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Sleep is important. Without enough, your body does not function properly. I am a doula, as well as a Functional Medicine Acupuncturist, and sometimes that means long nights attending births, and no sleep. Days, like today, I am reminded why we need sleep, and the consequences of not getting adequate sleep. (...because I am writing this while really tired!) Not getting enough sleep can cause dysfunction in your mental, physical and emotional health.
How Much Sleep Do you Really Need?
This is a slightly loaded question, because the answer varies. It varies on the lifestyle you have, the job you have, your age, your sex, and underlying medical conditions. That being said, each and every one of us needs a minimum of 7+ hours of sleep per day/night. The average American is getting less that this, with 30% getting less that 6.
The National Sleep Foundation has set up the following guidelines by age:
In addition, women tend to need more sleep than men, and children with neurological tendencies tend to need less (Gifted, ADHD, Autism)
What is the Function of Sleep?
There is no one function of sleep. Sleep is your body's way of shutting down the system so that it can store, repair and rebuild. This applies to a number of systems.
The body functions through an array of cyclical patterns. Your wake-sleep pattern is important for maintaining homeostasis. This diurnal pattern is primarily regulated by Cortisol and Melatonin. Cortisol and melatonin have an inverse relationship with one another. When one is high, the other is low. Cortisol is the wake chemical, while melatonin is the sleep chemical.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone (a cholesterol based hormone made from the same pathway as your reproductive hormones) produced by the adrenal glands. It is best known as your stress hormone, but it does so much more than initiate fight or flight. Cortisol also regulates blood glucose levels, blood pressure, electrolyte balance, metabolism, inflammatory responses, and overall energy production. Cortisol also follows a very cool daily pattern.
Melatonin is a tryptophan based (same pathway as serotonin) neurotransmitter produced in the pineal gland. It is best known as the neurotransmitter that initiates sleep, but research is showing that melatonin is so much more. Melatonin has been shown to affect the timing, length, and frequency of menstrual cycles, as well as acting as a cellular antioxidant and modulating immune responses.
Health Consequences of Sleep Deprivation
That seems such a strong term, deprivation, but that is essentially what you are doing when you do not get enough sleep for you. Fatigue is a clear sign you need sleep. Fatigue is a manifestation of lack of sleep, in addition to disease and dysfunction. It is your body telling you something isn't right, it needs to shut down to fix the problem.
Symptoms and consequences of lack of sleep include:
Not getting enough total sleep can cause this, but so can sleeping at the wrong times. Your body produces melatonin in times of darkness. People who work swing shifts and night shifts tend to have higher rates of cancer, metabolic issues, ulcers, cardiovascular disease, and other degenerative diseases, even if they sleep adequate hours.
Restless sleep, even if you are getting adequate hours, can inhibit natural sleep biology. Sleep apnea, and other conditions that cause frequent waking (such as those with infants), can cause increased mood disorders, anxiety, and depression.
Creating Better Sleep Habits
If you are finding yourself fatigued during the day, before a natural time of melatonin production, you are not getting enough quality sleep. American are a sleep deprived nation. This cultural shift has been heavily influenced by technological advances and increased light pollution in addition to an ever increases in perceived and environmental stressors.
So how do you take back your sleep? Creating a sleep routine may be the first step. Being realistic about your self care needs and your lifestyle will help you make and stick to a new routine. Here are some things to consider:
Acupuncture and Sleep
Managing sleep issues sometimes requires outside help. This can look like supplements, medications and acupuncture.
Zhejiang Chinese Medical Institute published a study in 2017 that compared Acupuncture against the common insomnia drug (different brand, but same chemical makeup as Lunesta). In the study, Acupuncture was 92.7% effective while medication as only 67.9% effective.
Acupuncture for sleep incorporates a combination of body and auricular acupuncture to affect the production of Melatonin, Cortisol and other hormones and neurotransmitters, naturally and without negative side effects.
There are many different times of supplements on the market that can help regulate sleep patterns, each working a little differently in the body and some with some serious contraindications. Before trying a sleep aid, or supplement, please discuss it with your practitioner to figure out the best supplement for your individual needs.