Sleep Loss and Cellular Stress

My 13th book, Best Future You, is out!

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be posting excerpts from the book and blogging frequently about the main concept in the book – which is the idea of harnessing your body’s internal cellular biochemistry to achieve true balance in body, mind, and spirit – and in doing so, help you to become your “Best Future You” in terms of how you look, how you feel, and how you perform on every level.

Chapter 1 – The Battle for Balance

Sleep Loss and Cellular Stress

Have you ever had the experience of being exhausted during the day and all you can think about is getting some sleep? And then, when your head finally hits the pillow, you’re wide awake! Logically this “dynamic duo” of fatigue plus insomnia (or what we call “nighttime restlessness”) would seem to be opposites: If you’re so tired, why can’t you fall asleep? But they are commonly found together in the two-thirds of the North American population who report experiencing chronic stress and who also gets inadequate sleep (we often refer to these folks as the “tired and wired” – and they number in the millions). The common element? You guessed it: disruptions in the body’s biochemical balance. That imbalance is characterized by too much cortisol, too little testosterone, and the cascade of metabolic disruptions including oxidation/inflammation that lead cellular stress.

In the previous section, I discussed what happens when stress-induced imbalances in free radicals, cortisol, and cytokines precipitate a downward spiral that leads to cellular stress states such as obesity. By the same token, the combination of daytime fatigue/exhaustion and nighttime insomnia/restlessness also sets off a vicious cycle in which stress makes it hard to relax and fall asleep—which then leads to more fatigue. And being more fatigued after a sleepless night makes it harder to deal with stressors, which then causes even more difficulty falling asleep the next night…and the next night and the next after that in a repetitive cycle that ultimately ends in burnout.

In the long run, when you sleep fewer hours than the recommended eight hours per night, you can experience annoying side effects, such as headaches, irritability, frequent infections, depression, anxiety, confusion, and generalized mental and physical fatigue. Not only can the lack of sleep leave you feeling lousy and low on vigor, but research shows that even mild sleep deprivation can actually destroy a person’s long-term health and increase the risk of burnout, diabetes, obesity, and breast cancer. In many ways, sleeping fewer than eight hours each night is as bad for overall wellness as gorging on junk food or becoming a couch potato!

On the biochemical level, one of the major problems with the modern “late to bed, early to rise” lifestyle is that your cellular stress levels never have enough time to fully dissipate as they are supposed to overnight – they become chronic stressors rather than acute (temporary) stressors. As a result, your body never has a chance to fully recover and repair itself from the detrimental effects of chronic stress – and thus, is always out of balance. And when your biochemical balance is out of whack, it puts your overall metabolism into a downward spiral, accelerating the “breakdown” of tissues and sending your energy, mood, and mental focus into a tailspin, leaving you with low vigor.

Thanks for reading – tune in next time for the installment about, “Balancing Biochemistry.”

Shawn M Talbott, PhD, CNS, LDN, FACSM, FAIS, FACN
Nutritional Biochemist and Author


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The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy
Killer at Large – Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat – an award-winning documentary film exploring the causes and solutions underlying the American obesity epidemic
The Cortisol Connection – Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health (Hunter House)
The Cortisol Connection Diet – The Breakthrough Program to Control Stress and Lose Weight (Hunter House)
Cortisol Control and the Beauty Connection – The All-Natural Inside-Out Approach to Reversing Wrinkles, Preventing Acne, And Improving Skin Tone (Hunter House)
Natural Solutions for Pain-Free Living – Lasting Relief for Flexible Joints, Strong Bones and Ache-Free Muscles (Chronicle Publishers – Currant Books)
The Immune Miracle – The All-Natural Approach for Better Health, Increased Energy and Improved Mood (GLH Nutrition, 2012)
A Guide to Understanding Dietary Supplements – an Outstanding Academic Text of 2004 (Haworth Press)
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