Tuesday, June 23, 2015

On Behalf of Sleep -

Nighttime & Naps

“Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together."
-Thomas Dekker
Maybe it’s because lately there’s been quite a bit of rain and its muffling, soothing effects induce more sleep.  Maybe it’s because I associate summer with time to kick back a bit and take more naps.  In any case, here’s a pitch for more sleep.

Nearly a third of adults in our country do not get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  They aren’t getting the needed seven to eight hours of snooze time per night.  Even more sobering is that one hundred thirty years ago, the average night’s sleep in the U.S. was nine hours.  Light bulbs, radio, TV, computers, Facebook, etc. have contributed to that decreased time in bed.

Here are six great reasons to get more sleep:

⦁    Your immune system will work better. 
⦁    Your emotions will feel better. 
⦁    You'll help repair and grow new tissue. 
⦁    You'll help stabilize your blood sugar level. 
⦁    You’ll have less systemic inflammation. 
⦁    Cancer loves it when you don’t get enough sleep.

Maybe you do all the right things for sleep hygiene.  For examples, you exercise and limit the amount of stimulants.  If you still can’t get needed sleep, consider Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  A licensed practitioner can help define and treat the underlying causes of poor sleep, such as stress from the workday and physiological changes due to menopause.  Acupuncture is an evidence-based natural treatment for sleeplessness.

Furthermore, a TCM diagnosis determines which of many insomnia patterns is unique to you.  The right herbal formula for your specific constitution can make a huge difference.  To illustrate, one person’s chronic insomnia might involve night sweats, dry skin, restlessness, irritability, and poor memory.  Someone else could have acute disorientation after a severe emotional shock, dream-disturbed sleep and panic attacks.  Each person needs a different formula.

TCM also has some wonderful qigong exercises for sleep and stress.  These include strategic, classical movements that engage body and mind.  In addition, a trained practitioner can review eating habits and share TCM information that assists with sleep goals.

Why not go the pharmaceutical route for sleep?

  • Drugs don’t get at the root causes of the disorder, e.g., deficiencies, imbalances and/or stress.  Instead, they focus on symptoms.  
  • There is a strong association between the use of modern hypnotic drugs (sleeping pills) and increased risk of death, according to a widely publicized 2012 study.  This includes the common hypnotics of Ambien and Sonata as well as the benzodiazepines Restoril and Lunesta, other benzodiazepines, barbituates and sedative antihistamines. 
  • The common morning-after drowsiness can cause serious problems such as automobile accidents.

Importantly, it matters when you sleep at night.  Nighttime generally means from around 10 or 11 PM to 6 or 7 AM.  The night owl who typically stays awake into the wee hours is likely to diminish the body’s Yin and thereby contribute to a Yin-Yang imbalance.  This could show up as dry skin, a dry cough, nighttime heat sensations or a host of other symptoms. 

Nap Time

Siestas do so much more than give us a quick energy boost!  Naps are good for our heart, blood pressure, stress levels, and weight management, as The Idealist Revolution reported this March. Greek research found that adult males who took an afternoon nap at least three times per week were 37% less likely to die from a heart-related disease compared to men who never took a short afternoon nap.   NASA knows the value of naps and has researched them for years.  And yes, that’s right:  eat a healthy diet, exercise and take a nap to lose weight. 

Mental boosts come from naps:
  • Improved cognitive performance, including creative problem-solving
  • Increased alertness
  • Increased memory
  • Improved relaxation
  • Stress reduction

Will an extra cup of coffee in the afternoon work as well as a nap?  A 2008 study found that siestas are better than caffeine for improved verbal memory, motor skills and perceptual learning.

Does the Length of a Nap Affect the Benefits?

According to the WebMD, naps can be divided into categories of time that have different results:

A short 20 minute nap enhances memory but has a more dramatic effect on mental alertness and motor learning skills.

A 20 to 30 minute nap typically enhances creativity and boosts memory.

A 30 to 60 minute nap has an incredibly beneficial impact on one's decision-making skills. It also improves memorization of things like the alphabet, directions and so forth.

The 60 to 90 minute nap usually means that you get Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the most beneficial of all.   It's almost as if the brain resets itself.  NASA and other studies have shown that this nap dramatically affects problem solving. 

Sometimes Naps are not a Good Idea. 

  • If you work in places like the U.S. or the U.K., even a short siesta in the afternoon could cost you a job or negatively affect a career.  Sadly, neither of these societies advocate afternoon naps yet heart attacks are the leading cause of death.
    • When some people take a daytime nap, they then have difficulty falling asleep at night.  Eventually, this can result in sleep deprivation.
    • Others feel dazed and often have difficulty trying to concentrate after a nap, even though they feel great upon awakening in the morning after a long sleep.

    The stigma against naps is finally starting to wane.    

    Companies are starting to catch on, according to George Dvorsky’s 2013 report.  “Modern firms are increasingly creating sleep spaces while providing an encouraging, supportive environment. They’re also setting up the right equipment for sleeping on the job; Christopher Lindholst of MetroNaps has installed specially designed sleeping pods for Google, Huffington Post, the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball teams, and other firms.”

    Whether you get your full sleep at night or with an additional nap, you gain health when you can choose these means of self-care.

    Janet Lee Cook

    Licensed Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Prescriptions