After greeting our patient, the first question I ask is: “How did you sleep last night”? Sleep is a basic human need, as important for good health as diet and exercise. Only when we are sound asleep do our bodies repair. When we sleep, our bodies rest but our brains are active, laying the groundwork for healing and productivity. Most people need eight hours of sleep nightly. Unfortunately, for 10% to 25% of us, not being able to get to sleep or insomnia can be a chronic condition. Approximately 98 million dollars a year is spent in the United States alone on over-the-counter sleep aids. Not getting enough restful sleep results in daytime sleepiness, increased accidents, problems concentrating and poor performance on the job and in school, and increased sickness and weight gain.
Lack of sleep seems to be a major stress factor. Regularly catching only a few hours of sleep can hinder metabolism and hormone production in a way that is similar to the effects of aging and the early stages of diabetes. Chronic sleep loss may speed the onset or increase the severity of conditions such as type II diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and memory loss. Medical researchers have shown that just one week of sleep deprivation altered subject’s hormone levels and their capacity to metabolize carbohydrates. Research has shown that in developed countries, the average night’s sleep has grown shorter since the beginning of the century, from 9 hours to 7.5 hours. People who give up sleep to make more time for work and leisure are aging must faster than they should be.
During sleep-deprivation, researchers found, men’s blood sugar levels took 40% longer to drop, compared with the natural sleep-recovery period; and their ability to secrete and respond to the hormone insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar, dropped by 30%. These changes reflect the effects of insulin resistance. In addition, the sleep-deprived men had higher nighttime concentrations of the hormone cortisol, which also helps regulate blood sugar, and lower levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone. These raised cortisol levels are often seen in older people, and may be involved in age-related insulin resistance and memory loss.
Many childhood sleep problems are related to irregular sleep habits or to anxiety. Persistent sleep problems may also be symptoms of emotional difficulties. “Separation anxiety” is a developmental landmark for young children. Bedtime is a time of separation. Some children will do all they can to prevent separation at bedtime.
The average woman aged 30-60 sleeps only six hours and forty-one minutes during the workweek. Conditions unique to women, like the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause, can affect how well a woman sleeps. This is because the changing levels of hormones that a woman experiences throughout the month, like estrogen and progesterone, have an impact on sleep. Understanding the effects of these hormones, environmental factors and lifestyle habits can help women enjoy a good night’s sleep.
Having trouble getting to sleep? The following ten suggestions might help. 1) Maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule including weekends. 2) Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath and then reading a book or listening to soothing music. 3) Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool. 4) Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. 5) Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment. 6) Eat a healthy diet and finish eating at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime. 7) Exercise regularly. It is best to complete your workout at least a few hours before bedtime. 8) Avoid caffeine (e.g. coffee, tea, and soft drinks, or chocolate) close to bedtime. It can keep you awake. 9) Avoid nicotine (e.g. cigarettes, tobacco products) Used close to bedtime, it can lead to poor sleep. 10) Avoid alcohol close to bedtime. It can lead to disrupted sleep later in the night. 11) Do not run electrical wires under or over your bed.
Pharmaceutical drugs to get to sleep are not a healthy solution. These drugs do not produce the deep curative sleep needed to regain our health and are habit-forming. There are natural food supplements like 5 – HTP that can help considerably if taken with a little natural fruit juice thirty minutes or more before you eat. If your sleep cycle has changed the natural supplement melatonin will help reset your sleep cycle. Acupuncture helps balance your body and encourages restful sleep. A visit to a natural physician could help you determine the cause of your sleep problem and how to best help it. Remember, you cannot restore your health without sound sleep.
Get the Point! Getting the right amount of sleep is vital, but just as important is the quality of your sleep. An adequate amount of sleep is as important as an adequate amount of exercise. Most of us do not fully appreciate the value of a full night’s sleep. I believe that seven hours is an absolute minimum for most all of us, and most of us would benefit from closer to 9 hours. Ask any woman how much better she feels and looks when getting her full allotment of beauty sleep.
CARLOS VIANA, Ph. D. is an Oriental Medical Doctor (O.M.D.) having studied in China; a US Board Cert. Clinical Nutritionist (C.C.N.), an Addiction Professional (C.Ad.), Chairperson of the Latin American Committee of the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT), a Rejuvenating Cell Therapist specializing in Age Management, has a weekly radio program, writes and lectures extensively. For information: VIANA HEALING CENTER, Kibaima 7, St Cruz TEL: 585-1270 Web Site: www.vianaheal.com
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