Monday, July 20, 2009

The Importance of Sleep

The importance of a good night's sleep can't be overstated. We need sleep like we need air and water. Some of our modern American torture techniques include sleep deprivation, which when prolonged can lead to hallucinations and irritability. According to a recent study, night-shift workers have an increased incidence of cancer, possibly due to the disruption of the natural sleep cycle.

The pineal gland secretes melatonin, which is thought to play an important role in regulating sleep cycles. The Chinese medicine explanation for sleep involves blood circulation, the Heart and the Liver. During the day the 神 Shen, or spirit, resides in the Heart, giving us the spark of life that connects us to the outside world. At night the Liver is said to "store the blood", and the Shen goes with the blood to the Liver.

Insomnia can be due to a number of factors, including stress, constitutional deficiency, overeating or eating too close to bedtime. In TCM diagnosis this may correspond to Liver Qi Stagnation, Liver or Heart Fire, Liver Blood Deficiency, or Food Stagnation.

Another cause of poor sleep could be sleep apnea. If the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes during sleep, your breathing will be obstructed, there could be very loud snoring, and you won't get adequate oxygen. In this case you may need a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which covers your mouth and nose at night and helps to keep your airways open. While not an ideal solution for the long-term, a CPAP machine can greatly improve the quality of your sleep. To determine if you need a CPAP machine, you may need to stay overnight at a sleep center, where they will observe you while you sleep.

Insomnia is one of the things that acupuncture and Chinese medicine are most effective at treating. If you have occasional or chronic insomnia, go see your local acupuncturist.

Also on the web:
Daytime Lullaby by Verlyn Klinkenborg in the New York Times
Effect of sleep deprivation on driving

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