Home / Juvenon Health Journal / Stages of Sleep: Could the Last be the Best for Whole Body Health? 1/08


Juvenon Health Journal volume 7 number 1 january 2008

Stages of Sleep: Could the Last be the Best for Whole Body Health?

By Benjamin V. Treadwell, Ph.D.

It’s common knowledge that a good night’s sleep is important to our well-being. The complexities of sleep itself, on the other hand, are not so well known.

For example, scientists cannot fully explain the need for sleep at the cellular/biochemical level. However, a recent study (See this month’s “Research Update.”) The work carried out by the brain during sleep is critical for our emotional health or mood, memory consolidation and the health of the entire bodyis opening scientific eyes not only to why we are emotionally and physically drained after a night of interrupted sleep, but also to how chronic insomnia can progress to disease.

The work carried out by the brain during sleep, it turns out, is critical for our emotional health or mood, memory consolidation and the health of the entire body. What does that mean, exactly?

Going deeper
Sleep is not a singular phenomenon; it occurs in several stages. By attaching electrodes to the head during sleep, scientists can identify the electrical waves associated with each stage of sleep. More precisely, they can detect and measure the differences in electrical activity associated with the firing of neurons (specific brain cells) and the transmission and propagation of the charge from one neuron to another.

This activity requires an enormous amount of energy. In fact, while in sleep mode, the brain uses the equivalent of one-quarter pound (100-120 grams) of sugar  to produce the energy required for restoration of cellular health and synaptic transmission of nerve impulses.

When we close our eyes, the initial sleep produces electrical activities associated with eye movement, hence the terminology REM, or rapid eye movement sleep, for the first stage. Subsequent, deeper sleep is referred to as NREM for non-rapid eye movement.

NREM sleep is subcategorized into stages 1, 2, 3, and 4. Stages 3 and 4 are also known as SWS or slow wave sleep. Scientific evidence suggests SWS is perhaps the most important level of sleep, restoring the brain to a healthy, organized state. 

Changing patterns
Our sleep patterns, including the duration of SWS, change as we age. Scientific evidence suggests slow wave sleep is perhaps the most important level of sleep, restoring the brain to a healthy, organized state. The intensity of this change depends on genetic variations, as well as differences in overall health and lifestyle. For example, a young individual has a considerably longer period of SWS – 60 to 90 minutes – compared to as little as 15 minutes for the average over-60-year-old.

There are also significant differences between slow wave sleep periods for individuals of the same age, again influenced by genetics and/or lifestyle (healthy vs. unhealthy). Those who push themselves and are under constant stress, or whose diet is nutritionally poor, are probably shortening the length of SWS.

From brain to body
In addition to poorer emotional health and memory consolidation, there may be broader health questions associated with shorter slow wave sleep periods. In fact, the recent study mentioned earlier supports a role for adequate SWS in the restoration of whole body function.    

Researchers from the University of Chicago observed that once an individual slipped into SWS, a number of metabolic and hormonal changes occurred. Since these changes involved the regulation of glucose utilization by the brain, the researchers predicted that interrupting SWS would lead to the pre-diabetic state. The fact that type 2 diabetes and sleep disorders – such as sleep apnea – are often associated, provided further support for the theory.  

Results of SWS interference
The investigators tested their hypothesis on five men and four women. The subjects were wired with electrodes and allowed to sleep for eight hours on three consecutive nights. Each night, the subjects were presented with acoustic tones to prevent them from entering SWS without waking them. In other words, the subjects all slept through the night, but were deprived of their SWS.

Blood samples were drawn periodically to determine glucose levels and glucose tolerance. The results showed a 25% decrease in insulin sensitivity, the capacity of cells to take-up glucose from the blood, compared to baseline levels (glucose sensitivity without SWS interference).  A similar decrease in insulin sensitivity has been recorded in people at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

The results of the University of Chicago study imply that SWS plays an important role in the body as a whole. Just as it is on the neuro-behavioral side, slow wave sleep seems to be critical to physiological hormonal balance (homeostasis).

Changing what we can
Granted, we can’t do much about our genetic constitution. Nor can we reverse the aging process (at least not yet). But there are steps we can take to maintain and/or increase our SWS time:

1. Keep psychological stress to a minimum.
2. Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.
3. Follow a nutritious diet, high in fruits, berries, vegetables and legumes.*

In other words, a healthier lifestyle can help to promote slow wave sleep, which may be the real key to a restoring, good night’s rest.

*Anecdotal evidence suggests that certain compounds present in plants, such as the polyphenolic compounds, may improve sleep. This may be related to the positive effects a diet rich in plants has on metabolism, particularly on the glucose regulatory pathways involved in energy production and cellular health.


Research Update

Researchers from the University of Chicago Department of Medicine recently conducted tests to study the effects of interfering with the deepest form of sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep (SWS). Their results and conclusions were published in the January 2, 2008 PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) Early Edition.

Specifically, the experiment was designed to test the hypothesis that undisturbed SWS is vital to hormonal regulation of metabolism. The test subjects, young, healthy (20- to 31-year-old) men and women, wore head harnesses containing electrodes to measure brain waves during sleep. They were allowed to reach slow-wave sleep but, as soon as that electrical activity was detected, the investigators elicited an acoustic tone to interrupt it, without waking the subject.

For three consecutive nights, all of the subjects slept for their normal 8 to 8.5 hours, but with little or no SWS during each sleep session. Blood was drawn after the third night and examined for insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. All but one of the subjects developed a pre-diabetic state: their insulin sensitivity (ability to remove insulin from the blood) decreased by 25%.

The researchers concluded that the results of this study suggest that strategies to improve sleep quality, especially the length of SWS, should be considered as a potential intervention to prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes in at-risk populations.

Click here to read the full abstract.
“Slow-wave sleep and the risk of type 2 diabetes in humans”
PNAS | January 22, 2008 | vol. 105 | no. 3 | 1044-1049 

This Research Update column highlights articles related to recent scientific inquiry into the process of human aging. It is not intended to promote any specific ingredient, regimen, or use and should not be construed as evidence of the safety, effectiveness, or intended uses of the Juvenon product. The Juvenon label should be consulted for intended uses and appropriate directions for use of the product.

Ask Ben
Dr. Treadwell answers your questions about Juvenon™ Cellular Health Supplement

QUESTION:  I am 57 years of age. I have high blood pressure and I am taking 240mg of Cartia once a day. I am also taking .075mg of Levothyroxine once a day, plus two capsules of Juvenon and a vitamin supplement. Currently, I am overweight. Can you, or the people at Juvenon, help me with any kind of guidance and/or a program that you might offer? — J.

ANSWER: I know I gained a few pounds during the holiday season – too many chocolates and junk food. Although there is no specific program through Juvenon, I can offer some suggestions, based on my own plans and knowledge.

I recommend substituting fruits, berries, vegetables and legumes for foods high in fat and carbohydrates. In other words, maintain a highly nutritious diet while reducing the caloric content. I would also try adding an exercise program, like a daily walk, to your routine.

For a more structured approach, there are a number of reasonable programs offered over the Internet, including CDs with information on the calories in foods and specific diets to follow. In general, though, the so-called fad diets just don’t work.

As motivation, keep in mind that losing weight will have an enormous effect on your overall health, in particular improving your blood pressure.

Benjamin V. Treadwell, Ph.D., is a former Harvard Medical School associate professor and member of Juvenon’s Scientific Advisory Board.


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