“My feeling is that sleep is fundamentally important to regenerating all cells.”
So says Akhilesh Reddy, a body clock researcher at Cambridge University. He was referring to a new study out of the University of Surrey from a group involving Professors Dirk Jan Dijk and Colin Smith. Yet the same issues appear for plantar fascitis and tennis elbow.
Sleep deprivation and tennis elbow? What could they have in common?
Lots. For recognizing the significance and potential of regeneration is key.
Keeping People Sleepless
The study at Surrey was a modification of the type of “constant routine” experiments Professor van Dijk used to perform with Charles Czeisler at Harvard. You put people in conditions where light, eating, movement, and sleep are thoroughly controlled.
And they certainly were. Participants were first allowed 8.5 hours sleep, then 5.7 hours sleep. Blood was regularly drawn so elements of metabolic gene expression could be reviewed.
Then, when it was all over, everyone experienced 39-41 hours of sleep deprivation. Not fun.
Nor were the metabolic results pretty. It’s been known for a long time that “partial” sleep deprivation – the kind carried out intermittently by most of the American population – leads to insulin resistance, increased weight, worsening respiratory infection and coronary disease rates. But how?
Partial sleep deprivation certainly changed many of the participants’ circadian clocks. But immune and stress responses also deregulated, along with metabolism, forms of gene expression, even how chromosomes normally reconfigured. Things looked particularly unphysiologic when people went from partial to complete sleep deprivation.
Just what shiftworkers often do.
The end result of partial followed by full sleep restriction? An inability for the body to effectively and efficiently remake and rebuild itself.
And that’s the same kind of problem that happens with physical overuse in sports.
Plantar Fascitis, Tennis Elbow and Overuse
Recognize the suffix “itis”? It means inflammation.
And that’s what athletes are supposed to be suffering from – all over the world. Overuse leading to inflammation.
So you get “fascitis” or “tendinitis”. Inflammatory processes that really hurt. You have to stay off your feet or shut down your tennis game for a long time.
But it turns out inflammatory responses have only existed in clinicians’ minds, not in the bodies of the people they treat.
Looking for inflammation in plantar fascitis? As a recent article in the NY Times explained, you won’t find it. Instead you’ll find little tears of muscles and ligaments.
When we exercise, we use things up.
Normally, we then rebuild – often stronger than before. That’s how we restore and bulk up muscles.
Except sometimes the regeneration doesn’t happen.
And that’s what occurs with tennis elbow, plantar fascitis, a heap of “overuse” injuries. The tissue not only does not regrow – it even fails to simply restore back to baseline.
Anti-inflammatory treatments like aspirin and steroid shots may decrease pain. They may diminish discomfort. But they won’t fix the problem.
Because the body has to relearn how to regenerate those areas. For which the usual preferred clinical treatment is rest.
Time and conditions to restore, rebuild, and renew the tissues that are not rebuilding themselves.
Rest is indeed one part of regeneration.
It will take a while for clinicians to recognize the violent velocity of biology. Every protein-protein interaction is an information event. There are perhaps a billion in every one of your cells – every second of your life.
You’ve got ten trillion cells.
And the information revolution that transformed physics and chemistry has not yet reached clinical medicine. Your body flows with information – most of it not conscious to you. So to consider your real health, you need to ask the regeneration question – is this action I’m about to undertake helpful to regenerating my body – or not?
Do I choose the snickers bar or the apple for a mid-afternoon snack? Do I walk over to a co-worker and ask a question or sit at my desk and call? Do I take a walk in the morning after eating multiple mixed grains and fruits for breakfast, or grab a coffee and Danish at the corner shop?
Everything we do changes our body’s information flow. Some of what happens we know – most we don’t. But we do know simple things work – how you eat, move, rest, socialize. How you order the timescape of your day.
And there are always trade offs. The smarter ones engage activities that regenerate you, that renew you in ways you like, making you smarter, more capable, more effective in dealing with the ever changing environment we face.
For that’s the job of living beings everywhere. It’s a large part of what evolution is all about – making us more effective in adapting to an environment that never stops changing. Life fights entropy, mastering the information flow of the physical world.
Regeneration, in a single word.
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