The "New" Miracle Treatment for Health and Fertility is.....Sleep?
What if I told you that scientists have discovered a new treatment that has profound effects on your health. This treatment makes you live longer. It works on the brain to enhance your memory and makes you more creative. It is protective against cancer and dementia. The treatment works on your immune system and makes you less susceptible to catching the cold or flu. It lowers your risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes. It has been shown to be a very powerful antidepressant. It is a game-changer when it comes to fertility medicine: men who undergo treatment have higher sperm counts; it helps women balance their hormones and it has been shown to be a wonderful adjunctive therapy to fertility - whether it is through natural or ART methods. Additionally, it helps the mother carry the baby to full term. This miracle therapy even helps you burn fat, lose weight and control food cravings.
If this were a new drug, many people would be in disbelief over its health benefits. What if I told you that this treatment is available to you at no cost? Better yet, there are no side effects! I am not advertising the benefits of a cure-all wonder drug. All I’ve done is gone over the benefits of getting a full night of sleep.
We scramble about looking for the external “cure-all” that is going to fix all our ailments. But so often, I find that the most potent medicine is within us all. We forget that our bodies are designed for health and has a desire for balance if we give it the right input. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be diving into the Foundational Pillars for Health that should make up everyone’s self-care regime.
The Foundational Pillars for Health:
Effective nutrition and exercise
This particular blog post is the second of a two part series about the importance of sleep. If you haven’t had a chance yet, hop on over here to read Part 1 first.
Sleep and Fertility
In a study of over 1000 young men, there was a direct link found between sleep and male fertility. Men who had poor quality and/or quantity of sleep were found to have 25% less sperm count and smaller testicles. Additionally, in a different study, men who sleep 5-6 hours a night regularly have testosterone levels of men who are 10 years their senior.
The link between sleep and female fertility was studied in this systemic review. Lack of sleep affects the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA) which may directly exert its effect on reproductive hormones, interfere with normal follicular development, affect menstruation and have profound effects on fertility. Known factors to fertility such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Thyroid regulation problems such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or hypothyroidism are affected by insomnia. Women determined to have diminished ovarian reserve were 30 times more likely to suffer from sleep disturbances. Even when you do fall pregnant, sleep is incredibly important. During the first trimester, your body is awash with high levels of the hormone progesterone. In early pregnancy, I refer to this hormone as the “sticky hormone” because it increases blood circulation to the uterus which thickens and vascularizes it to create the ideal environment for the embryo to implant. Stress from lack of sleep alters progesterone secretion which may impact early miscarriage rates.
Women who engage in shift work are particularly susceptible to the hormonal challenges that come with a disrupted circadian cycle. According to this study, disturbances in sleep cycles (shift work, jet lag and sleep deprivation) impacts increased menstrual cycle irregularity, increased risk of miscarriage, difficulty in conceiving.
Struggling With That Extra 10-15 Pounds? Sleep In!
You body will be stingy with giving up fat if you are underslept. This is because in our evolutionary history, one of the biggest stressors in our environment was a period of drought or famine. Our ancestors fared better if they were able to hold onto fat during times of stress. In modern society, we are just a few blocks away from a grocery store at any given moment. The stress that we experience is not famine, but rather, overwork, stress and chronic sleep deprivation. The problem is that our bodies do not understand the difference between going through a famine and living a 40+ hour work week with insufficient sleep so it will send out the signal to hold onto fat. Studies show that If you are not getting sufficient sleep, 70% of all the weight that you lose while dieting and exercising will come from lean body mass, not from fat.
Additionally, sleep has also been found to control the two hormones that control hunger and cravings: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin tells your brain that you are full and satiated. Ghrelin is the hunger hormone. In one study, a cohort of participants were forced to only sleep 4-5 hours over one week. They were found to have ramped up levels of ghrelin that signalled them to eat about 200-300 extra calories each day. Compound that out over the course of a year and that amounts to about 10-15 pounds of obese mass each year. Additionally, when you are underslept, you tend to eat more of the wrong things because your body will crave simple sugars and processed foods, rather than healthy fats and proteins.
Sleep and Cancer
The field of epigenetics is the new hot topic in medical circles right now. Epigenetics demonstrates that while you cannot control the constitutional genetics that you are born with, you can influences your overall health by choosing to engage in lifestyle habits that promote health. When it comes to cancer, sleep is a major player.
In one study, participants were allowed to sleep for only 4 hours for 1 night. Their bloodwork was analyzed and found to have a 70% reduction in natural killer cells just from this one night. Natural killer cells are important because they are like the garbage trucks of the body. We are constantly creating new cells and in the formation of these cells, there are going to be some cells that are abnormal. Natural killer cells circulate via the bloodstream and clean up those abnormal cells. If allowed to proliferate, these abnormal cells could turn into tumors and cancer.
In another study, a cohort of folks were allowed to sleep 6 hours of sleep for 1 week. This is actually not far from what many modern day people consider to be a “normal” week. Their gene expressions were studied and it was determined that the genes responsible for immune health were turned off and the genes responsible for tumor production turned up. There is enough of a link between insufficient sleep and cancer that the WHO recently declared night shift work as a probable carcinogen.
So have I sold you on this “wonder-drug” yet? If the answer is “yes” then read on to find some tips on how to get the 7-9 hours of sleep your body requires.
REGULARITY: Our internal body clock is very well-tuned to a cycle of around 24 hours. By creating a schedule that you are able to stick to with your meals, sleep times and time you wake up, your body will be more accustomed to and will more easily fall into the levels of deep restorative sleep.
TURN OFF LIGHTS: Switch off half the lights in the house in the evening and turn off screens 1 hour before your intended bedtime. A study was conducted in which a cohort of participants were taken out into the wilderness with no light pollution. On average, people fell asleep 2 hours earlier than their acclaimed “natural” bedtime because their melatonin levels were rising based on the natural circadian cycles. Melatonin is a hormone that tells the brain when it is dark and when it is light. Many of us tend to read to fall asleep. 1 hour of reading on a device vs. 1 hour of reading a book in dim light delays the release of melatonin by 3 hours. Additionally, when melatonin is at its peak, it is also It is 50% less in terms of its peak and you don’t get the same amount of REM sleep and you don’t feel as refreshed when you wake
TURN DOWN THE HEAT: Turns out, the brain needs to drop 2-3 degrees (F) cooler to fall asleep. It makes sense, right? The sun goes down, light becomes dark and temperatures drop at night. Our bodies have evolved to respond to these cycles of the sun and moon. Keeping the body cool helps people fall asleep faster and get into deep sleep. You can kickstart this process by taking a hot bath before your bedtime. Your blood vessels vasodilate which allows your body to do a massive thermodump of heat that evacuates the body. This plummets the core body temperature which makes it easier to fall asleep.
DIET MAKES A DIFFERENCE: diets high in sugar and heavier, starchy carbs and low in fiber tend to less deep and more fragmented throughout the night
Don’t go to bed too hungry or too full
It takes 10-12 hours for the body to fully filter out caffeine. If you drink caffeinated drinks, do so in the morning. For the afternoon slump, consider reaching for a nice snack full of healthy fat like a handful of nuts or an avocado instead.
Alcohol and marijuana blocks the brain from going into REM sleep. If you are going to indulge in alcohol, try to have a glass of wine or beer earlier in the evening rather than as a nightcap.
ACUPUNCTURE: Acupuncture works to train the body to feel safe enough to exist in the “rest and digest” mode rather than the “fight or flight” mode that we utilize to get ourselves through our day. It is incredibly relaxing because it releases endogenous hormones and endorphins specific to rest. In this 2009 meta-analysis of the effect that acupuncture has on insomnia, it was concluded that acupuncture was better at treating insomnia than medication.
Have you struggled with insomnia? This is a health concern that is near and dear to my heart because I lived for years feeling defeated by my inability to sleep. Because of this, I developed skills to assess and treat insomnia and I’d love to help you. Let’s get to the root of the problem and help you access this foundational pillar of good health. Call (604) 678-8600 to schedule a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation to talk about how acupuncture can help you get restorative sleep.
Kathleen Lee FABORM, R.TCMP, L.Ac. MTCM