If I had to choose one biggest obstacle currently facing me on my quest to better health, it would be getting enough sleep. My husband and I do our best to go to bed at a reasonable hour and have reorganized our bedroom to maximize the conditions in which we sleep. With his 50-hour workweek, however, it is still very difficult to clock enough hours of shut-eye per week. Despite studies demonstrating the health and productivity benefits of napping, like this one showing that a nap is more beneficial than caffeine when it comes to learning and performance, most employers prefer to keep the java flowing rather than setting up nap rooms. So most Americans continue their sleep deprivation.

sleep important

A new study released just this week has shown that it isn’t possible to catch up on lost sleep on the weekends. Most adults need to get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Without adequate rest, a person has a higher risk of problems like obesity, diabetes, stroke, cognitive impairment, osteoporosis, cancer and heart disease. Just one week of insufficient sleep causes the up- or down-regulation of more than 700 genes. According to the linked study, the biological processes affected include chromatin modification, the regulation of gene expression and macromolecular metabolism, along with immune, inflammatory and stress responses. If you suffer from adrenal problems like I do, getting adequate rest is essential.

The connection between sleep and methylation is an interesting one because a person needs to get the proper amount of sleep to support methylation. Impaired methylation, however, can cause sleep disturbances and insomnia. An important component to this is a brain hormone called melatonin, which is excreted by the pineal gland. Melatonin is a very important substance and has been linked to disorders like fatigue, anxiety and cancer. It is produced from serotonin and this process requires adequate methylation to occur. I really like the way all of this is explained in this post by Australian naturopath Nicky Wood, which even links melatonin to migraine headaches. Recent studies have even linked melatonin deficiencies to autism spectrum disorders. So we know that there is a close link to melatonin and methylation.

Recently I’ve learned about some very important steps that must be taken to ensure that the sleep that we are getting is effective sleep. Designing your sleeping area to facilitate proper melatonin production is essential here. First, the room must be completely dark when you sleep or melatonin production will be disrupted. Even the tiniest amount of light will result in less than optimal levels. Melatonin secretion peaks between two and four o’clock in the morning and then declines for the next 24-hours. If you wake up to go to the bathroom, for example, and turn the light on, melatonin production will shut down. So be sure to sleep without nightlights or any light coming in through the windows. And if you must get up to use the bathroom, do so in darkness. Dr. Mercola offers several excellent tips for melatonin optimization, including turning off televisions and computers an hour before bed, getting exposure to bright light during the daytime and keeping electromagnetic fields (EMFs) out of the bedroom at night. EM radiation, including cellular phones, computers/laptops and even appliances that are plugged in, can cause your melatonin production to reduce by half.

We are currently working on all of these things in our household to ensure that the quality, along with the quantity of the sleep we get is not impaired. With busy schedules and the increasing demands placed on us in the workplace these suggestions are not easy to implement, but they are important if one hopes to improve his health.

What are your sleep struggles?

7 thoughts on “Why Sleep Is So Important

  1. Tim Williams

    The effect of short wave visible (blue) light on melatonin production is well-documented.

    However there are no studies I know of which implicate longer wavelengths (e.g. red) in melatonin production. This goes double for electromagnetic radiation, which you claim causes a halving in serum melatonin.

    It seems particularly improbable that electromagnetic radiation would do that, simply because YOU ARE BATHED IN IT AT ALL TIMES. It comes from lightning and wind; from the sun; from space and stars; from our own atmosphere; from natural radioactive decay in the ground. That static you hear on a radio between stations? That’s electromagnetic radiation and it’s mostly not of human origin.

    The melatonin disruption of blue light has a basis in biology: this is what sets your circadian clock by telling it when daytime is. Firelight, which has been near us as we slept for many thousands of years, does not contain much blue light. Not does moonlight or starlight, under which we’ve slept for hundreds of thousands. So we do not respond to those frequencies. Nor would we respond to other forms of radiation which are not useful in setting circadian rhythm.

    Basically: your comment about electromagnetic radiation smells of knee jerkism. I suspect it’s been born from a preconceived conviction that ER is “bad”, rather than actual science.


  2. Matina

    What are your thoughts and information on taking a melatonin supplement to get back in the groove of sleeping proper hours?


    1. Andrea Post author

      I would consult with a doctor on this, Matina – I have heard/read of some people having great success with melatonin but others did not do so well on it and even had bad reactions. Its use needs to be evaluated in conjunction with other medicine you are taking, other health conditions and the hormonal balance.


    2. Tim Williams

      I’ve talked to a research neuroscientist on exactly this topic. Her response was that it does work, BUT most people don’t use it correctly. To be useful for sleep it needs to be taken 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.


      1. Tim Williams

        Oh, and: high doses are not just a waste of time but are even harmful. A 2mg dose of melatonin is still much, much higher than the amount produced normally for sleep purposes. There are many pills out there with totally ridiculous dosages – 8mg and more. These doses are so abnormally large you can expect them to disregulate circadian function and stress excretion pathways


  3. Nicky Wood

    Hi Andrea

    Just wanted to drop a line and say hi, and thanks for referring your readers to my blog posts as well.

    Wishing you great health and wellbeing

    Nicky Wood ND


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