There is no hope for a civilization which starts each day to the sound of an alarm clock. ~Author Unknown
But what if my shelter was a cave? How much work would I actually be able to do?
Not so much. That means the only other activity to occupy my time would be sleep.
Now, we live in the 21st century. And we don’t live in caves. We have progressed and evolved since we lived in caves, but not as quickly as technology. Advances in technology have created many advantages and luxuries, but sometimes at a cost—especially when it comes to our sleeping patterns. Artificial light has created sleeping patterns that are out of whack with the Earth’s patterns. This lack of congruency between Mother Earth and us causes wear and tear on our bodies known as “Endless Summer Syndrome.”
In Part I, we discussed how general physiologic processes change with the seasons. In Part II, let’s go into a more specific level of detail, examining 3 major hormones that become altered in “Endless Summer Syndrome.”
The Most Potent Antioxidant in the World
It’s not the acai berry or reservatrol found in red wine.
Long hours of light and no sleep negatively affect melatonin levels in various ways …
- Melatonin release occurs too late. You wake up with a “melatonin hangover”. You feel groggy, sleepy, and need an alarm clock to wake you up in the morning. (Normally, melatonin release begins at sunset and ends at sunrise so you wake up alert.)
- Melatonin release occurs in smaller amounts over the duration of the night.
- Less melatonin translates to decreased immunity, with decreased ability to fight bacteria and viruses.
- Melatonin is also responsible for reducing your body’s temperature at night. This is why you may not even need a blanket when you first fall asleep, but need more covers as the night continues. It’s similar to how perishable food will last longer in the refrigerator. With less melatonin, your body—just like the perishable food—will go bad more quickly.
What about over-the-counter melatonin? Male bodybuilders ingest testosterone in the form of a drug. The testicles say “OK body. Looks like you don’t need me to produce testosterone for you anymore.” So the testicles atrophy.
The same thing happens with the pineal gland when you take melatonin in drug/supplement form. Extrinsic drugs do work, but they make your body dependent upon them.
What about cancer?
In a study at Johns Hopkins University, researchers injected mice with known chemical carcinogens after altering their sleep patterns.
The only variable was amount of sleep. The mice were given “short nights” and “long nights,” and then one by one carcinogens were added to their systems.
These carcinogens were not viruses or obscure xenoestrogens, but man-made poisons like Windex and plastic from your water bottle and the components of anti-perspirant.
The “short night” mice developed tumors at such a rapid rates that the researches couldn’t tell which substances were responsible; but in the long-night mice — many carcinogens down the line — they couldn’t give them cancer.
The researchers admitted that it was the presence of more melatonin in the mice that slept long nights that made them immune to carcinogens (Wiley & Formby, 141).
Nature’s Answer to Limited Food Supply
We all know someone who claims that he is overweight. He claims that he gets fatter just by looking at food.
We all know another on the opposite end of the spectrum. She can’t add weight if she tried.
What if I told you that he, who puts on fat easily, is more evolved than she is? In times of famine, the fatter you are, the more likely you’ll survive without food, and the more likely you’ll be able to reproduce and pass your genes to your offspring.
This is nature’s answer to famine … obesity. With the help of one specific hormone … insulin.
The problem is that in America in 2010, no one is going to starve to death.
The purpose of insulin:
- Storage: Sugar is taken out of the blood and put into cells for storage in the form of fat.
- Fat: provides energy in times of famine and insulation from the cold.
In long hours of light and no sleep, your body thinks it’s summer (hence “Endless Summer Syndrome”). In summer, you crave carbohydrates for the coming famine and cold of winter. But, winter never actually comes because artificial light keeps you awake into all hours of the night.
Carbohydrate craving leads to carbohydrate consumption, causing insulin release and ultimately, fat storage. This is why you eat sugar and get fat.
Conventional wisdom still tells us to consume high-carb diets instead of high-fat/high-protein diets to lose fat. But fat and protein consumption do not release insulin. Without insulin, you can’t store fat. This is why you CAN’T eat fat or protein and get fat!
So the pre-hibernation phase of more light and fat storage never results in hibernation. Fat storage continues until obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, and ultimately death occur.
It is now well understood that the increased released of insulin is directly correlated with decreased lifespan. Simply, the more carbs you eat, the quicker you die.
The Stress Hormone
In short durations, stress is healthy.
In your hunter-gatherer environment, you need the “stress response” to outrun the tiger. Once you escape, the stress leaves and with it goes your “stress response.”
Not so today. On the way to your 9-to-5 job, you wake up exhausted, spend your time at home with ankle-grabbers (your kids) that add to your mental workload, and you worry about bills, expenses, and taxes. In sum total, stress isn’t as simple as surviving day to day anymore.
In today’s world, stress is a chronic, 24-hour problem.
Welcome cortisol, the stress hormone, and adrenal fatigue.
Cortisol is the hormone responsible for the physiologic changes that occur when you’re running from a tiger or worrying over how you’re going to pay the bills:
- Cortisol increases blood pressure, increases blood sugar, and increases heart rate so that your body has the energy necessary to perform in stressful situations.
- Cortisol allows you to focus, giving you the energy to perform your daily duties.
- Cortisol increases catabolic (body-breaking) activities at the expense of anabolic (body-building) activities such as immunity and reproduction.
The take-home point is that the above changes are healthy for brief periods of time, but not when cortisol levels are high for extended durations. Adrenal fatigue is caused by too much work overtime for the adrenal glands, which produces cortisol as well as other steroid hormones.
Cortisol levels are directly correlated with light. With the lights on, cortisol never gets a chance to decline. You go to sleep, then when the sun rises, your adrenal glands try to produce cortisol again for the new day but can’t.
Cortisol levels decline somewhat after being fed (along with increases in dopamine levels, this is why we reach for simple sugars when stressed out). The only way that cortisol levels drop significantly are in complete darkness.
Answering the Right Questions
Examining our sleep patterns, you can see what happens when hormones responsible for keeping you healthy are not in balance.
Too much light doesn’t allow melatonin to stimulate your immunity and prevent cancer.
Too much light causes increased carbohydrate consumption, resulting in insulin overload.
Too much light causes adrenal fatigue and diminished cortisol levels, which result in the gross exhaustion you experience from “doing too much”.
Now, you may want to take a melatonin supplement, exercise for two hours a day, or take some herbs to replenish your adrenal hormones to combat these symptoms.
But these are only Band-Aids to gaping wounds.
The correct response is to live the way natured intended human beings to behave, with less light and more sleep, especially in the darker months of the seasons.
In Part III, we’ll discuss the right answers on a practical level for the world today.
- Chestnut, James L. The 14 Foundational Premises for the Scientific and Philosophical Validation of the Chiropractic Wellness Paradigm. Victoria, B.C.: Wellness Practice, 2003.
- Wiley, T. S., and Bent Formby. Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival. New York: Pocket, 2000.
Many Thanks to Billy Gregson for help editing this post.