Sleep Improvement is one of the six elements that comprise the XY Wellness Approach. Let's explore why sleep matters to men like us who are rebuilding their post-diagnosis lives, and what actions we can take right now to improve the quality of our sleep.
Why does the quality of our sleep matter so much?
Although an occasional sleepless night usually does not pose much of a problem, running a sleep deficit over time will cause a lot of problems. Restorative sleep is an essential ingredient for a healthy mind and body, and every bodily system will suffer for lack of it.
Many people think of sleep as a waste of time or a luxury. We buy into this odd notion that successful people get by with just a few hours of sleep a night or that sleep is “unproductive” time. Clearly these are the thoughts of a foggy, sleep-deprived mind.
An inadequate amount of quality sleep not only adversely affects retention, judgment, and reaction time, but also damages our overall health by weakening our immune system. A weakened immune system is compromised in its ability to combat aberrant cell growth. 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?
There are two phases of sleep: Rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM). The various brain activities underway during different stages of sleep are as distinct from each other as they are from wakefulness, and each of them serve a critical purpose.
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 you are awakened in any stage of non-REM sleep, however you will likely not 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 typically occupies 20% - 25% of total sleep among adults, so during a normal night’s sleep we usually experience about four or five periods of REM sleep. These periods are short at the beginning of the night and longer toward the end. During REM, the activity of our brain's neurons is similar to that during waking hours. REM sleep is physiologically different from the phases of non-REM sleep. Vividly recalled dreams mostly occur during REM sleep, as do nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT).
While non-REM sleep recharges our body, nightly REM sleep recharges our mind by strengthening neural pathways, especially those related to memory, and boosts 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 enough sleep, but also 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 may 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 growth according to recent research. 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, which in turn inhibits our body's innate ability to combat cancer. any exposure to light during sleep disrupts our production of melatonin, which why sleeping around any electronic device that emits light is not recommended.
Cortisol is another hormone that is affected by poor sleep habits. Cortisol helps to regulate immune system activity, including the release of certain "natural killer" cells that help our body battle cancer. Cortisol levels typically peak at dawn, after hours of overnight sleep, and decline throughout the day. Disrupting this pattern may possibly 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. Studies have shown that women with shifted cortisol rhythms may die earlier from breast cancer, a finding with potential implications for prostate cancer patients since breast and prostate are hormone-sensitive diseases with similar modes of development and progression.
What are my best strategies for Improved Sleep?
First of all, consciously mange your levels of avoidable stress since there is a strong connection between sleep and stress, and both factor into our fight against cancer. Try not to "stress over" matters that you will likely neither remember or care about two weeks from now. (Stress Management will be covered in a future blog entry.)
Secondly, the interdependence of all elements of the XY Wellness Approach is critical to understand. For example, 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 of our sleep.
And thirdly, here are some actions you can take right now to improve your 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 with their digital displays 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. And definitely have more sex.
- Finish eating at least 2 to 3 hours before your regular bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.
- If you get up often at night to urinate, stop drinking fluids, including water, 3 hours before bedtime.
- Try a melatonin dietary supplement. Many high quality options are readily available.
If you follow these recommendations, but still are struggling with sleep, it is important 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 with either 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 need to pay back the sleep time lost.
We should 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 busy combating the growth of prostate cancer.
As always, let’s make smart choices that will improve our odds of success. Improving the quality of our sleep is a smart choice. Let's take action today. You can do this. We are here to help.