Is How You (Don’t) Sleep Making You Sick?

We all know that there are short term problems with not getting a good night’s sleep – a lack of mental sharpness, irritability, falling asleep at inopportune times, etc.  Did you know there are potential long-term risks to your health also?  For instance, people who sleep less than 6 hours per night are twice as likely to have a heart attack, and four times more likely to have a stroke than those who sleep more than 6 hours.  They are also at greater risk of diabetes and obesity.  Extreme fatigue increases appetite and decreases metabolism, and individuals who regularly get less than 4 hours of sleep 4 nights or more a week may easily be in a pre-diabetic state. 

Half of adults 55+ have at least 1 symptom of insomnia at least 3 times per week including:
- Trouble falling asleep
- Waking during the night
- Waking to early and being unable to fall back to sleep
- Not feeling refreshed upon waking

Women suffer from insomnia more than men due to pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause.

Twenty million Americans take prescription sleep pills regularly. Over $100 million is spent in the US on over the counter sleep aids per year, and that number does not include prescriptions.  Drug oriented OTCs have been studied and found no more effective than a placebo.  Medications alter sleeping cycles, and suppress REM sleep. This can lead to light, restless sleep with nightmares once medications end, or “REM Withdrawl Sleep.”  Many individuals often return to these sleep aids, even the ones advertised as “non-habit forming,” and the cycle continues.  Medications can cause long-term harm to your body.  Additionally, they are expensive, and only treat the symptom of an underlying problem. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that the symptoms of insomnia are the branches of a disease.  An imbalance in the body, usually Chi, blood, Yin, Yan, Jing, or Shen, or a major organ system (lung, liver, heart, spleen, kidney, or liver) causes the imbalance or dysfunction, and acupuncture treatments help realign the body’s systems and help you find balance once more.  Additional methods in Traditional Chinese Medicine, such as herbs, may also help your body better process energy and achieve restful sleep. 

The following may lead to a lack of restful sleep:

The Body
Physical tension
Overeating, especially protein
Irregular sleeping hours
Lack of physical exercise
Dehydration
Menopause
Pain
Smoking
Alcoholism
Hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism
Sleep apnea (Associated with high blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease and stroke, emotional disturbances and even psychoses.) 

The Mind
Emotional or mental stress
Preoccupation
Overstimulation to the nervous system
TV/video game excess

The Environment
Lack of adequate ventilation; oxygen debt
Allergies – an increased heart rate follows exposure. 
Lights left on at night (disrupts the pineal gland producing melatonin, a sleep hormone)
Temperature extremes in bed
Poor mattress

Diet
Restless Sleepers may have excessive amounts of the following in their diets: 
Caffeine
Alcohol
Heavy metals (such as mercury found in high fructose corn syrup, tuna, swordfish, and mackerel
Salt, which increases blood volume, heart output, and blood pressure. 
Food additives, preservatives, and colorings
Refined carbohydrates, sugar, soda, ice cream or other sweets
Iodine

They may be deficient in:
Vitamin B  
Calcium
Lycopene (found in red and orange foods such as tomatoes, bell peppers)
Total carbohydrates
Protein
Vitamin C
Selenium (found in nuts, mushrooms, meat, and shellfish).  Selenium helps with inflammation.
Lutein (found in green, leafy vegetables)

Iron or copper (found in shellfish, clams, lentils, nuts, and whole-grain foods).  Deficiency may make it take longer to fall asleep, and sleep may be less refreshing.

The body converts tryptophan into seratonin, which is then converted into melatonin.  Both make you feel relaxed and sleepy.  Foods with tryptophan include bananas yogurt, dates, figs, warm milk, dairy, and turkey.  These foods are metabolized best in combination with starches, which make the body release insulin.  This pushes the amino acids except for tryptophan into the muscle cells, leaving the tryptophan alone in the blood stream and ready to go to the brain.  Niacin, a B-vitamin, makes tryptophan work more effectively, and is found in lean meats such as canned tuna.  Melatonin naturally exists in oats, sweet corn, rice, ginger, bananas, and barley.  

Magnesium rich foods can also help you relax and have restful sleep.  Low magnesium levels will stimulate brain-activation neurotransmitters, which leads to overstimulation of the brain. This is especially common in the elderly taking meds that may block magnesium absorption.  Dried beans such as pinto and navy beans, green leafy vegetables, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, wheat germ, and almonds are all rich in magnesium.

Folic acid in spinach, especially if muscle cramping or restless leg syndrome keeps you awake, are good additions to your diet. Inosytol enhances REM sleep

Avoid red meat, chocolate, ham, bacon, sausages, cheese, tomatoes, which contain the CNS stimulant tyramine.

Alcohol does not, in fact, help you get a good night’s sleep.  You may fall asleep easily, because alcohol turns off the hypocretin neurons which keep you awake, but it has a rebound effect and can wake you quickly. 

 

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