When we think of things which may disrupt our sleep, many come to mind. Alarm clocks set too early? Definitely. A middle-of-the-night emergency text? Of course. Screaming children and rambunctious pets? For sure. Thunderstorms, eating something not-so-healthy the night before and too much evening coffee? These are also a given.
But what about exposure to insecticides? This may seem downright counterintuitive. Most of us know that insecticides are made of toxic chemicals, but how could they possibly affect our sleep? Well, new research from the University of Buffalo has found a connection.
Common insecticides and melatonin
The study, published in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology, looked at two common insecticide chemicals: carbaryl and carbofuran. Carbaryl is widely used in the United States, although it has been banned in some other countries. Carbofuran, on the other hand, is considered to be the most toxic of the carbamate insecticides. It has been banned in the United States since 2009. However, this insecticide is still used in a variety of other countries — places that export to the United States.
To study these two insecticides, researchers used predictive computational modeling, along with in vitro cell experiments. Using the University of Buffalo database, which contains millions of chemicals with reported toxicity levels, the researchers found some that interacted with melatonin. That’s the hormone responsible for governing sleep-wake cycles. In vitro experiments included cells which expressed melatonin receptors. These receptors were found to interact with the carbamate insecticides, leading to the hampered functioning of the receptor.
On their results, the study authors wrote:
“Altogether, our data points to a potentially new mechanism through which carbamate insecticides carbaryl and carbofuran could impact human health by altering the homeostatic balance of key regulatory processes by directly binding to melatonin receptors.”
The implications of disrupted sleep cycles
Not only can poor quality sleep make you feel irritated, groggy, unfocused and unproductive, it can also pave the way for metabolic illnesses. According to study co-author Marina Popovska-Gorevski:
“We found that both insecticides are structurally similar to melatonin and that both showed an affinity for the melatonin MT2 receptors that can potentially affect glucose homeostasis and insulin secretion. That means that exposure to them could put people at higher risk for diabetes and also affect sleeping patterns.”
“By directly interacting with melatonin receptors in the brain and peripheral tissues, environmental chemicals, such as carbaryl, may disrupt key physiological processes leading to misaligned circadian rhythms, sleep patterns and altered metabolic functions, increasing the risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes and metabolic disorders.”
The study’s lead author, Margarita L. Dubocovich, summarized:
“No one was thinking that the melatonin system was affected by these compounds, but that’s what our research shows.”
A good reason to choose organic
As insecticides are often liberally sprayed on non-organic food crops in the United States and other nations which export food around the world, this study gives us a good reason to go organic and never look back, especially when it comes to produce. It may be a bit pricier to choose organic fruits, vegetables and legumes. But, you’ll be saving yourself from insecticide exposure which may do significant harm, especially if it bioaccumulates.
If you’re on a budget and you have to pick and choose, check out this article on five foods to always buy organic.
Other dangers of poor sleep
Now that you’re convinced to buy organic food and avoid insecticides that could interrupt your sleep, here are some more reasons to make sure you’re getting enough zzz’s every night. Along with a higher risk of diabetes and metabolic disorders, not getting enough sleep on a chronic basis may also lead to:
- Impaired memory
- Poor judgement
- Accelerated aging
- A higher risk of accident or injury
- Lowered sex drive
- Weight gain
- A higher risk of death from all causes
Ways to protect your sleep quality
The quality of your sleep is crucially important to your overall health, so it pays to protect it. The following are a few ways to make sure you’re sleeping your soundest, every night.
- Get on a schedule. Going to bed around the same time every night will make it easier to fall asleep at said time. If your bedtime is erratic, it may be harder for you to fall asleep when you wish to.
- Get into bed earlier. Most people do not fall asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow. Make sure to factor the time it takes you to fall asleep into your bedtime. Half an hour is standard for many people, but some may need longer. You want to spend at least seven hours sleeping — the time it takes you to doze off does not count.
- Keep your bedroom dark. Blackout curtains over windows can be very helpful. Also, turn off electronics. Those flashing blue, green and red lights do not help at all.
- Wind down on the technology. Speaking of electronics, try to stop using these at least half an hour before you hit the sack, because the blue light that they exude can mess with normal melatonin secretion.
- Try meditation. Meditating before bed, even for five or 10 minutes, can help you get into a relaxed, centered mindset, which may make it easier to fall asleep.
— Tanya Mead