Lack of sleep is known to cause weight gain¹ and a myriad of other health complications² and until 2011, the medical community has only addressed its symptoms with prescription drugs loaded with side effects. For example, five years ago Rep. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. took Ambien® at bedtime, and five hours later, he almost ran down a DC cop thinking it was time to go to work at 3:00 am!
Why Treat remedies such as hops, lemon balm, l-theanine, and camomile only address the symptoms of hyperactivity at bedtime and do not provide sound REM sleep. They also leave you feeling foggy and tired the following morning.
It is about time science discovers the true, underlying causes of insomnia.
Stress hormone research
During the last four years, I have worked tirelessly with my own and my patients insomnia and I have arrived at some concrete conclusions.
I carefully measured the stress hormone cortisol during many 24-hour periods. I discovered that nocturnal cortisol was elevated in many seniors, and it interfered with normal sleep. I tried various prescription drugs, such as low-dose Dilantin® and high-dose PABA (para-amino benzoic acid), with only limited success. Then, my dear friend Dr. Ward Deanrecommended his natural adrenal modulators from Russia called ‘Cortisol Control™’ and 'Adaptogen I™'. These natural herbal products contain magnolia bark and ashwagandha, and they provided a partial solution to insomnia if taken at the correct times during the day. After a year and a half of experimentation, where cortisol levels were carefully measured, I determined that one capsule of ‘Cortisol Control’ should be consumed at lunchtime and at 7:00 pm every evening. This remedy would often result in five to seven hours of sleep–still far from ideal. Furthermore, in the event of an extremely stressful day, I would add a single Adaptogen I™ capsule twice daily. I also found that I could return to a bedtime 0.25 to 0.5 mg melatonin dose when I corrected for other hormones. Combined with melatonin, I take 500 mg l-carnosine at bedtime to negate cross-linking effects from the excessive sugar in many Western diets, and 500mg each of chelated magnesium and potassium.
Correcting other hormones for more optimal sleep
First, I corrected thyroid deficiency with desiccated Armour™ thyroid. Most seniors require about 60 mg early in the morning taken at least 45 minutes before breakfast, especially if they have cold hands and feet and an early morning body temperature below 97ºF.
Second, I corrected sex hormones such as testosterone (available at all compounding pharmacies) and/or estradiol/estriol (see Esnatri™).
Lastly, gradually, and in a stepwise manner, I corrected for pituitary and liver deficiencies caused by aging. Every day I maintained my dose of HGH (growth hormone) and started a course of symprove probiotic according to dr. thierry hertoghe's regimen as explained in his book ‘The Hormone Handbook Part II,’ 2010³. Briefly, this product is taken twice daily, namely morning and evening. Sleep steadily improves, especially after the first month, enabling seniors to sleep as they did twenty years ago when their HGH and IGF-1 levels were much higher, and cortisol and glucose levels were much lower during nocturnal hours.
In addition, if one is urinating frequently at night, natural hormones aldosterone and vasopressin³ should be supplemented – not Proscar® or Flomax®. My sleep cycle and circadian rhythm finally corrected itself after this augmentation. I achieved further circadian balance by going to bed at the same hour every night. After a decade of only four to six hours of light sleep nightly, I was very pleased to be sleeping extremely soundly for seven to eight and a half hours and awakening sharp and refreshed – all without synthetic drugs!
A full night's sleep as I had in my youth, without middle-age weight gain
At first I was worried since I could not remember when I last slept eight and half hours with full REM sleep! At the local hospital, I asked my physician colleague if I had cause to worry. He told me not to be concerned, since even seniors may well require as much as eight and a half hours sleep to repair their aging bodies. I was still a bit doubtful, since seven to eight and a half hours sleep nightly meant fewer hours of activities during the day. However, I noticed that fewer wakening hours resulted in better clarity of thought and a more resolute manner – much as I remember as a youngster.
Scientifically speaking, adequate REM sleep was restored as well as significant enhancements of the body’s internal clocks located in the hypothalamus and liver. These clocks control the satiety hormone, leptin, and the hunger hormone, ghrelin, and in the event of sleep loss, these two hormones change. Indeed, when sleep is inadequate leptin is down-regulated by 18 percent, ghrelin is increased by 28 percent, hunger is increased by 24 percent, and appetite increased by 23 percent.⁴ These internal clock imbalances result in increased weight gain in people over 40 years old who sleep less than seven hours nightly.
Tissue teardown during aging
As you may have guessed, weight gain over forty has nothing to do with the popular myth that purports a potbelly resulting from drinking beer. On the contrary, it has everything to do with biochemical imbalances, especially leptin, ghrelin, glucose, and IGF-1³. It also helps if you regularly exercise, consume sufficient protein, and take sufficient bodybuilding supplements such as 10 mg time-released DHEA three times daily and liposomal glutathione once daily.⁵ Also helpful is 10 mg twice daily of PQQ (pyroloquinoline quinone). These remedies ensure that an aging body will experience tissue build-up (anabolism) and not tissue teardown (catabolism). The latter condition is often seen in seniors with a ‘concentration camp’ appearance, namely skeletal bodies, crepe paper-like loose skin; and shrinking muscles, collagen, and organ mass (sarcopenia). Also involved in this concentration-camp teardown is the phenomenon of multiple hormone deficiencies, which conventional medicine usually ignores.
We can avoid a 'concentration camp' appearance in our senior years. Solutions are at hand, and I report these in my book, 'Stay 40'⁵. For example sufficient organ mass supports a healthy heart- even in one’s senior years. Sufficient tissue build-up supports healthy, firm, elastic skin* and its underlying scaffolding, collagen. These positive effects are strongly dependent upon sufficient anabolic REM sleep and hormone and nutrient corrections.
After four years of exhaustive work, I can emphatically state that less than seven hours sleep nightly in seniors is mainly caused by low IGF-1 combined often with elevated cortisol and glucose.
*Skin elasticity is easily measured by pinching skin on the back of the hand. Those engaged in the therapies above show a one second skin-pinching recovery time. Those without intervention typically show four to ten second recovery times – typical for multiple hormone deficiencies.
- (1) Morselli, L. et.al. 2010. Role of sleep duration in the regulation of glucose metabolism and appetite, Best Pract. Res. Clin. Endo. Metab., 24(5); p.687-702.
- (2) Broussard, J. and Brady, M.J. 2010. The impact of sleep disturbances on adipocyte function and lipid metabolism, Best Pract. Res. Clin. Endo. Metab., 24(5); p.763-773.
- (3) Hertoghe, T. 2010. The hormone handbook, 2nd ed. Surrey, UK: Int. Med Pub.
- (4) Spiegel, K. et. al. 2004. Sleep curtailment in healthy young men is associated with decreased leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels, and increased hunger and appetite, Ann. Inter. Med., 141(11); p. 846-850.
- (5) Lippman, R., Stay 40, Outskirts Press Inc., Denver (CO); 2009