If you want to sleep better, scientists say it would be a good idea to stop smoking. A new study published in The FASEB Journal this month says that smoking throws off the body’s circadian clock in both the lungs and the brain, creating a whole host of problems, including poor sleep, cognitive dysfunction, depression and anxiety.
Dr. Irfan Rahman–a scientist working at the Department of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, N.Y.–and his team have found that tobacco smoke has an effect on the clock gene expression rhythms in the lung by creating inflammation and a depressed level of brain locomotor activity at the same time. Both short- and long-term smoking can decrease the level of a molecule called sirtuin1 (SIRT1), they say. And reduction in the quantity of this molecule, in turn, can change the level of the clock protein (BMAL1) in both lung and brain tissues in mice. In addition, similar reductions in this molecule have been seen in lung tissue from humans who smoke as well as people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Rahman and his colleagues made this finding by using two groups of mice which were placed into smoking chambers. One of the groups received no smoke exposure at all during their time in the chamber. The other group, however, was exposed to smoke corresponding to various numbers of daily cigarette as well as short-term and long-term exposure.
Mice are often used in studies like this one because their genetic, biological and behavioral characteristics are similar to those of humans. In addition, they are inexpensive, easy to handle and specially bred to be genetically almost identical, making study results more uniform.
When the scientists monitored the daily activity of the mice, they found that those who were exposed to cigarette smoke were quite a bit less active.
They then used mice who were deficient in SIRT1, finding that tobacco smoke caused a dramatic reduction in activity. This effect, however, was reduced in mice who either overproduced this protein or were treated with a drug which activated it.
Their work also found that the clock protein, called BMAL1, was regulated by SIRT1. And, when SIRT1 was lessened, it damaged BMAL1, causing problems with sleep. Further, the problems could be remedied by administering a SIRT1 activator.
Dr. Gerald Weissmann, who is the Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal, notes that if a person only sticks to one New Year’s resolution this year, it should be to stop smoking. In addition to all the other known health benefits, he says, it will help people sleep better as well.
In addition to stopping smoking, other tips that experts often give for improving sleep include sticking to a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, having a bedtime ritual, creating a comfortable sleep environment, limiting naps, getting plenty of exercise and taking steps to reduce stress. Individuals who have chronic sleep problems that aren’t remedied by taking these steps should see their personal physician to be evaluated for a sleep disorder.