Monday, May 5, 2008

Let me sleep on it

Sleep problems, insulin function, weight gain, and mental health diagnoses...these four issues seem to be BFF's in the world of neuroscience. Is it that people with mental health issues just don't sleep well...or does insomnia promote the development of these issues? Does weight gain cause insulin dysfunction...or vice versa? It's hard to sort through all of the possibilities and definitively conclude, but it's important to remember that taking care of yourself in a number of areas, not just watching what you eat, can be important in managing all of these issues.

Sleep is the one most people have a hard time with. They don't get enough of it, they deprive themselves of it when life throws them curve balls, they even brag about how little they get. But the evidence is overwhelming, every single organ in the body struggles to work the way that it should when we view sleep as a lifestyle inconvenience rather than a necessity.

It's about the hormone, melatonin. It's not just the thing that makes you sleepy, and it's not just the supplement you can take when you can't sleep, it's one of the body's most powerful anti-oxidants and anti-aging chemicals. When we don't sleep, we set ourselves up to self-destruct and physically age, much, much faster than we need to.

Take the pancreas. It's the organ that releases insulin whenever we eat and need to transport all that energy into cells.

In the presence of melatonin, researchers observed that it helps the body to better manage the way it uses insulin. There seemed to be a better response to the cascade of hormones and signals that manage blood glucose levels...and the hormones that transport that glucose to where it needs to be used.

If you think about how you feel after a night of tossing and're a little groggy and maybe slow to react to events and just "not completely with it"...consider that it's not just your head that's feeling that way. Your entire body has to work harder to be on target when it doesn't get the right amount of sleep.

And keep in mind, when your insulin is not working the way it should, your body also doesn't manage weight the way it should. Practically every client I work with has sleep issues. And they all know, because I drill it into them every time we meet, if they don't get their sleep under control, there's not a whole lot that diet and exercise are going to be able to do about weight. First things first.

Ramracheya RD, Muller DS, Squires PE, Brereton H, Sugden D, Huang GC, Amiel SA, Jones PM, Persaud SJ. Function and expression of melatonin receptors on human pancreatic islets. J Pineal Res. 2008 Apr;44(3):273-9.

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