There’s a phrase that’s often used when we feel tired – the need to “rest our weary bones.” An interesting bone density study shows us that we should take this phrase literally! Researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin found that sleep actually helps to build up our bones.
In the study, done with lab rats, scientists found that a lack of sleep resulted in the interruption of new bone formation. In addition to this, the bones the rats already had continued as usual to decrease in density. When it came to bone marrow, they found a decrease in the fat, and an increase in platelet-generating cell. What all this means is that the rats in the study experienced greatly diminished flexibility, and more fragile bones.
Another study from China looked at the association between a reduction in sleep and lower bone density in middle-aged and older women, and found a correlation. A study in Norway found that there was a 52% increased risk of osteoporosis, a condition where the bones become weak and brittle, for those suffering from insomnia.
We can learn from this that in order to have healthy bones, the body must be able to go through this bone remodeling cycle. The process is also vital to keep the body flexible so that we can avoid fractures. With our usual activities, we recover from normal bone wear quickly. However, when sleep deprivation negatively influences bone remodeling, bone density may decrease. So, we can become less flexible, more prone to fractures, and more susceptible to osteoporosis. There’s no doubt about it – sleep is essential for bone health.
But here’s the problem: Osteoporosis is associated with aging. And as we get older, it can be more difficult to get that good night’s sleep that we need. One reason for this is that melatonin, also known as the “sleep hormone” because it impacts sleep, decreases with age. The body produces melatonin based on the amount of light that we are exposed to. Getting some sunlight in the daytime helps the body to produce melatonin at night when it is dark. The combination of lower melatonin levels that come with age, with a loss of sleep puts us in a downward spiral that accelerates bone loss.
We can’t avoid aging, and we can’t control some of the other risk factors for osteoporosis such as:
– Women are more likely to get osteoporosis, particularly after menopause.
– White folks and Asian folks have a higher risk for osteoporosis than other ethnic groups.
– Tall people, those 5 feet 7 inches or taller, and those who weigh less than 125 pounds have an increased risk.
– Those with a family history of osteoporosis or a diagnosis of a hip fracture, are more at risk.
– Those over the age of 50, who have had previous fractures from low-level injuries, are more likely to be diagnosed with osteoporosis.
Fortunately, there are many things that can control to fend off osteoporosis, including staying active and mobile. And there are steps we can take to make sure we get the good sleep that our bones require to remain healthy.
1) Increase melatonin. Besides helping with sleep, melatonin also functions as an antioxidant, reducing damage caused to bones from activity and free radicals in the environment. It can help us to heal from fractures and surgeries. While melatonin supplements can cause us to become dependent on them, there are many other natural options to help amp up our melatonin production. Get some sunlight every day, and sleep in a dark, or dimly lit room. Add melatonin-rich foods to your diet: Sunflower seeds, alfalfa sprouts, almonds, eggs, goji berries, and tart cherries are a few examples.
2) Get daily exercise. Even just 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can help you sleep better at night. Be sure to exercise during daylight hours, not too close to bedtime. You need time to recover and relax after exercise. Weight-bearing exercise has been shown to be beneficial for bone health. Weighted vests for walking have become a popular and safe way to exercise without overdoing it. Yoga helps to increase flexibility and balance, reducing the risk of falls and fractures.
3) Minerals and Vitamin D. Magnesium has been hailed as a sleep-helper, and it is also great for building strong bones. Calcium, iron, and zinc are also known to help protect against osteoporosis. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium, so it plays a key role in fighting osteoporosis. You can get Vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, and also from saltwater fish, liver, or Vitamin D fortified foods.
4) Avoid alcohol and tobacco. We know that alcohol at night interferes with sleep, but did you know that alcohol is also linked to lower bone density? Tobacco is also a culprit. Avoid these substances as much as possible.
5) Maintain a healthy body weight. Obesity is associated with sleep apnea, which disturbs sleep.
6) Get screened. Talk with your doctor about getting an osteoporosis screening. Osteoporosis comes on slowly, you might not be aware that you have it until you actually break a bone. When identified early on, osteoporosis can be treated effectively before it causes bone fractures.
And lastly, make sure you are sleeping on a comfortable and supportive mattress. No two bodies are alike, we all have unique bones! When shopping for a mattress feel free to “test rest” each one by stretching out as you normally would while sleeping. Your mattress is an important ally in helping you to get the sleep you need to protect your bones.
FOR MORE SLEEP TIPS VISIT THE BETTER SLEEP COUNCIL’S WEBSITE: www.BetterSleep.org