(NaturalNews) Going to bed may be one of the best ways of protecting yourself from viruses and other diseases. Although the traditional recommendation for sleep is 8 hours a night, the average American sleeps only about 6 1/2 hours. The highly motivated have figured out ways to get by on 4 hours of sleep, and they even brag about it. Only about one in four Americans gets the full 8 hours. Yet research shows that sleep is an important predictor of reduced immunity and susceptibility to disease. Humans with shorter sleep times have recently been shown to be more susceptible to a virus as the result of their lowered disease resistance.
People getting good nights sleep were 550% less likely to contract a virus
Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University recruited a total of 153 healthy men and women between the ages of 21 and 55 for a study to determine whether sleep duration and efficiency in the weeks preceding viral exposure were associated with disease susceptibility. For fourteen consecutive days, participants reported their sleep duration and sleep efficiency, defined as the amount of time they actually spent sleeping. They also reported whether they felt rested. Each participant's average score was calculated for the fourteen day baseline period.
Participants were then quarantined and administered nasal drops containing a rhinovirus. They were monitored for the development of infection and objective signs of illness on the day before receiving the rhinovirus, and for five consecutive days after. The results were dramatic. Individuals sleeping an average of less than seven hours a night had almost a three times (300%) greater incidence of virus development than did those who slept eight hours or more. When sleep efficiency was considered, those participants with sleep efficiencies averaging 92% were five and one-half times (550%) more likely to have developed a virus compared to those with a 98% average sleep efficiency rating. (Archives of Internal Medicine, January 12)
Without adequate sleep, the immune system is crippled
Humans became part of the cosmic dance because we were able to hear the music played by the natural rhythms of our environment. We learned how to play ball with the universe as it existed when we came along. All the adaptive intelligence we have developed to keep ourselves in the game is in response to environmental pressures over the millennia.
Bacteria were here long before humans showed up. It was up to us to learn how to get along with them. The evolutionary deal we stuck was that bacteria would live in comfort and style in our guts, energized by ctyptochromes, and munching on sugar and sex hormones. In return, these bacteria would defend us against foreign invaders, and in the process keep their comfy homes safe. It's a great arrangement as long as everyone keeps up their end of the bargain. Many health gurus point out that death begins in the intestinal tract, and is the direct result of this beautiful symbiosis gone wrong.
Sleep is the evolutionary response that keeps us in balance with the microbes. The herd of thriving bacteria in the gut exudes endotoxins throughout the day. When the level of endotoxins reaches critical concentration, the immune response is triggered. Sleep is that immune response, induced by the cytokine interleukin-2 produced in response to the endotoxins. But in order for the full immune response to occur, the entire sleep cycle ordered by Mother Nature must be completed.
This sleep cycle begins with the production of the sleep inducing hormone, melatonin. Production of melatonin starts in response to coming darkness, and it continues into the wee hours of the night when production of another hormone, prolactin, kicks in. These two hormones promote white cells, known as macrophages and leukocytes, that thin out the herd of gut bacteria, restoring an optimal balance between us and them. And while they are at it, macrophages and leukocytes clean up any other viruses, bacteria, unnatural chemicals, or foreign proteins in the body, assuring the continuance of optimal health.
A person needs at least 8 or 9 hours of sleep for this entire cycle of melatonin and prolactin production to occur. If sleep is cut short, there is not enough time for adequate production of these hormones, and the body defenders they sponsor are not able to get their jobs done. With each passing night of inadequate sleep, the immune system becomes more crippled, and unable to make the T cells and natural killer cells that seek out and destroy defective cells throughout the body.
Staying up late or sleeping with light in the room interferes with melatonin production and throws off the entire cycle. Without adequate melatonin production, prolactin does not get its cue to come on stage. Any light will throw off melatonin production, so sleeping with the TV on or getting up in the middle of the night to open the refrigerator are actions hazardous to your health. Street lights should be blocked by dark curtains, and illuminated alarms should be turned away to assure top notch immune response.
A recent study of women found that although exercise appeared to reduce the risk of cancer, this benefit was lost if they did not get enough sleep. The lead researcher noted that greater participation in physical activity has been consistently associated with reduced risk of cancer incidence at several body sites, including breast and colon cancer. Inadequate sleep has the opposite effect of physical activity on several key hormonal and metabolic parameters. As a result, the scientists designed a study to look at exactly how sleep affected the exercise/cancer risk relationship. Although precisely how exercise reduces cancer risk has not been established, many scientists suspect the mechanism involves hormone levels, the immune system, and body weight.
The researchers studied 5,968 women who were free of cancer and were 18 years and older. The participants completed an initial survey and were then monitored for 10 years through the State Cancer Registries in Washington County and Maryland. Data from these responses was used to compile a measure of physical activity energy expenditure (PAEE), and the link between this measure, sleep, and the incidence of overall, breast and colon cancer was assessed.
The findings suggested that sleep duration modifies the relationship between physical activity and all types of cancer risk among young and middle-aged women. During the monitoring period, 604 women developed their first incidences of breast cancer, and there was a significantly lower risk of overall cancer and breast cancer among women in the higher 50% of PAEE. Among women aged 65 and under in the upper 50 percent of PAEE, those receiving less than 7 hours of sleep a night had significantly higher overall cancer risk, suggesting that much of the cancer-preventative benefit provided by exercise is undermined by inadequate sleep.
These findings underscore the critical nature of the immune system in the prevention of cancer and in the recurrence of the disease. The women who received less than 7 hours of sleep had no time for the complete cycle of melatonin and prolactin to occur, resulting in inadequate immune responses. Their bodies' soldiers never got a chance to go to the battlefield to defend them.
Sleep reduces risk of overweight and obesity
People who do not sleep enough at night often find themselves eating too much during the day. They end up adding a few more pounds every year until they reach true obesity. This is because lack of sleep drives craving for carbohydrates. Researchers at the University of Chicago have found that inadequate sleep alters the levels of key hormones regulating the hunger signal, causing appetite stimulation. Worst of all, the foods that are craved by the sleep deprived are the high-carbohydrate foods that really pack on the pounds.
Over the past fifty years, the average sleep time of Americans has decreased by two hours per night. During this time period, obesity has become an epidemic. In 1960, only one in four adults was considered overweight, and only one in nine adults was considered obese. Current statistics indicate that two of every three adults are overweight, and nearly one in three is obese.
Other researchers have found that sleep deprivation leads to carbohydrate cravings because of the body's need to repair itself. The same hormone that triggers carbohydrate craving also helps aid the release of growth hormone in the body, and this carb craving may be incidental to the body's need to produce in the daytime the growth hormone that would have been produced at night if only the person had completed a full sleep cycle.
Growth hormone boosts the body's ability to keep itself rejuvenated and functioning at optimal level. People with high levels of growth hormone look and feel much younger than their age, and they have almost complete immunity to viruses, bacteria and cancer.
Growth hormone is released at night during sleep, but a complete sleep cycle of 8 or more hours is required for optimal production of growth hormone as it is for the immune boosting hormones, melatonin and prolactin.
You can help yourself get a good night's sleep
Taking a prescription drug before going to bed may help create the mental illusion of sleep, but it can't fool the body. All a drug can do is put a person into a stupor that resembles sleep but is not sleep. Without the complete melatonin, prolactin cycle and attendant production of growth hormone, none of the body maintenance and repair will go on that is needed to maintain and promote health. The immune system remains crippled in people with drug induced nighttime stupors, leaving them wide open to attack by viruses, bacteria and cancer.
One of the reasons that sleeping becomes more difficult as people get older is that sleep is highly dependent on adequate hormone levels and hormone balance. Probably the best thing an anti-aging doctor can do for his patient is to boost sagging hormone levels with bioidenticals, providing for 8 or more hours of regenerative sleep to occur on a nightly basis. This cannot be achieved by taking isolated hormones, such as getting a bottle of melatonin from a health food store. When one hormone is supplemented and the others remain deficient, new problems are created. All of the body's hormones, not just melatonin or sex hormones, need to be at optimal levels in order for sleep to return.
One of the best foods for providing nutrients to help people fall asleep and stay there is sunflower seeds which contain high levels of tryptophan, magnesium, manganese, and B-6. These are the big four nutrients for sleep. For meat eaters, a tryptophan packed turkey sandwich with a glass of milk for dinner may lead to lights out at an early hour and the protection against viruses that results from a completed sleep cycle.
Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.