Intro: Night Owl Roll Call
So I have tried to shift and extend my sleep hours by learning as much as I could about mercury’s impact on sleep.
Mercury & Sleep
“The biological clock is disturbed. Waking up late and staying up late is more common than being an ‘early bird’. Try as they might, the mercury poisoned person simply cannot control their circadian rhythm.” – Andy Cutler
Mercury is among the most toxic elements known to man. No one can avoid mercury from manufacturing pollution in the air we breath and the food we eat. And many in my generation and above have “silver” amalgam fillings put in our mouths by dentists which are made of over 50% mercury which constantly off-gasses into the body.
Mercury (and fluoride) can accumulate in the pineal gland, which can make the gland sluggish and reduce melatonin production.
To limit mercury exposure, I had the “silver” mercury fillings in my mouth holistically removed. I also continue to detox & chelate heavy metals and avoid high mercury seafood like tuna (see the EWG 2016 report).
To limit aluminum exposure, I avoid drinking fluoridated aluminum tap water and using dental products like toothpaste, floss, or mouth rinse that are “fortified” with the thyroid disruptor and marketed to us as “healthy”. Unfortunately, I still get the industrial by-product fluoride when I take shower and baths since I live in an apartment and cannot set up a whole house water filtration system.
I would like to think that my “night owl” tendencies are caused by environmental toxins — like mercury, aluminum, Electro Magnetic Radiation, and light pollution — disrupting my neurotransmitters & hormones, and not DSPD (see below).
So until I am able to finish chelating the mercury out of my brain, I am focusing primarily on addressing circadian rhythm disruptors. If you want to skip the science below, feel free to skip to ahead to my four sleep steps:
Otherwise, continue reading here:
- Why Sleep Is Important For Healing.
- Delayed Sleep-Phase Disorder (DSPD).
- Sleep Stages.
- Neurotransmitters, Melatonin, & Cortisol.
Importance of Sleep
Sleep is essential for basic maintenance and repair of the neurological, endocrine, immune, musculoskeletal, and digestive systems. However, until more recently, I believe sleep is one of the most overlooked and undervalued nutrients in healing and staying healthy:
- During deep sleep, the body produces human growth hormones necessary for healing, tissue repair, and cellular regeneration.
- The hormone melatonin naturally increases at night, which increases immune cytokine function and helps protect against infection.
- Sleep enhances cognitive performance (including concentration, focus, learning, and memory), boosts mood & overall energy (prevents irritability, depression, and lack of motivation), and reduces cravings (especially sugar, simple carbs, and chocolate or caffeine.)
- And, our brain shrinks and wrings out toxins during REM sleep.
Delayed Sleep-Phase Disorder (DSPD)?
In my teens and twenties, I could pull all-nighters and get by on less than six hours of sleep a night. After chronic mercury poisoning, I need eight to nine hours of sleep to function at my best. The problem is that I often find myself procrastinating going to bed.
As a proverbial night owl, my second wind still kicks in around 10 p.m. and I am extra productive. So I am conflicted hearing that I should be asleep by 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. For example, thyroid repair is said to happen between 10 p.m. – 12 a.m. & 1 – 3 a.m. But what if I go to bed later on a regular basis? Wouldn’t that just shift the healing time? Or is the adage true: “An hour before midnight is worth two”?!?
I honestly could not find answers on the science of early sleep. (If you know the original source that is quoted so factually, please let me know). I did learn that mercury is a leading cause for circadian rhythm disruption, Wi-Fi and cell tower radiation can cause insomnia, and there is actually a sleep disorder called Delayed-Sleep-Phase Disorder (DSPD) that describes the night-owling phenomenon:
Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (1)
1. People with DSPD have a sleep / wake cycle that is delayed with respect to the external day / night cycle. Their circadian rhythm, is dysregulated compared to the general population.
2. Generally, they do fall asleep around the same time every night, some hours after midnight, and can sleep well. However, they find it difficult to wake up in time for a typical school or workday. If allowed to follow their own schedules, e.g. sleeping from 3:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, their sleep is improved and they may not experience excessive daytime sleepiness.
3. Attempting to force oneself onto daytime society’s schedule has been compared to constantly living with jet lag; referred to as “social jet lag“.
4. Sleep deprivation does not reset the circadian clock, as it does with non-DSPD people. They have difficulty falling asleep before their usual sleep time, even if sleep-deprived.
5. Tends to run in families. May be associated with human period 3 (hPer3) gene.
6. May be overly sensitive to evening light.
7. Supplemental melatonin reduces sleep onset latency more with DSPD than with insomnia.
As most of us have learned, there are 5 stages of sleep. The important take away imo: repeating the different sleep stages throughout the night is optimal for healing as is waking naturally during a light sleep stage and not during deeper slow-wave stages or a REM cycle:
“Sleep starts out sequentially, but then it cycles through the stages in an out-of-sequence progression. It begins in stage 1 and progresses into stages 2, 3, and 4. After stage 4 sleep, stages 3 and then 2 are repeated before REM (stage 5) sleep begins. The body usually returns to stage 2 sleep after REM sleep is over. The first cycle of REM sleep is about 90 minutes after falling asleep and can last only a very short amount of time. With each cycle, REM sleep lasts longer.” (Natural Medicine Journal)
Here’s a bit more detail on each stage:
Normal Sleep Physiology (1)
1. Light sleep includes stages 1 and stages 2 in the sleep cycle.
Stage 1 sleep is a transition period between wakefulness and sleep and lasts only 5-10 minutes. It is characterized by mixed frequency theta waves (very slow brain waves); slow, rolling eye movements; and slightly reduced eye movement and chin electromyography (EMG).
Stage 2 lasts for approximately 20 minutes and involves mixed-frequency brain waves with rapid bursts of rhythmic brain wave activity known as sleep spindles. Body temperature starts to decrease and heart rate begins to slow.
2. Deeper slow-wave sleep includes stages 3 and 4.
Stage 3 sleep is characterized by 20%-50% slow brain waves known as delta waves. It is a transitional period between light sleep and very deep sleep.
Stage 4 has greater than 50% delta waves and is sometimes referred to as delta sleep because of the slow brain waves that occur during this time. Lasts approximately 30 minutes.
3. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the 5th stage, is when most dreaming occurs.
Stage 5 is characterized by increased respiration rate and brain activity. REM sleep has mixed frequency EEGs with theta waves in combination with rapid eye movements and nearly absent chin EMG. REM sleep occurs approximately every 90 minutes in adults, with a predominance of slow-wave sleep in the first half of the night and a predominance of REM sleep in the second half.
Neurotransmitters, Melatonin, & Cortisol
Neurotransmitters: are chemical messengers used in the body to transmit signals. They are made from precursors like amino acids made from the food we eat. There are over 100 identified neurotransmitters. Here are a few examples: dopamine (controls pain, well-being), serotonin (relaxation, sleep, well-being), adrenaline (energy and stamina) & noradrenaline, and melatonin (sleep cycles).
a. Tryptophan a precursor to serotonin and hence melatonin, tested low on my Genova NutrEval blood test. So I am working with my holistic doctor to support this neurotransmitter pathway. I’ve shared this before, but I am not a big fan of amino acid therapy with tryptophan, 5HTP, or GABA… from a brief trial and from what I have read so am trying to do this with nutrition and herbs. I am also not interested in taking melatonin or other supplemental sleep aids.
b. Serotonin is produced by and found mostly in the gut and in smaller amounts in the brain. It helps regulate appetite, sleep, memory and learning, temperature, mood, behavior, and more.
c. Noradrenaline & SAMe: SAMe is a chemical in the body that reduces the level of noradrenaline at night. Mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium and other chemicals can bind to SAMe and make it less affective at reducing the night-time noradrenaline. To complicate this further, melatonin and serotonin come from SAMe function. ~Does my body needs supplemental SAMe?
Melatonin is considered a potent anti-oxidant that works within the central nervous system to protect against methyl mercury toxicity. As mentioned above, when the body is working well, the hormone melatonin naturally increases at night and is absent or low during the day. When melatonin increases, immune cytokine function increases. Immune cytokines help protect against infection and mercury toxicity.
For those who like to geek out like me, here is the science on how melatonin is made using tryptophan and the serotonin pathway:
Melatonin, chemically N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamin, is a hormone that anticipates the daily onset of darkness. It is synthesized from the essential amino acid tryptophan in four enzymatic steps and follows the serotonin pathway:
• L-tryptophan is converted to 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan (5-HTP).
• 5-HTP is then decarboxylated (CO2 removal) by the enzyme 5-hydroxytryptophan decarboxylase to produce serotonin.
• In darkness, the key enzyme, aralkylamine N-acetyltransferase (AANAT) is activated and converts serotonin to N-acetyl serotonin.
• N-acetyl serotonin is ultimately converted to melatonin by the enzyme acetylserotonin O-methyltransferase.
Cortisol: is the primary stress-response hormone. It is needed for true fight or flight situations. And also at low levels for improving memory. But at chronic levels, high cortisol can lead to a cascade of problems such as insulin resistance, melatonin deficiencies, and sex hormone depletion.
Cortisol should be higher in the morning and lower in the evening, when melatonin is higher for sleep. Too much cortisol may prevent the right amount of melatonin from being made. Which is why high cortisol levels at night, instead of very low, may keep one up too late with a “second wind.”
Cortisol plays an important role in maintaining blood sugar (glucose) levels around the clock. Stress and sugar consumption raise blood sugar and cortisol, which can then affect melatonin and sleep. So not stressing and stabilizing blood sugar levels are key to improving cortisol and melatonin levels. (Unfortunately, mercury contributes to yeast overgrowth which causes sugar cravings so I have had to work extra on controlling blood sugar levels.)
I took Sanesco / NeuroLab’s Adrenal Hormones Profile test which measured salivary cortisol 4x/day and DHEA 2x/day. The results were within normal ranges.
Once I understood the basic science of sleep, I took these action steps to get to sleep earlier and stay asleep: