Sleep Your Way to Better Bones
Did you know that most bone-building happens while you’re sleeping?
How can that be? Well, it all starts with your circadian rhythm… which is basically your 24-hour internal clock.
You have circadian rhythms that regulate all kinds of things inside your body, like your eating habits, hormone releases, body temperature fluctuations, and others. One of the most important is your sleep-wake cycle (the time you spend sleeping vs. being awake).
All of these different circadian rhythms are kept in sync by a master clock in your suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) — a cluster of about 20,000 nerve cells located in the part of your brain called the hypothalamus.
Think of your SCN as a conductor of an orchestra who keeps all of your individual clocks running to a uniform beat.
You also have clock genes that are part of your circadian rhythm — and just about every cell in your body has them, including osteoclasts (cells that break down bone) and osteoblasts (cells that form new bone). The clock genes involved in your sleep-wake cycle work closely with a hormone you’ve probably heard of, and that’s melatonin. It makes you feel sleepy, but it also does something else, and that’s helping your body with bone formation and healthy bone metabolism.
Let’s take a quick trip inside your body to see how it all works…
At night when it gets dark, your eyes signal your SCN that it’s time to start feeling drowsy. Then your SCN signals for the production of melatonin, and you climb into bed and drift off to sleep. This is where your bone-building action comes alive… Communicating with your clock genes, melatonin helps suppress the development of osteoclasts, and helps form osteoblasts. What’s more, it increases the activity of bone turnover markers (the essential enzymes and proteins associated with bone-building).
When you stop and think about how much is happening inside your bones while you’re sleeping, it’s easy to see how harmful sleep disorders can be. A large-scale Norwegian study evaluated 24,715 people and discovered that those with insomnia had a 52% increased risk for osteoporosis!
Night shift workers also commonly suffer from poor bone health, and it’s easy to see why. Their natural sleep-wake circadian rhythm is flipped completely upside down! Research shows that working at night and sleeping during the day disrupts the delicate balance of nighttime bone repair and formation and leads to lower bone density. And napping? Daytime napping can also increase your risk of fracturing a bone by shifting your circadian rhythm and interfering with your 24-hour sleep-wake cycle.
So now that you’ve seen how sleep disorders and imbalances can impair your bone health, how can you make sure you’re getting enough uninterrupted quality sleep to protect your bones?
There are few things you can do… Keep the same bedtime and waking times. Make sure your bedroom is cool, quiet, and dark. Consider a natural sleeping aid to help you get the recommended amount of sleep you need: the sweet spot is about 7–9 hours. And nix the nap. That way, your 24-hour sleep-wake cycle will run smoothly — just like clockwork. And your bones will thank you!
By Dean Neuls
Dean Neuls is the Co-Founder and CEO of AlgaeCal. He is a natural health author and student of bone health science who is passionate about helping people & bettering lives.