New Research Examines the Causes & Consequences of Poor Sleep
An influx of new research has been shedding light on the importance of sleep and showing the great promise of natural approaches to treating dysfunction.
According to recent statistics, at least one-third of Americans don’t get the recommended seven hours of sleep per night. And over the last few years, sleep problems have been reported in 40% of Americans. Alarmed by these numbers, researchers have doubled their efforts at studying the causes, effects, and possible treatments.
Dr. Donese Worden is a naturopathic doctor who has worked with multiple patients with sleep issues and has lectured extensively on the topic.
“The importance of sleep cannot be overstated. It detoxes our body, not only the brain in its detoxification process but the entire body. It allows us to regenerate our body — that’s called ATP,” Dr. Worden said.
“The cells also need to rest at a certain point to re-energize themselves to do all of the processes they do. It allows us to tell our bodies we need to burn more fat. It allows our body to say it is time to regulate blood sugar (and) help the cardiovascular system repair. If we’re not sleeping well, we’re more at risk for atherosclerosis and other metabolic diseases.”
One significant area of recent research has been around the causes of sleep problems. Multiple factors have been implicated, including stress responses, nutritional deficits and excesses, and nighttime routines.
“Your nighttime routine is called sleep hygiene. Is the room dark? Blackout curtains are important here. Is the room cold enough? That affects your sleep. So looking at the basics of cold room, dark room, and blue light. Is the computer on? Are you looking at your cell phone? Blue light has been linked with a very recent study, into affecting our quality of sleep and ability to go to sleep,” Dr. Worden said.
Studies suggest that blue light decreases the production of melatonin, which is necessary for the induction of sleep. Another focus of recent study is the connection between nutrition, inflammation, and sleep.
“Long-term nutritional deficiencies alter inflammation in the body, and when we have inflammation or certain types of inflammatory cells, such as cytokines, that affects our sleep cycles,” Dr. Worden said. “Those are new studies showing us that the more inflammation we have, the more sleep disturbances we may have. Asking your physician to run a cardiac reactive protein marker would be a great way to look at your overall inflammation.”
Recent research has also been clearly showing the far-reaching consequences of inadequate and poor-quality sleep.
“The more studies that we conduct, the more interplay we see between sleep and many common disorders in the body, from obesity to cardiovascular disease, to diabetes. Research has shown us that when our sleep patterns are not good, we are more likely to have cognitive decline during the day, our memory is not as good, and our executive function is not there. And a large new study just showed us that 50 and 60 year-olds, if they’re not getting enough sleep, are more prone to have dementia in their senior years,” Dr. Worden said.
In the search for solutions to sleep issues, numerous recent studies have borne out the efficacy of various natural approaches.
“In the International Journal of Clinical Practice, a recent study was looking for non-pharmacological treatments for insomnia. And what they found was that it’s more prevalent in females and as females age, it becomes more prevalent,” Dr. Worden said. “But the conclusions showed that the things that really helped the best were cognitive behavioral therapy, (that’s types of counseling) exercise, relaxation, and approaches like light therapy — the right kind of light, not blue light — aromatherapy, music therapy, and some herbal medicines were shown to be helpful.”
One interesting new study provides another possible solution for those suffering from insomnia.
“A new study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that getting enough physical activity during the day may counter the negative effects that happen from unhealthy sleep patterns,” Dr. Worden said
While the prevalence of sleep issues is clearly a grave concern, the increasingly deeper understanding of their causes and mounting evidence of the success of natural treatments should give hope to all those desperately in need of a good night’s sleep.
Ancient Practice Lets You Explore Deep States of Consciousness in Your Sleep
Roughly a third of our life is spent sleeping, or at least attempting to get some rest in order to take advantage of the other two-thirds in wakeful consciousness. Ideally, this state is rejuvenating and accompanied by pleasant dreams, allowing the body to clear out all the toxins and amyloids that build up throughout the day.
But what if you could get some of that time back, or use it more productively, while also getting the regenerative benefits of deep slumber?
Don’t worry, this isn’t some new biohacking regimen with bizarre, intermittent naps, but rather a method referred to as dream yoga. Despite its name, dream yoga isn’t an attempt to perform asanas in reverie, but instead to meditatively explore the myriad levels within our minds.
A number of enlightened, spiritual masters are said to have achieved an interminable state of consciousness during their lifetime, in which they maintained awareness while they allowed their bodies to rest at night. These gurus took advantage of every minute of life to explore their inner sanctums and spelunk the deepest caves of consciousness.
Other contemporary dream state explorers, or oneironauts as they’re sometimes called, have attempted to map out the topography of the mind based on eastern philosophy, namely John C. Lily. Lily’s psychic explorations led to his development of the sensory deprivation isolation tank, in order to cultivate a dissociative state where one could detach from the body and explore the levels of satori-samadhi.
But according to Andrew Holecek, a student of Buddhist philosophy and evangelist for dream yoga, one needn’t be an ascetic or employ an expensive float tank to delve into the depths of the mind on the nightly. Instead, a little discipline and technique can allow a dreamer to travel through cosmic consciousness while still getting a good night’s rest.
Holecek says there are up to nine nocturnal states one can enter in preparation for and during dream yoga. The first of which is called “liminal dreaming,” otherwise known as hypnagogic dreaming; a state in which one is not quite awake nor asleep, but in an in-between state before dozing off.
This state is when things become blurry, but by intentionally maintaining a modicum of awareness, one is able to become active in the dream state — a practice known as lucid dreaming.