Nutrition and exercise get a lot of attention from the “natural healing” community, but sleep is too little
mentioned. My research indicates that sleep habits and patterns are as important to maintaining the “healthy state of being” as any other lifestyle aspect.
Obviously, in sleep, the brain goes “offline” so it is logical that sleep is critical for the health of that organ which uses about 20% of total body energy expenditure while it is 2% of body mass. Sleep functions to restore brain (and nerve) energy reserves. I won’t elaborate on that fact in this post except that it has to do with brain tissue being able to use only readily available glucose for energy while other body tissue can store glycogen and convert it to glucose when needed. When we run out of brain and nerve energy, we absolutely must sleep to revitalize it.
For a long time, many scientists accepted the idea expressed by a Harvard sleep and dream researcher who wrote, “Sleep is of the Brain, By the Brain, and For the Brain.” It appears he believed that the rest of the body could benefit as much from quiet rest (when the brain is still “online”) as sleep. Research now indicates otherwise. Sleep is critical for the rest of the body’s health and healing. I will mention several study findings below.
In my long hospitalization after cancer surgery, I remember one doctor awakening me from a sound sleep at 6 a.m. (as usual) to do a routine “once over”. As she left, she said, “Be sure and sleep a lot because that is the time that your body heals.” It’s ironic how difficult it is to sleep in a hospital–or eat nutritionally for that matter. Still, her advice was well founded. Our body wants to heal and regular deep sleep is its best ally.
Our DNA is equipped with two genes in every cell that stave off cancer often referred to as “anti-oncogenes”. As long as both are intact, the cell is protected, but if one or both are damaged, the cell is vulnerable to malignancy. Sleep deprivation actually shuts down the activity of over 700 different genes, and, in particular, those controlling inflammation, immunity, stress, metabolism and cancer (either directly or indirectly).
Professor David Speigel of Stanford University points out that people’s sleep quality and quantity can seriously alter hormone balance in their bodies which can then influence cancer progression. For example, cortisol is a hormone which peaks at dawn and declines through the day. Cortisol, among many other hormones, regulates the immune system including natural killer cells (NK cells).
Melatonin which lowers estrogen is another hormone affected by sleep because it is produced in the brain during sleep. Some scientists believe diminished melatonin increases risk of breast cancer specifically.
Sleep deprivation suppresses thyroxine which supports tissue metabolism, repair, and growth and prolactin, a growth hormone. “All these hormones normally increase with sleep. Suppression of these hormones due to sleep deprivation can contribute to overall decline in physiological health” and that result has been seen in experiments on chronic sleep deprivation. (Dr. Craig Heller, Stanford U.)
Dr. Craig Heller also explains the impact of normal sleep on bone health, “Bones are continually being repaired and remodeled in response to use. Two types of cells are the yin and yang of this process. Cells called ‘osteoclasts’ are continually tearing down bone and cells called ‘osteoblasts’ are following the wake of the osteoclasts to lay down new bone (osteoid). Obviously, a balance between osteoclasts and osteoblasts is critical..”
A study at Medical College of Wisconsin on long term sleep deprivation of rats showed a 45-fold (not 45% but 45 times) reduction in bone lined by osteoid (new bone tissue) in comparison to control rats. “Bone density of the sleep deprived rats was much less than that of the control rats. Obviously these results do not argue well for bone health in repeatedly chronically sleep deprived rats or humans.” (Heller)
Dr. Roll did a study at Stanford on hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). Hematopoiesis is the natural generating of all different types of blood cells in the bone marrow. These HSCs migrate in and out of the bone marrow and, attracted to certain cell signals, develop into the various kinds of blood cells. This studies “showed a pronounced decrease in the migration of the HSCs from the sleep deprived mice (as compared to the control mice who slept normally).
When the researcher checked the HSC count of sleep-deprived mice given 2 hours of “recovery sleep”, the migratory abilities of the HSCs was completely restored. “Thus, very small changes in sleep amounts can have enormous changes in cellular properties of our hematopoietic system.” (Heller)
I found it fascinating that, as Dr. Heller relates, “Rolls (the researcher at Stanford) was also able to narrow down the sleep effect on HSC migration to the expression of a single gene in those cells. Interestingly, the expression of this gene is under control of growth hormone, a hormone that is specifically released during sleep and is suppressed by sleep deprivation.”
In short, sleep deprivation changed DNA which resulted in interfering with blood cell regeneration in bone marrow. As Shane Ellison (“The People’s Chemist) said in a recent eNewsletter, “..One thing is certain. Lack of DEEP sleep will shut off your DNA faster than most bad habits.” You can search www.thepeopleschemist.com . Ellison has developed a good herbal sleep aid called seratoninfx compounded from the herb, valerian root. He’s also the author of the book, Over the Counter Natural Cures. He gives the cancer chapter away as a pdf. I believe you can Google it. The chapter title is, “Avoid Cancer Now”.
If you want to investigate sleep further, here are some resources I used:
Professor H. Craig Heller, PhD (Stanford University), “Secrets of Sleep Science: From Dreams to Disorders”, a series of university level lectures published and distributed by The Teaching Company under the label “The Great Courses” sub-topic “Health and Wellness”. I referenced lectures 13 and 22 of the 24 lectures in this fascinating. www.thegreatcourses.com
WebMD, “How Sleep Affects Cancer” sub-title “Poor Sleep Alters Hormones That Influence Cancer Cells” by Sid Kirchheimer, October 1, 2003. www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20031001/how-sleep-affects-cancer
Professor David Spiegel (Stanford University) “How Sleep Can Fight Cancer”, published online in MailOnline at link: www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-198096/How-sleep-fight-cancer.html
David Klein, Ph.D, Hygienic Doctor, “Know Your Self-healing Power! Use the Gift of Sleep to Get Well!” from Living Nutrition, vol 20. Posted on