By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
May 30, 2014
- The big problem with inflammation
- Can too little sleep lead to disease?
- Finding the “sweet spot” when it comes to sleep
Inflammation is one of the biggest concerns I have when it comes to my patients’ health.
Left untreated, chronic inflammation plays a role in almost every chronic degenerative disease associated with getting older. Arthritis is a prime example of inflammation run amok. It’s also been linked to heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s and asthma, just to name a few.
Unfortunately, the standard American lifestyle is full of land mines when it comes to inflammation.
We’re living in a world that encourages an inflammatory high-carb, low-protein diet. When it comes to eating fats, most people tend to load up on omega-6 fatty acids, which promote inflammation. Yet they’re not getting nearly enough anti-inflammatory omega-3s.
Refined sugar and other foods with high-glycemic values knock insulin and sugar out of whack. Once again, inflammation occurs.
I’ve addressed many of these problems in previous issues of Advanced Natural Wellness. But there’s also another cause of inflammation you may not have heard about yet.
Lack of sleep.
That’s right. If you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, it could be placing you in a state of chronic inflammation – which increases your risk of age-related disease.
This is a big problem, because so many of us cut corners when it comes to rest. We’re under tremendous pressure to “do it all.” As we pack more work and family obligations into the day, bed comes later and mornings come earlier.
Let me explain what happens… and exactly what you can do to cut down on this risk factor.
It turns out people who sleep less than six hours a night have higher levels of three inflammatory markers: Fibrinogen, IL-6 and C-reactive protein (CRP).
You’ve probably heard about CRP. I’ve mentioned it in numerous previous articles. This protein is a strong predictor of a first-time heart attack, even when cholesterol levels are normal. But, you might not know much about the other two.
Fibrinogen is an inflammatory factor that’s been linked to stroke, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and several types of cancer.
And, what about IL-6? It’s pretty much the same story here. Cancer. Heart disease. Alzheimer’s and other inflammatory diseases.
What is it about a lack of sleep that causes all of these inflammatory markers to rise? It all goes back to the natural rhythm of life, the circadian cycle.
At the cellular level, our circadian clock is intimately tied to the rising and setting of the sun. However, our time clocks are also controlled by a group of proteins. They function together in individual cells. These proteins capture light cues and use those cues to turn genes on or off.
Well, guess what happens when your sleep cycle gets disrupted, or if you’re sleeping at the wrong times?
It turns out it might actually control the number of inflammatory cells that get produced! In particular, a disrupted sleep cycle appears to promote an overabundance of inflammatory TH17 cells. This may explain – at the cellular and genetic level – why there’s such a strong link between sleep, inflammation and disease.
Given these risks, here are some important tips that can help you ward off inflammation and age-related disease…
We now know there’s a “sweet spot” for the number of hours you need to sleep for heart health. Sleeping between 6 and 8.9 hours per night is associated with significantly lower levels of CRP, fibrinogen and IL-6.
In other words, the link between sleep and living a healthy life is very clear. That’s why I advise my patients to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night.
But, I know. Getting to sleep on time isn’t always easy. If you struggle with getting a good night’s sleep, here are some quick tips:
Keep to a sleep schedule. Your body loves a good routine. If your sleep schedule is erratic, your body’s not sure when it’s time to power down. Develop a regular sleep pattern by hitting the sack at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning. (Yes, even on weekends, as often as you can.) Stay close to a natural circadian cycle by aiming for lights out by 10:30 p.m. at the latest.
Supplement with melatonin. If you have trouble getting to sleep at night, try supplementing with melatonin, beginning with 1 mg. and increasing to 4 mg. over a week’s time, about an hour or two before bedtime. The dose and time will be different for everyone. This nutrient can do wonders when it comes to resetting your natural circadian rhythm.
Turn off the screens. Make your bedroom a sanctuary – no television or computer allowed. Power off your computer, television, and other light-emitting devices at least an hour before bed. The less light you’re exposed to, the better you’ll sleep.
Take a warm shower. Or better yet, take a bath with two scoops of Epsom salts. As you leave the shower, you begin to lose a little body temperature, making you naturally drowsier. If you’ve taken the bath with Epsom salts, the magnesium in it will relax your muscles while you’re de-stressing in the tub.
Relax before bedtime. Your body can’t shift from high gear to mellow on command. Get high-energy projects out of the way early in the evening. Avoid stimulants like caffeine after early afternoon and that great central nervous system depressant, alcohol, as well. It tends to wake you up as it metabolizes away. And don’t drink anything after 7:30 p.m. so your sleep is not disturbed by bathroom visits. Get into bed and either read a good book until your eyelids droop, or snuggle if you have someone. Reserve at least an hour to wind down before trying to get to sleep.
These are some pretty simple tips. And putting them into action will go a long way toward fighting off chronic inflammation and keeping you healthy.
Morris A, et al. Abstract 17806: Sleep Quality and Duration are Associated with Higher Levels of Inflammatory Biomarkers: the META-Health Study. Circulation 122: A17806.
Davalos D and Akassoglou K. Fibrinogen as a key regulator of inflammation in disease. Semin Immunopathol. 2012 Jan;34(1):43-62.
Yoshimoto T and Yoshimoto T (eds.). Cytokine Frontiers: Regulation of Immune Responses in Health and Disease, Springer; 2014 Edition (Japan).
Yu X, et al. TH17 Cell Differentiation Is Regulated by the Circadian Clock. Science, 2013; 342 (6159): 727