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Is Sleep the Most Important Factor in Disease Prevention?

Is Sleep the Most Important Factor in Disease Prevention?

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Sleep does not get enough respect. Some wish they did not need so much of it—they see it as a nuisance, an interference in what they are trying to accomplish in their lives. Others force themselves to push through life with less-than-optimal sleep—due to stress, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, or multiple other factors (technology addiction, poor diet, social demands), their bodies will not allow them proper sleep. Conventional physicians frequently overlook their patients’ sleep quality and habits. When inadequate quality sleep results in health problems, they tend to focus on prescribing solutions for their symptoms rather than diagnosing a sleep disorder. In the pursuit of quality of life and longevity, and especially because 70 million Americans chronically suffer from a sleep disorder, this critical, poorly understood physiological function needs to become more of a focal point.

Indications of Sleep Disorder
Multiple factors, including age and health condition, are relevant to the ideal amount of nightly sleep. As of late 2020, the National Sleep foundation recommends that adults ages 18–64 aim for 7–9 hours and advises that those age 65 and older may need a bit less.

At least one of these symptoms is generally present when a patient suffers from a sleep disorder: (1) excessive daytime sleepiness; (2) difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep; or (3) sleep-time abnormal movements, behaviors, and/or sensations. The most common and harmful sleep conditions include sleep apnea (causes breathing interruptions and brain oxygen deprivation during sleep; most commonly caused by obesity), chronic insomnia (considered to occur most nights and last at least one month), and restless leg syndrome.

Causes and Risks of Sleep Deprivation
The causes of both acute and chronic sleep deprivation fall into multiple categories:

  1. Physical: Allergies; candidiasis; hormonal imbalances; hyperthyroidism; heart, lung, and digestive disorders; arthritis; cancer; fibromyalgia; prostate issues.
  2. Psychological: Stress, depression/seasonal affective disorder, anxiety, ADHD.
  3. Medications: For depression, hypertension, birth control, water retention, upper-respiratory conditions.
  4. Recreational substances/stimulants: Alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes, excess caffeine from coffee/tea/energy drinks/colas/chocolate.
  5. Lifestyle/occupational causes: Unhealthy dietary choices, extended and irregular work shifts, jet lag.
  6. Environmental: Toxic overload, electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) from electronic/wireless devices, extreme temperature fluctuations, environmental noise or changes.

Interestingly, the very causes of sleep deprivation can also be its potential risks. It can not only negatively impact both physical and mental wellness, but it is also blamed for increased healthcare costs and poor work productivity. For example, sleep deficiency is known to compromise the immune system, setting up the body for increased infection and inflammation. The immune deficiency in turn is believed to impact the risk and outcomes of various chronic conditions such as cardiovascular, metabolic, and autoimmune diseases; neurodevelopmental disorders (ADD, autism); and cancer. According to a recent sleep-immunity review article, randomized controlled trials assessing the impact of sleep deprivation on inflammatory immune dysfunction and/or health outcomes are still needed.

The American Sleep Association reports that due to its harmful impact of sleep deprivation on stress hormones, impaired cognitive function tends to be a first symptom, reducing the capacity to cope with stress, irritability, and anger. Many scientists attribute slower and impaired thinking, concentration, coordination, and alertness to sleep insufficiency due to what they believe is the resulting overexertion of the brain’s prefrontal cortex.

Natural Sleep Remedies
Since prescription sleep aids pose a variety of significant health risks, it makes sense to explore safe, natural sleep solutions that generally have no side effects. Below are a few highly effective options.

  • Arginine + Ornithine: There is a correlation between nighttime growth hormone release and sleep satisfaction. Studies have shown that the combination of these amino acids, taken in a very specific way, promotes growth hormone production.
  • Ashwagandha: Researchers of a 2021 randomized, placebo-controlled study of 80 subjects found that this Ayurvedic herb significantly improved sleep in both healthy and insomniac patients. They found the remedy to be well tolerated and recommend that additional clinical trials be conducted to generalize their results.
  • Essential Oils: Some studies have shown that a variety of inhaled essential oils effectively help those with mild sleep disturbances. Experienced practitioners often recommend these and other certified pure oils for aromatic, topical, and/or internal use, alone or in combinations, to support restful sleep: lavender, vetiver (topical), bergamot, Roman chamomile (for sleep-disturbing anxiety), and clary sage (lowers cortisol).
  • 5-HTP: The body manufactures 5-HTP from the amino acid L-tryptophan and is one step closer to serotonin production. Although it stays in the system for a shorter time than L-tryptophan, studies have shown 5-HTP to be dramatically more effective, even at lower dosages. Experts recommend 100 mg 30–45 minutes before bed for at least three days, after which the dose can be increased to 200–300 mg, as needed. It may take 6 to 12 weeks to be fully effective.

Other proven sleep remedies include melatonin, progesterone cream (for women),
and magnesium glycinate.

While management of a sleep disorder should be directed at its underlying cause, a number of therapies can prove quite effective. Since natural sleep aids and their doses impact individuals differently, professional guidance is advisable, especially in more serious cases.

The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, are for educational purposes only, and are not intended to take the place of a physician’s advice.

Erika Dworkin, Board Certified in holistic nutrition, is the former owner of the Manchester Parkade Health Shoppe in Manchester, CT (cthealthshop.com), which operated for 65 years. Erika is available for nutrition consultations and to speak to groups, in person or on Zoom.

She can be contacted by phone at 860.646.8178, or by email at: edworkin@vitathena.com. Ask her about her FREE 20-Minute Wellness Assessments and FREE Essential Oil Chats! All statements in this article are practice- or scientific-evidence-based and references are available upon request.