How sleep problems can impact your health
It’s estimated that we spend one third of our lives sleeping. Even after one night of disrupted sleep, you can look and feel tired, irritable and emotional, have difficulty focussing and concentrating and even feel hungrier than normal. Chronic lack of sleep can lead to long-term health problems and have an impact on the other two thirds of your life by affecting your mind, body, relationships, productivity and safety.
Types of sleep problems
Sleep problems revolve around difficulty in getting to sleep and/or maintaining sleep. Nervous stress, mild anxiety, complete or partial obstruction of the upper airways, shift work, reduced melatonin (your main sleep hormone) levels, night sweats, going to the bathroom, excessive sleepiness during the day, pregnancy or pain can all contribute to sleep problems.
The science of sleep
Even though you are asleep, sleep is known to be a highly active process where the day’s events are processed and energy is restored. While getting enough sleep is important, the stages of sleep are equally important. Sleep follows a set pattern, alternating between REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep.
75% of your sleep occurs in NREM while the other 25% occurs in REM. You enter NREM as you fall asleep which occurs in four stages:
- Stage 1 – time between being awake and falling asleep
- Stage 2 – sleep onset; light sleep where breathing and heart rate are regular and body temperature drops
- Stages 3 & 4 - deepest and most restorative sleep, particularly stage 4, where blood pressure drops, breathing becomes slower, muscles relax, tissue growth and repair occurs, energy is restored and various hormones are released.
- REM sleep first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep, where your brain is active and dreams occur, your eyes dart back and forward and your body becomes immobile and relaxed. REM sleep provides energy to the brain and body and supports daytime performance.
Top 4 herbs that can help to support healthy sleep
- Zizyphus – traditionally used in Chinese medicine as a sedative for the relief of sleeplessness. Zizyphus exerts an inhibitory effect on glutamate mediated excitatory pathways in the brain, assisting sleep.
- Magnolia – traditionally used in Chinese medicine for the symptomatic relief of mild anxiety.
- The active compounds in Magnolia contribute to the anti-anxiety activity of the herb by interacting with GABA receptors. GABA reduces excitability throughout the nervous system, so it helps with sleep.
- Passionflower – traditionally used in Western herbal medicine to relieve sleeplessness and restlessness due to nervous stress.
- Passionflower strengthens the effectiveness of GABA, promoting a state of relaxation. GABA acts as a calming and relaxing agent during stressful situations. A deficiency of GABA may lead to sleep disturbances and contribute to mild anxiety and nervous tension.
- Californian poppy – traditionally used in Western herbal medicine as a sedative to relieve sleeplessness and nervousness.
- California poppy has a sedating effect on the central nervous system as it inhibits the breakdown of dopamine and the production of adrenaline. Californian poppy is a non-narcotic sedative that does not reduce mental alertness. See Herbs of Gold Sleep Ease.