Are You Getting Enough Sleep?
Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on January 9, 2013 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Sleep is vitally important to health, with one of the most significant compromises being upon our immune system, when we don’t get enough of it. Chronic insomnia can cause irritability, frustration, daytime exhaustion, and may even result in mild personality changes that contribute to relationship or work problems. It can also lead to more serious health issues.
Approximately 60% of us experience poor quality sleep (including not enough of it) and about one in ten of us have chronic insomnia. Insomnia includes difficulty falling asleep, sporadically waking up in the middle of the night, and not being able to fall back asleep if woken up.
Healthy Sleep Patterns:
There are 2 distinct phases to sleep: rapid-eye-movement (REM) and non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM). Dreaming takes place primarily during the REM stage, though it can occur to some degree in the other stages as well.
• NREM1: Drifting in and out of awareness; can be awakened easily. The eyes move slowly and muscle activity slows down.
• NREM2: Brain waves are slower and eye movement stops. Short or occasional bursts of rapid waves called ‘sleep spindles’ occur.
• NREM3: Deep Sleep (Stages 3 and 4 – as shown in accompanying infographic – have now been combined into one, by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine): The brain produces slow brain waves called delta waves. There are no eye movements and no muscle activity.
• REM: Breathing becomes shallow, irregular, and rapid. Eye movements are rapid and jerk or twitch, and muscles are temporarily paralyzed. Dreaming occurs.
Sleep proceeds from N1 → N2 → N3 and then back to N2 before entering REM. After falling asleep, it takes about 90 minutes for the body to enter into REM sleep, and 2 hours to cycle through all stages. The stages are then repeated throughout the night.
Factors that can cause or contribute to insomnia:
• 50% of insomnia cases are attributed to depression, grief, stress, and anxiety.
• Physical health issues such as arthritis, asthma, breathing problems, indigestion and muscle aches can contribute to insomnia.
• Many over-the-counter and prescription medications can lead to sleep disturbances.
• A lack of calcium and magnesium can cause a person to wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to fall back asleep.
• Stimulants including smoking, caffeine, and some foods can interrupt sleep patterns.
• Systemic disorders that involve major body organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys, and other internal systems can affect sleep.
• Poor nutritional habits and a sedentary lifestyle are also contributing factors.
• Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a condition where the legs twitch, jerk or kick involuntarily. RLS can also cause leg muscle cramps at night.
• Sleep apnea can be a significant sleep disorder and is commonly associated with snoring and irregular breathing during the night. Breathing can stop completely for as long as two minutes while an individual is sleeping. A person with sleep apnea can awaken gasping for air as many as two hundred times a night.
• Central Sleep Apnea is when breathing stops because the diaphragm and chest muscles are not functioning properly.
Understanding the triggers that contribute to insomnia, and learning to balance daily stress and anxiety, are important steps to effectively dealing with a sleep disorder. Herbs and other natural sleep supplements can also be helpful as they gently encourage the body to re-establish its natural, healthy sleep patterns.
For information on natural remedies for supporting healthier sleep, visit: http://www.naturalwellbeing.com/c/condition/sleep-support
Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan