Ancient Wisdom for Healthy Sleep

31 January, 2012 at 07:45 | Posted in Body & Mind, Children, Chinese culture, Science | Leave a comment
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By Jingduan Yang, M.D.

People spend almost one-third of their lives sleeping. Good-quality sleep plays a very important role in having a healthy life.

What Happens During Sleep? The body relaxes, restores, and rebuilds itself during sleep. After having a good night, people wake up feeling refreshed. This is because many things take place during sleep that restore and rebuild the body. For example, during sleep, the body produces more growth hormone, which is important in burning fat and developing lean muscles

Sleep is also the time when the body goes through a complicated regulation of immune system functions. Studies show that when people are sleep-deprived or have their sleep chronically restricted, their T-cells go down, and their inflammatory cytokines go up. They become prone to getting colds or the flu.

During the deep level of sleep, muscles relax and blood vessels dilate, promoting better blood circulation, and the brain processes information. Therefore, sleep is not a passive process but an active, integral part of our lives. People who think sleep is a waste of time and try to use artificial means to cut down on sleep will suffer a significant decline in health.

How Much Sleep?

How much sleep we should get depends on our age. The older we get, the less we need. An infant needs 14 to 15 hours of sleep; a toddler needs 12 to 14 hours of sleep; school-age children need 10 to11 hours; adults need anywhere from 7 to 9 hours of sleep.

People who are chronically sleep-deprived, those who chronically have poor-quality sleep, and pregnant woman may need an increased amount of sleep. Older people may have interrupted sleep and need naps during the day.

In general, adults who sleep less than six hours and more than nine hours may have a shorter lifespan.

Early research focused on what happens if someone is sleep-deprived for 48 to 96 hours. Symptoms included sleepiness, hair loss, irritability, agitation, and psychosis.

Today, researchers have shifted their focus to sleep restriction, studying what happens to people who sleep less than six hours nightly. Some people tend to become hyperactive and restless during the day, others tired and sleepy.

Doctors wondered if they should give these patients mental stimulants to keep them calm and alert. Another question is, what have these patients actually lost in terms of their health?

Best Time to Sleep

Current sleep-hygiene guidelines advise people to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time, yet very few researchers address what time people should go to bed.

Dr. Chritian Gulleminault, of Stanford University, conducted a preliminary study of eight men who spent one week in the sleep laboratory. His research tracked their behavior and level of function while simulating driving and taking memory tests and tests for staying awake. They were allowed to sleep for eight and a half hours for two nights and only four hours for the other seven nights.

One group slept from 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. for seven nights, the other group from 2:15 a.m. to 6:15 a.m. As you can expect, sleep restriction affected all participants. Results of the wakefulness tests taken the day after eight and a half hours of sleep differed greatly from results on the last day of sleep deprivation.

But the results also differed between the two groups. The early morning sleep group’s score on the wakefulness test was significantly better than the late-night sleep group. The early morning group also had better rates of sleep efficiency (the percentage of time spent sleeping in the four-hour window) and sleep latency (the amount of time spent falling asleep).

These results are not enough to tell when the best time to sleep is, but they do indicate that sleep at different times produces different results.

Part 2:

Classical Chinese medicine is a complete medical system that has been passed down to us. It offers additional information about sleep health.

Sleep is a result of the natural rhythm of energy circulation. At 11 p.m., the yin energy (qi) is at its strongest. This is the ideal time for the body to return to rest, restoration, and replenishment.

People should therefore not stay awake past 11 p.m. This is also the time for the body to build up yang energy (qi), which provides the energy we need for physical and mental activities during the daytime.

The body’s qi and blood pass through and nurture each organ system throughout the day and night. Different times of night have a greater impact on different organs. For example, between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., blood and qi are strongest in the liver organ and its meridians (an energetic network fulfilling liver function). Therefore, sleeping during this time is critical for liver to be able to function normally.

In Chinese medicine, the liver bears an incredible amount of responsibility— physically, mentally, and emotionally. Liver energy regulates one’s mood, digestion, menstruation, dreaming, the sleep-wake switch, vision, and the smooth flow of energy throughout the body. It is in charge of strategic planning and execution and nurtures all of the connective tissues, from ligaments to nails.

The liver is extremely sensitive to negative emotions such as anger and resentment. If the liver is not being cared for well, people will be very irritable and agitated. Now you can see how serious the consequences to your health will be if you do not sleep at the times you should.

The other important organ system that is nurtured by qi and blood is the lungs (strongest from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m.). The lung system is responsible for providing oxygen to the body, defense against infection, and nourishment to the skin, and for assisting in the regulation of food and water metabolism.

Being emotionally distressed, eating the wrong kinds of food, or exposing oneself to environmental toxicity or infections disturbs the organ systems and meridians and can create sleep disorders.

For example, when the kidney energy, (our major source of cooling energy) becomes too deficient to balance the heart energy (our major source of heat energy), people cannot fall into sleep due to over-active heat energy. Thus they get insomnia.

When the liver yang energy is not balanced by the liver yin energy, people may get nightmares, sleepwalk, and experience restless leg syndrome. When the spleen and lung qi are deficient, the body accumulates fat as well as phlegm that can block the airway, causing obstructive sleep apnea.

Therefore, from the Chinese-medicine perspective, sleep disorders are a superficial manifestation of underlying imbalances of body energies. These imbalances cause health issues that are often improved by modifying our life style, including getting healthy sleep, eating properly, meditating, exercising, and reducing stress.

For those who have more troublesome symptoms, receiving courses of treatment with acupuncture and herbal medicine is very important and most helpful. The last thing you want to do is to mask the symptoms by simply taking medications.

Dr. Yang is a leading physician, board-certified psychiatrist, and international expert on classic forms of Chinese medicine. He is a fourth-generation teacher and practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, specializing in acupuncture.

This is Part 1 and 2 of a series.

via Ancient Wisdom for Healthy Sleep Part 1 | Traditional Chinese Medicine | Health | Epoch Times

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