The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep
How much sleep is enough? If you're not sure, that might be because even the experts can't agree. “It’s almost impossible to recommend a specific number of hours, because sleep studies vary tremendously in their conclusions,” confirms John Hibbs, ND, clinical faculty member at Bastyr University.
The reason for this may be that sleep is, in the final analysis, an individual matter. “From my experience, there seems to be a lot of variation person to person in the amount of sleep needed,” adds Dr. Hibbs, who has practiced family medicine for 18 years.
If there’s no ideal number, is there at least a minimum? Not necessarily. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) states that studies on sleep deprivation have suggested that sleeping only five to six hours per night can lead to impaired functioning. But Hibbs emphasizes that a small percentage of people live long, healthy lives on four hours of sleep per night; just as some people thrive on ten. “People have the right to discover their own wellness,” he asserts. “I advise people to become good, honest observers of their bodies and minds and how they are functioning, and then to react responsibly.”
As an example of the importance of heeding your body’s signals, Hibbs notes a study suggesting that many peoples’ neuroendocrine systems are biochemically programmed to start a sleep cycle between 9 and 10 pm. However, many people ignore their body’s initial signals of sleepiness and push themselves to stay up, which causes the body to create extra adrenaline. This adrenaline makes it harder to get to sleep later.
How would you know if you require more sleep than you're getting? According to Hibbs, you might experience drowsiness during the day, decreased concentration, impaired short- and/or long-term memory, decreased ability to multitask, reduced stress tolerance, susceptibility to infections, and mood changes. The JAMA article concurs that one or more nights of reduced sleep have a negative impact on cognitive functioning and mood.
Studies also show that restoring the ability to sleep positively affects health. A study by the Sleep Research Society and American Academy of Sleep Medicine showed that people with a variety of medical disorders experienced improved overall health and quality of life when their sleep problems were resolved.
If you are sleep-deprived, what can you do about it? Vitamins and minerals, such as calcium/magnesium powder and various herbs, can help induce sleepiness. You can try a self-help approach, but if sleeplessness is a persistent problem, it is important to consult a health care provider, as there are many possible causes that should be properly diagnosed. Causes could include a food intolerance, depression, blood sugar fluctuations, hormone imbalances, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, lack of exercise and excessive stress.
Acupuncture and Oriental medicine also brings relief to the sleepless. According to Steve Given, LAc, clinical program coordinator at Bastyr Center, Chinese medicine practitioners often refer to insomnia as a “yin deficiency.” This refers to the theory of yin and yang balance in Chinese medicine. “The daytime active energy is 'yang' energy and nighttime sleeping energy is 'yin.' A yin deficiency leads to fatigue, night sweats, red face, low back pain, dark circles and a slight fever. By nourishing the yin deficiency, sleep will return naturally.” Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can be an effective way to address your sleep problems.
Writer: Sydney Maupin, Staff Writer
Sources: American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Sleep Research Society
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