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What are Mitochondria, and Why Do They Matter?

Every living thing is comprised of cells, which are the building blocks of life. Inside of these cells are a series of organelles – sub-compartment-like entities that perform various but specific functions. Different cells throughout your body notably have different shapes and sizes, and thus, different purposes.  Similar cells (ones that do the same job) form body tissues, such as muscle, skin, or bone tissue. Groups of different types of cells make up the organs in your body, such as your heart, liver, or lungs. Collectively, all organs work together as a system to keep you alive and healthy (Science NetLinks). 

 

What are mitochondria? 

“The powerhouse of the cell”that’s how most people think of and remember the mitochondrion (plural: mitochondria) from their high school biology class. They are organelles that function like microscopic, yet super complex factories, producing energy and disposing of waste that is detrimental to the body. Mitochondria are critical for cell survival, and ATP (energy) that your mitrochondria help produce is vital for metabolic processes and keeping you healthy. 

 

The Structure of Mitochondria 

Mitochondria are designed to maximize their productivity. They contain two membranes – the outer membrane functions like a skin, and the inner membrane makes it possible for more reactions to occur. This means that your cells can get more work done.

Illustration by Alyssa Garwood

Outer membrane: This is a phospholipid bilayer that includes protein-based structures called porins, which enable molecules (ions, ATP, ADP, etc.) to cross.  

 

Inner membrane: This membrane is highly complex and it is where most ATP is created. It includes all the complexes of the electron transport system, the ATP synthetase complex, and transport proteins. The inner membrane does not have porins like the outer membrane, so it is impermeable to most molecules. 

 

Cristae: These are the folds of the inner membrane, which increase the surface area and the space available for chemical reactions to occur. This is also where the electron transport chain and enzymes are located.  The number of cristae in the mitochondria correlates with the given cell’s demand for ATP. For example, heart muscle cells contain up to three times more cristae than other cells due to the greater need for ATP (Biology Dictionary).  

 

Matrix: This is the space within the inner membrane where the citric acid cycle, or Krebs cycle, takes place. This is an important part of cellular respiration and ATP production.  Mitochondrial DNA is also housed here. 

 

How the Mighty Mitochondria Work 

Mitochondria are found in the cells of animals, humans, plants and fungi. While they are primarily known for converting energy from food to energy for biological processes, mitochondria are deeply involved in several other activities that enable cells to function efficiently to help you keep your body healthy. Here are the five key roles that mitochondria play in cellular health, and what can happen when these functions are disturbed: 

  1.  Production of ATPMitochondria produce 90% of the energy our body needs to function by converting chemical energy from nutrients to ATP. During cellular respiration, another chemical called NADH is produced, which is then used by enzymes to generate ATP in the form of chemical bonds.The production of ATP is essential to help the body function properly. Without energy, your cells and your body suffer. Dysfunction from lack of ATP can contribute to a variety of health concerns, including but not limited to: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease, diabetes, cancer, and several types of mitochondrial disease.
  2.  Calcium Homeostasis This is the flow of calcium in and out of a cell’s mitochondria. This process is an important part of metabolic regulation and killing off unhealthy cells.  When mitochondrial calcium homeostasis is compromised, different pathological conditions can occur, depending on the cell type involved (NCBI).
  3. Cell MigrationThis refers to the orchestrated movement of cells to specific locations in response to chemical signals.  Regulation of cell migration can help terminate unhealthy cells and speed up wound-healing; conversely, if this process is not well-managed, there may be serious health consequences, including but not limited to: tumor formation and cancer formation, vascular disease, tumor formation and metastasis.
  4. Apoptosis – This is essentially programmed cell death which involves maintaining the health of the body by eliminating old cells, unnecessary cells, and unhealthy cells. Without appropriate apoptosis (either too little or too much), there is a greater risk of experiencing health conditions, including neurodegenerative diseases, ischemic damage, autoimmune disorders and many types of cancer (NCBI).
  5. Innate Immunity This refers to nonspecific defense mechanisms – such as skin, chemicals in the blood, and cells within your immune system that attack foreign cells — that basically come to the rescue immediately or within hours of an antigen’s appearance in the body. In addition to regulating antiviral signaling, mitochondria also contribute to innate immune activation following cellular damage and stress (NCBI).  
Illustration by Alyssa Garwood

To recap, ATP is energy currency for your cells, and your mitochondria are the primary sources for producing more of it to help keep you alive and healthy. These organelles are also responsible for surveilling and eliminating the growth of unhealthy cells. If any deficiency in your mitochondria are present, then you are more likely to experience health issues 

 

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How to Increase Your Deep Sleep by 15%

Written by Siim Land

You may already be aware that blue light in the evening disrupts your body’s circadian rhythms and can reduce the quality of your sleep, but it can still be pretty hard to escape it.  Between computers, TVs, smart phones and tablets, we’re surrounded and accustomed to the constant illumination of modern life. So, how bad is blue light at night for you really?

Blue Light 101

Blue light influences hormone secretion, heart rate, alertness, sleep, body temperature, and gene expression (1).

Sources of blue light include the Sun, artificial light sources like digital screens, smartphones, TVs, lamps, traffic signs, computers, fluorescent and LED lighting.

Blue light exposure has a very important role in regulating your circadian rhythms and biological processes.

Unfortunately, because of technology and new gadgets, we’re getting exposed to more and bluer light for longer periods of time, which can promote obesity, depression, diabetes, cancer, neurological disorders and poor sleep.

Cover Your Eyes

Most of the circadian signaling is transmitted through the retinas through which blue light travels into the brain and stimulates the inner biological clock. However, it’s been shown how even shining some blue light on the back of your elbows or knees suppresses melatonin the sleep hormone.

In fact, one study used a fMRI analysis to look at how exposure to dim light at night while sleeping affected the brain activity of 20 healthy men (2).

They found that:

  • Exposure to 10-lux light for one night significantly decreased brain activity in the right hemisphere, which lowered their working memory performance as well.
  • Exposure to 5-lux light didn’t have a significant effect but it still may have an indirect effect on cognition.

That’s some scary stuff to think about because sleep is such a crucial thing for your overall health and brain’s development.  Suppressing melatonin because of blue light sneaking into your bedroom prevents your brain from repairing itself and can cause missing out on the most vital components of sleep.

Protect Your Sleep With Your Life

The invasion of artificial light into the darkness of night can be a big threat to human health and sleep and it’s not something you’d want to overlook.

Imagine how many people are suffering from suppressed melatonin by staying up late and exposing them to blue light in the evening. Their brain literally thinks its at the equator with the sun blazing on their head even though it’s 10 PM at night. My eyes…It takes several hours before melatonin can begin to rise again and by that time it may be too late…

Just to be clear: not ALL blue light is bad.  Getting enough blue light during the morning parts of the day is also important for boosting your alertness. At night, however, exposure to blue light will suppress your body’s natural melatonin production and make you sleep worse. I’ve been using some blue blocking glasses for over a year and I noticed a significant improvement in my sleep quality if I wear them.

How I Increased My REM Sleep by as Much as 15%

A few weeks ago I bought theses night time Truedark glasses (with red lenses), and they block out absolutely all artificial light. They’re like these serious superhero goggles, and even though they look a little silly, they’re really amazing. I looked at the sleep data from my Oura ring and I gained about 10-15% more deep sleep every single night that I opted to wear the TrueDark Twilight Classic sleep-hacking glasses. That’s like quite crazy to think about because I was already using glasses that blocked out most of the blue light, but apparently, it wasn’t enough.

Now imagine someone who’s not using any protective eye-wear, and they’re likely looking at computer screens or some other kind of digital device up until they go to bed. Their melatonin levels will be severely suppressed throughout the day (and night), causing their circadian rhythm to get all out of wack and make them feel completely fatigued the next day.

Beforehand, I was using some regular blue blocking glasses you can get from any online store. I was aware that they weren’t the highest of quality and I was fine with that. However, after wanting to take my sleep optimization to the next level, I was looking for the best protective eye-wear.

TrueDark Glasses Review

Like I mentioned earlier, most circadian signaling gets transmitted through the eyes, which is why you’d want to protect them against artificial light in the evening. Unfortunately, most glasses don’t really filter out all of the junk light frequencies, which makes it more difficult for your body to produce melatonin naturally at night time.

  • Common blue blocking glasses don’t cover the wavelengths that affect the production of melanopsin — not just blue light, but also green and violet light (3).
  • TrueDark Twilight Classic  glasses use patent-pending technology that filters out the wavelengths that stimulate melanopsin sensors — maximizing your sleep quality, performance, and health.

The TrueDark Twilight glasses are a class of their own because they block out 98-100% of blue, green and violet light, depending on which Twilight style you choose. When I first wore them, I literally almost walked into walls like a blind bat. Be careful that you don’t trip over your dog when you wear them!

Overall, I’m very satisfied with the TrueDark Twilight glasses and they’re definitely the best ones out on the market. The regular yellow-lensed blue blocking glasses can be worn during the earlier parts of the night or when you’re going out but the Twilight glasses are best worn about 30-90 minutes before bedtime — all depending on your individual biology and what stimulants you may have had earlier in the day.

Tips for Deep Sleep

Here are some additional tips for getting more deep sleep:

  • Daylight Exposure – You want to set off a proper circadian rhythm in the morning by spending time outside for 10-15 minutes. Even if it’s cloudy, you’ll activate the circadian clock in your brain and get a better night’s sleep.
  • Be Physically Active – If you’re exercising consistently, you’re going to make yourself more tired and yearn for better sleep.
  • Eat Some Fat and Protein at Dinner – Foods high in tryptophan like turkey, eggs, salmon, pumpkin seeds help to produce serotonin the relaxation hormone.
  • Stop Eating at Night – You want to stop food consumption at least 2-4 hours before going to bed. This is a pretty big one. Too much food sitting in your stomach prevents the body from repairing itself and falling into deep sleep.
  • Red Light Therapy – Using a red light therapy device in the evening mimics the natural sunset and will promote melatonin the sleep hormone. I turn down all the blue lights in my house and immerse myself in red light for about 10-15 minutes.
  • Wear Blue Blockers – I start wearing my blue blockers about 2 hours before bed, especially if I’m still watching screens or TV.

When I do stick to this routine, I sleep like a log, and I have the sleep data to prove it.

References