A Deep Dive into Sleep
Today, let’s explore sleep, why it matters, and tips to improve it. If the length of this overview and my writing style actually puts you to sleep, well, then, … mission accomplished.
Why the quality of sleep matters so much?
While an occasional sleepless night usually isn't much of a problem, running a sleep deficit over time can cause a lot of problems. Restorative sleep is an essential ingredient for a healthy mind and body—and every system will suffer for lack of it.
Many of us alpha males think of sleep as a waste of time or a luxury. We buy into the notion that we “successful people” can get by with just a few hours of sleep a night…that sleep is “unproductive” time.
Clearly these are the thoughts of a sleep-deprived mind! An inadequate amount of quality sleep not only clouds our judgment, but damages our overall health, weakens our immune system, and promotes cancer.
This is because proper sleep is a fundamental necessity of your body. Since we often push our body to its limits on a daily basis, it needs adequate time to recharge, recover, and rejuvenate.
What is sleep?
Sleep is far from the single phenomenon we assume to be. The brain activities underway during its different stages are as distinct from each other as they are from wakefulness—and they each serve a critical purpose.
There are 2 phases of sleep: Rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM or non-REM) sleep:
Non-REM sleep consists of four stages, which range from light dozing to deep sleep. Throughout this state of sleep, muscle activity is still functional, breathing is low, and brain activity is minimal.
Approximately 75 percent of the sleep cycle is spent in non-REM sleep. Simple thought processes may be reported if a person is awakened in any stage of non-REM sleep—however, he or she will not usually recall any specific dream.
The non-REM “deep sleep” stage in the sleep cycle is absolutely essential for our body to regenerate and recharge. Key processes such as repair and growth of muscle and tissues, immunity, and energy production all require quality deep sleep to take place.
REM sleep, on the other hand, typically occupies 20 to 25 percent of total sleep among adult humans—or about 90 to 120 minutes of sleep each night.
During a normal night’s sleep, we usually experience about four or five periods of REM sleep. These periods are quite short at the beginning of the night and longer toward the end. During REM, the activity of the brain's neurons is quite similar to that during waking hours.
REM sleep is physiologically different from the other phases of non-REM sleep. Vividly recalled dreams mostly occur during REM sleep, as do erections of the penis (nocturnal penile tumescence or NPT).
While non-REM sleep recharges our body, nightly REM sleep recharges our mind by strengthening neural pathways (especially those related to memory) and boosting our brain’s supply of key mood-balancing neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine.
How do sleepless nights compromise my ability to combat cancer?
Improving our odds against cancer doesn’t just require the appropriate amount of sleep—it’s also important to get the bulk of our sleep at night. Studies have shown that men who work night shifts and sleep during the day have higher rates of prostate cancer.
The reason for this correlation can be traced back to a hormone called melatonin, which is only released at night when it is dark. Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body suppress the production of estrogen, a possible contributor to prostate cancer according to recent research, and which is also protective against free radicals.
If we consistently fail to go through full cycles of sleep each night, our body may end up producing less melatonin. This deficiency inhibits our immune system and by association lowers our resistance to many types of cancers. Exposure to lights during sleep can also disrupt our production of this melatonin. This is the reason that sleeping with the TV on—or even around any electronic device that emits light—is destructive to our sleep quality.
Cortisol is another hormone that is affected by poor sleep habits—and which helps to regulate immune system activity, including the release of certain "natural killer" cells that help our body to battle cancer.
Cortisol levels typically peak at dawn, after hours of sleep, and decline throughout the day. If cortisol continues to be released throughout the whole day—not just in the morning—then this is considered counterproductive and may actually contribute to cancer progression.
For example, female night shift workers—who have been shown to have higher rates of breast cancer than women who sleep normal hours—are more likely to have a "shifted cortisol rhythm," in which their cortisol levels peak in the afternoon. At least two studies show that women with shifted cortisol rhythms typically die earlier from breast cancer—a finding that may have strong implications in cases of prostate cancer, as they are both hormonal diseases with similar modes of development and progression.
Excess cortisol is usually released as a consequence of poor stress management—and people who wake up repeatedly during the night are also more likely to have abnormal cortisol patterns. Cortisol release during times of anxiety and may play a role in the development and worsening of cancer and other conditions—and as with most hormones, maintaining the proper balance is key.
Strategies for Deeper Sleep
It’s impossible to ignore the strong connection between sleep and stress—and both factor heavily into our fight against cancer. People who are depressed or anxious have a specific pattern of sleep disturbances: if you’ve had a bad night's sleep, you don't handle stress as well. Conversely, those of us who better manage stress are more likely to have good sleep patterns. Research also shows that cancer patients who manage their stress in group therapy, with good social networks, or with regular exercise often fare better than patients who don't manage stress effectively.
The synergy and interdependence of all elements of the XY Wellness Approach cannot be overstated. Managing stress helps with sleep. Quality sleep helps us to manage stress. Exercise reduces stress and helps us to sleep better. The better nourished we are, the better we are able to manage stress and the better sleep we will get. And so on.
In other words, the more we adhere to the entire XY Wellness Approach, the more we will notice improvements in the quality and quantity of our sleep. Here are some actionable tips to help us improve our quality of our sleep:
- One of the simplest solutions to poor sleep is turning off all lights and electronic devices.
- Make sure the room is completely dark, so that you cannot see your hand in front of your face.
- Keep electric clocks at least 3 feet away from your head.
- Take the TV out of the bedroom. This one can be difficult—but it makes a big difference. While you may think that watching TV helps you go to sleep, the opposite is actually true. Some other white noise—like a fan or sounds of ocean waves—can serve the same purpose without lowering melatonin and interfering with deep sleep.
- Establish regular sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends. When it comes to sleep, your body craves consistency.
- Consider creating a regular, relaxing bedtime routine—which you should begin an hour or more before the time you expect to fall asleep—such as taking a hot shower or listening to soothing music.
- Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows. And opt for natural fabric as bed sheets—cotton or wool is good.
- Use your bedroom for sleep and sex only. Keep "sleep stealers" (e.g., watching TV, using a computer, or reading in bed) out of the bedroom. Definitely have some more sex.
- Finish eating at least 2 to 3 hours before your regular bedtime—and try drinking some chamomile tea at night.
- Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol products close to bedtime. In general, why would anyone already dealing with cancer smoke?
- If you get up often at night to urinate, stop drinking fluids 2 hours before bedtime – even water.
- Try a melatonin dietary supplement. Many high quality options are readily available.
If you follow these recommendations, but still are struggling with sleep, it’s essential to pinpoint the deeper cause behind your insomnia. Stress, depression, rumination, sleep apnea, and anxiety are all common sleep-robbers and resolving the problem requires tackling these issues head on, either with further lifestyle changes or with the help of your doctor.
Sleep must be a priority. We can get away with one or two late nights, but on the third night, we should pay back the sleep time lost.
We must schedule sleep like any other daily activity: put it on our "to-do list" and cross it off every night. Make it a priority. Let’s give our body a chance to recharge. Let’s not needlessly compromise our immune system, which already is being taxed as it combats the growth of prostate cancer.
As always, let’s make smart choices. Let’s improve our odds of success. Let’s get some sleep. You both deserve and need it.
All the Best,
David, Co-founder & CEO