Sleep, DNA, and Our Hormones

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One of the many ways that our body orchestrates the symphony of good health, is through our hormones. We have many different types of hormones that each perform incredibly unique functions.

What is known is that men who get 4-5 hours of sleep a night will have a level of testosterone that is equal to that of someone 10 years older than them. In other words, a lack of sleep will age a man by almost a decade in terms of a critical aspect of their wellness and virility, which is that their stable level of testosterone will plummet as a consequence of a lack of sleep.

One of the many functions of testosterone include:

  • aiding in our muscular recovery after bouts of exercise
  • critical in maintaining our bone density and bone mass
  • keep us lean and abates increased levels of body fat in men

An equivalent damage in female reproductive health caused by a lack of sleep is seen in the disruption of their follicular stimulation hormone that is integral the critical system that supports reproductive ovulation and success.

Underslept women can exhibit a reduction in their follicular stimulating hormone by between 20-30%. When women do not get the sleep that they need, or have dysregulated sleep schedules, they also present with disrupted menstrual cycles, and in more extreme cases, women working night shifts have a significantly higher rate of experiencing miscarriage, on top of menstrual dysregulation.

One of the reasons that we’re starting to understand the relationship between sleep and cancer is due to the shift in the immune system. Studies in mice have found that when they are underslept, and they have an existing cancer condition, the cancer is seen to grown more quickly and more aggressively.

In fact, in one study where they deliberately decreased the sleep time these mice would have, across a period of one month, the rate at which the existing cancer grew further increased to about 200% in terms of its size and speed of cancerous growth.

These scientist went on to discover one of the underlying mechanisms: there was one form of immune factors that they identified as Macrophage 1 and 2 Cells. They identified a shift in the balance of these Macrophage Cells that indicated that the body was less equipped to fight the cancer, and in fact, the imbalance seemed to encourage the growth of cancer.

These influenced the formation of questions: For those with an already impaired immune system, was a lack of sleep adding fuel to the fire?

Further, evidence has been found linking lack of sleep to the erosion of our DNA. This evidence was based on a study that took a group of people whose sleep was reduced to a diet of 6 hours of sleep for 6 days.

Two critical insights gleaned in this study:

  • 711 genes were distorted in the their activity
  • about half of those genes were increased in their activity, while the other half were decreased.

Those genes that were suppressed by a lack of sleep were those that were associated with their immune system. In contrast, the genes that got upregulated were those that were associated with long-term chronic inflammation in the body, stress, and as a consequence cardiovascular disease, as well as those associated with tumor formation. 

There is no aspect of our wellness that can retreat at the sight of sleep deprivation and come away without a scratch.

Many of us may find the idea of genetically modified food, or even embryos unacceptable, but what we may have to accept is that we may be performing the same genetic engineering project on our own bodies. 

We hope these words taken from Matthew Walker’s knowledge on the science of sleep gives us all a greater reason to pursue a deeper appreciation for our health, particularly that of our sleep, in order to allow our body the regeneration it needs and deserves as it carries us through this shared journey.

We all want to be at our best, and perform at our peak in our waking moments, for our own good, and for the good of the world around us. It's high time we explore the possibility that sleep may be just the key to achieving that longed-for bliss.

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