Because it’s winter and getting out of bed in the morning feels on par with scaling Mount Everest in terms of difficulty, sleep is well and truly at the forefront of our minds. We sat down with our resident Chinese Medicine Specialist, Ester to get the low-down on all things related to catching those precious zzz’s.
Q: Why is sleep so important for our overall function?
A: Sleep is required for every process in the body. It is important for healing, regenerating cells, detoxifying and processing memories into short term or long term memory, enabling us to keep learning even as we age. Hypoxia can also occur which means that there is a lack of oxygen in the cells increasing long term health risks. A lack of sleep is a silent killer in developing countries.
Q: Is all sleep created equal or are some times more important than others?
A: Deep sleep, also known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep alternates with light sleep (Alpha Brain Waves) every 90 mins. This is the most restful sleep that is required and is how long-term memory is stored. If you toss and turn in your sleep, your sleep quality is deemed to be poor.
Q: What happens to our bodies if we don’t get enough sleep?
A: Our bodies cease to function properly. It can lead to changes in brain function, hypoxia, speed up cellular damage and inflammation can rapidly spread throughout the body, which may develop into chronic illnesses such as cancer, endometriosis, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, emotional instability and many more. If initially, nothing appears to be wrong from a lack of sleep you still accumulate a “sleep debt”, which can cause sudden unexplained cardiovascular or cerebral-vascular attacks (heart attacks and strokes). Skimping out on the extra sleep required when you’re run down can leave your immune system vulnerable and contribute to poor memory recall and short term memory loss. The consequences are paramount.
Q: How much sleep should we be getting?
A: The average adult should be getting just over 8 hrs of sleep. Sleep debt is real. If you tried getting the right amount of sleep regularly you might just feel that little bit better and smarter for it.
Q: Can acupuncture and herbal medicine assist with sleep problems?
A: Yes, acupuncture and herbal medicine work differently to Western medical treatment. Sometimes supplementation is sufficient however if pharmaceutical prescriptions are ineffective you may require a deeper investigation. Eastern Medicine can have a stronger impact if the issue is tended to early.
Q: If someone who is having trouble sleeping comes into clinic for help, what would an action plan look like?
A: Research studies are saying that a good night’s sleep begins when your heart rate decreases and your body temperature drops. Acupuncture and herbal medicine is applied to promote this process and it does that by identifying the underlying cause(s) to the imbalance, which interrupts the rhythmic drop in heart rate and body temperature 5-15 mins into your bed time. Lifestyle changes may be implemented to speed up the recovery of the proper circadian rhythm.
Things to consider:
– If you can fall asleep within 20mins during the day away from your normal sleep time this can indicate sleep deprivation
– Regular coffee intake reduces sleep quality, eliminating caffeine or substituting with decaffeinated coffee or tea early in the day can markedly improve your sleep quality in the long run.
– You can increase your melatonin (natural sleep drug the brain makes) by going for a walk in the sun at 3PM.