Stop insomnia: How a lack of sleep can be jeopardizing your health
(NaturalHealth365) According to the American Sleep Association, up to 30 percent of all Americans suffer from difficulty sleeping at some point in their lives – with 10 percent reporting chronic insomnia.
Unfortunately, this frustrating condition can cause health problems that extend far beyond simple fatigue and daytime drowsiness. Research shows that lack of sleep is associated with a higher risk of developing potentially life-threatening conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and obesity.
Now, a new study conducted by researchers at the prestigious Mayo Clinic links lower levels of melatonin – the hormone essential for restful sleep – with deposits of beta-amyloid, a protein implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. And, although we (at NaturalHealth365) have questioned the amyloid plaque theory, more plaque anywhere in the body is never a ‘good idea.’
Low levels of melatonin may trigger neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease
Low levels of melatonin, which helps to protect the brain against oxidative stress, are associated with higher risk of neurodegenerative diseases and stroke.
In a Mayo Clinic study published in JAMA Neurology, researchers measured 283 elderly volunteers for deposits of beta-amyloid protein, a marker of Alzheimer’s disease. The volunteers, with an average age of 77, all had normal cognitive function – but suffered from excessive daytime sleepiness.
In the course of the two-year study, the team found that the participants who developed the highest amounts of beta-amyloid also reported the most daytime drowsiness and fatigue – meaning they were not getting sufficient sleep at night.
Significantly, beta-amyloid is not only implicated in Alzheimer’s disease – but can cause sleep disruptions as well.
In addition, beta-amyloid levels were highest in the areas of the brain associated with memory, behavior and emotion – the exact brain functions that break down in Alzheimer’s patients.
“We know that sleep…helps to clear toxins and beta-amyloids from the brain,” explained study leader Prasanthi Vemuri, Ph.D.
Other research, as well, has shown connections between lack of melatonin, impaired sleep and cognitive problems. Animal studies have shown that lack of sleep causes the synapses – the connections between brain cells – to degrade, resulting in cognitive decline.
It’s official: Insomnia can trigger obesity – and makes fat loss more difficult to acheive
Believe it or not, lack of sleep could be making you fat. New research suggests that insufficient sleep causes increased hunger and food consumption, thereby helping to promote obesity.
Studies linking weight gain to lack of sleep have also shown changes to levels of leptin and ghrelin, a pair of appetite-regulating hormones.
And, several population studies identify lack of sleep as an independent risk factor for gaining weight. In one study, women who reported sleeping 5 or fewer hours a night were at greater risk for weight gain – and, indeed, weighed more – than women who averaged 7 to 8 hours a night.
Finally, lack of sleep makes it harder to lose fat.
In one study, people on a reduced-calorie diet were sleep-restricted to fewer than 5.5 hours for a two-week period – then were allowed to sleep more than 7 hours a night during a separate two-week period.
While participants lost similar amounts of weight regardless of sleep length, they did not lose equal amounts of fat. During the sleep restriction period, fat made up only one quarter of the participants’ weight loss – while during normal sleep, fat made up more than half of the weight loss.
WARNING: Depleted melatonin raises risk of heart disease and diabetes
Melatonin, with powerful antioxidant effects, excels at scavenging harmful free radicals. In addition, the hormone stimulates production of other natural antioxidants, including glutathione and superoxide dismutase.
These beneficial effects can help protect against chronic degenerative diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. And, impaired sleep can cause unhealthy changes in blood pressure and cholesterol measurements, increasing the odds of cardiovascular disease.
People with restricted sleep have shown increased blood pressure – along with indications of increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system. And, a study of more than 27,000 participants found that shift workers – who sleep irregular hours – had higher triglycerides and lower concentrations of beneficial HDL cholesterol than day workers.
Sleep deprivation can also cause increased insulin resistance and decreased glucose tolerance.
A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that sleeping “out of phase” from customary times caused decreased levels of leptin and increased levels blood sugar. (In fact, three of the participants showed post-meal blood sugar levels consistent with a prediabetic state.)
Melatonin helps to “set the body’s clock” by regulating circadian rhythms and sleep cycle
Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland of the brain, but only during the hours of darkness. Upon exposure to bright – artificial – light (especially at night), melatonin production decreases sharply.
Levels of melatonin decline with normal aging – and alcohol, caffeine, disruptions in sleep (such as shift work) and stress can also cause levels to take a hit. Getting insufficient sleep causes levels to drop even further, creating a “vicious cycle” effect.
Reduced levels of melatonin can cause difficulty staying asleep – and difficulty getting back to sleep once awake. Deficiencies in melatonin can also cause vulnerability to stress and anxiety – which can disrupt circadian rhythms and impair sleep, in turn creating even more stress.
Beware: Even low-level artificial light can affect the human circadian system – and disrupt precious sleep
In a review published in Environmental Health Perspectives, the authors noted that exposure to light during early biological night (the period between which melatonin secretion begins and ends) resets the circadian clock and produces a delay in the urge to sleep.
And research shows that exposure to ordinary incandescent light – of about 100 lux brightness – is enough to reset the circadian clock and cause sleep difficulties.
However, it is light in the “blue” portion of the visible spectrum – the type emitted from computer screens, cell phones and TVs – that causes the most severe suppression of melatonin. For this reason, natural health experts recommending turning off TVs and computers in the bedroom at night – and sleeping in total darkness.
Melatonin supplementation has been clinically shown to improve sleep onset, duration and quality.
When recommending melatonin for sleep, natural healers typically recommend dosages ranging from 2 to 5 mg a day. However, consult your own integrative physician before supplementing with melatonin for sleep.
(Note: to increase melatonin production naturally, snack on organic oats, walnuts, pineapple, cherries and bananas).
What’s the takeaway to all of this information? Persistent insomnia is more than just an annoyance – it is a threat to health that can set the stage for serious conditions.
The natural hormone melatonin can promote restful sleep and normal circadian rhythms – making it an important ally against chronic disease symptoms.
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