An interesting bone density study comes to us from researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin.1 Their surprising conclusion can greatly help you build your bones in a way that you may have never imagined possible.
What they observed was that lack of sleep in rats resulted in cessation of bone formation (new bone stopped forming entirely), but no decrease in bone resorption. In other words, even though the rats stopped forming new bone, their bones continued to decrease in density. They also found that the fat in the rats’ bone marrow decreased while the platelet-generating cells doubled in number, indicating diminished flexibility.
As I write in the Osteoporosis Reversal Program, balancing the bone remodeling cycle is essential to bone health, and flexibility is vital to preventing fractures. Sleep deprivation can upset both of these bone health essentials. Which means that…
Lack of Sleep Can Lead to Osteoporosis
Doctor Carol Everson, who led the research, suggests that if this is true for humans, it could mean that sleep deprivation can have an impact on how bones repair themselves. You see, everyday activities, which cause normal wear and tear, are typically repaired quickly. But when sleep deprivation impacts remodeling, it can lead to decreased bone density.
Could this shed some light on why osteoporosis is associated with aging?
Difficulty Sleeping as We Age
Frustratingly enough, it can be harder to get a good night’s sleep as we get older. This is partly because melatonin, an important hormone that affects sleep, decreases as we age. Melatonin is affected by light levels – the more light you’re exposed to, the less melatonin you produce. This is a normal part of the circadian cycle, preventing the production of melatonin during daylight hours and increasing it when it gets dark.
Additionally, your body manufactures less of this hormone as you age, so it makes sense to explore the possible connection between age-related bone loss and sleep-related bone loss. Lower melatonin levels and the subsequent decrease in sleep that come with aging could be silent partners, working together to accelerate bone loss.
Natural Methods for Getting More Sleep
There are all kinds of natural methods for getting more sleep. But before we discuss the specifics, I want to point out that at least 7 hours of sleep is considered minimal. If you’re going to bed at midnight and getting up at 5AM every day, it is likely to take a toll on your bones no matter how many of these natural methods you apply. You will also be pretty tired!
Here are some natural suggestions for getting more and better quality sleep:
1. Increase your melatonin levels.
I do not recommend taking melatonin supplements because melatonin is a hormone, and taking supplements can throw off your body’s hormonal balance. But you can increase your melatonin levels by eating melatonin-rich foods (like alfalfa sprouts and sunflower seeds), and by following some of these other suggestions.
2. Limit the use of electronics with screens, such as televisions and computer screens, after dark.
These screens emit “blue light,” which is strongly implicated in sleep disruption if you are exposed after dark. This is because blue light signals “daylight” to your circadian rhythm, and this triggers lower melatonin levels – a good thing during the day, but unwelcome after dark.
3. Use nighttime lighting
Use low-wattage bulbs that have a candle-like glow (or you can use actual candles!).
4. Go to sleep earlier if possible
Not just so you’ll get the required 7 hours of sleep, but also so your body gets used to the “darkness means sleep” signal.
5. Get lots of light exposure during the day.
This is just as important to your sleep cycle as dim light and darkness are.
6. Follow a “sleep” diet.
If you're following the Osteoporosis Reversal Program, your bones have plenty of bone-building nutrients that nourish them while you sleep. So you have one more sleep-friendly bonus: peace of mind.
Wishing you a good night's sleep and healthy bones!
1 C. A. Everson, A. E. Folley, J. M. Toth. “Chronically inadequate sleep results in abnormal bone formation and abnormal bone marrow in rats.” Experimental Biology and Medicine, 2012; 237 (9): 1101