, unfortunately, is not an optional lifestyle luxury. It’s a non-negotiable biological necessity. It’s your life-support system, and it’s your body’s best effort at immortality.
Tell us what to do!
So how do you get better sleep? The evidence points to two easy changes that make the biggest impact.
The first is regularity. Go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, no matter whether it’s the weekday or the weekend. Regularity is king, and it will anchor your sleep and improve the quantity and the quality of that sleep.
Number 2? Keep it cool. Your body needs to drop its core temperature by about two to three degrees Fahrenheit to initiate sleep and then to stay asleep, and it’s the reason you will always find it easier to fall asleep in a room that’s too cold than too hot. Aim for a bedroom temperature of around 65ºF.
Pain keeping you up at night?
Not getting enough sleep because you’re in pain? Here’s your wakeup call: there’s zero excuse when study after study shows that chiropractic care is far and away the best solution to correct spinal problems, reduce pain and start living optimally.
Ascent Chiropractic is just a phone call away. To make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, call 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.