Although I think we all have experienced the advantages of a good night’s rest, and alternatively, the aggravations of a poor one; what are the specific health benefits of proper sleep and the specific complications for the lack of? How does improper sleep really effect are physical, emotional and mental health?
If you have these questions, you are in the right place. In this series on the “Ayurvedic Sleep Report”, I am here to not only answer these questions through the eyes of Eastern medicine, but also take a glimpse at them through a Western perspective. No matter the differences these sciences may have, I think we can all agree that proper sleep is 100% necessary for proper health.
What is Proper Sleep?
Before I can go into the benefits of a proper sleep cycle, I feel it is vital to establish what a proper sleep cycle is exactly. Someone may “sleep” 8 hours each night, but wake up 3-5 times during this period. On the other hand, an individual may sleep throughout the night without disturbance, but only for 5-6 hours. In the eyes of Ayurveda and Western medicine alike, these are not considered healthy sleep habits.
An ideal universal sleep cycle would look something like this:
- Bedtime: 9-10pm
- Awake-time: 6-7am
There would be no interruptions during this time, no nocturnal urination and one should be awakening feeling refreshed, energized, sharp and ready to start the day.
Ayurveda is strongly rooted in the idea that each individual has unique needs, and this holds true with our sleep cycle as well. Here is a brief chart to show you a general schedule for each different body type.
If you do not know your body type, I would just go with the universal suggestion stated above. No matter which type you are, the importance of falling asleep easily at an appropriate time, sleeping without interruption and waking up refreshed are all criteria to a healthy sleep cycle for every-body!
What is Improper Sleep?
There are over 100 different sleep disorders listed in Western medicine. Many people may assume that sleep disorder equals insomnia, but as you can see this is far from the case. Here is a quick list of some of the more prevalent sleep disorders listed in Western medicine:
1. Primary Insomnia:
A chronic (long-term) difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep, this version of insomnia is not associated with any other health condition.
2. Secondary Insomnia:
A chronic (long-term) difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep that is related to a primary health condition such as asthma, pain, illness, chronic cough, depression or heartburn.
3. Sleep Apnea:
A serious sleep disorder represented by the cessation of breathing repeatedly while sleeping. This is typically accompanied by loud snoring. These disruptions impair the ability to reach a desired deep, restful phase of sleep; a person with sleep apnea typically suffers from daytime sleepiness.
4. Circadian Rhythm Disorder:
A disorder that represents a disruption of one’s Circadian Rhythm or internal body clock. This sleep disorder shows a disconnection between one’s internal clock and the external environment. There are 3 main types:
*Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder: Difficulty falling asleep until well after midnight; extreme difficulty upon awakening; may sleep to the late morning or early afternoon if permitted.
*Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder: Difficulty staying awake in the evening, causing one with ASPD to bed extremely early; wake-up time is also extremely early and may even create a limited sleep duration.
*Shift Work Sleep Disorder: This particular disorder is a repeated change in one’s sleep cycle due to a rotating work schedule, 24 hour shifts or a longterm third-shift position.
5. Restless Leg Syndrome:
Sleep disruption due to a tingling, aching or burning sensation in the legs that occurs after lying down and trying to fall asleep. Subsequently, one with RLS will have to get up periodically to relieve these uncomfortable sensations and may have occasional disrupted limb movements while lying down.
6. Chronic Jet Lag:
A sleep disorder suffered by frequent travelers as their Circadian Rhythm is typically out of sync with the current time zone. Jet lag may cause difficulty falling asleep, interrupted sleep, difficulty upon awakening, daytime sleepiness, headache and malaise.
These disorders represent some of the more prevalent sleep issues that are reported in our society today. Of course this list is not exhaustible, and as stated earlier, there are over 100 sleep disorders listed in the world of Western medicine. No matter which category your sleep issue may fall into, one thing remains the same: Proper sleep is vital for optimal health and an optimal quality of life! So let’s continue on to look a bit more in depth into the importance of a “normal” sleep cycle.
What is the Role of Sleep on our Health?
Proper sleep is important not only for our physical health, but our emotional and mental health as well. In order to function at our highest potential in all of these areas, we need to be sleeping soundly, at appropriate times, on a consistent basis. Period. Just so you can get a clear picture on the magnitude of importance sleep plays in the quality of our life, I will now share with you some of the more dramatic roles sleep is involved in.
Sleep and Physical Health
Chronic sleep deficiency has been directly linked to many chronic health conditions. Some of the more serious and prevalent conditions include:
- Diabetes and insulin resistance
- Metabolic disorders
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Sexual dysfunction
Another key role that sleep plays on our health is hormonal balance. Proper sleep leads to proper hormonal balance, while improper sleep cycles lead to complete hormonal dysregulation. As we will discuss in the next part of this series (stay tuned!), these hormones govern just about everything we do.
Sleep disorders also create less dramatic and detrimental concerns, however, these issues are still quite toxic to obtaining optimal health. These milder side-effects include skin issues such as acne, dry skin and heightened skin sensitivity; lowered immunity which can lead to chronic infections or reoccurring cold or flu; increased inflammation in the body; increased prevalence of allergies; increased risk for physical injury.
Sleep and Mental Health (aka Brain Health)
Sleep plays an immense role in our mental health. Just to clarify, by mental health I am talking about our ability to learn, our memory, our attention and our ability to process information. These are all negatively affected by improper sleep issues. Here is a list of some examples of the vital role that sleep plays on our brain health.
1. Proper sleep increases our ability to learn and improves our problem solving skills.
During sleep our brain is preparing for the following day, as well as processing information from the previous day. Neural pathways are being formed and information we had learned earlier that day begins to be thoroughly processed, ensuring memory and understanding.
2. Proper sleep improves our decision making skills.
If you have a sleep disorder and find yourself making poor decisions or just overall indecisive, sleep may be the culprit.
3. Sleep disorders may cause a foggy, dull mind, making concentration and focus very difficult.
Of course the inability to concentration will have a negative effect on just about everything we do including our work skills, our learning skills and our relationship skills. This also puts at a heightened risk for accidents.
4. Improper sleep has a detrimental effect on our task skills.
Studies have shown that lack of sleep leads to less productivity at work and at school, longer times to complete tasks, slower reaction times and more mistakes being made.
5. Poor sleep leads to a poor memory.
If you suffer from a sleep disorder and notice your memory slowly deteriorating, this is no coincidence. As mentioned above we consolidate our memories during deep sleep and without this function, our memories become forgotten.
6. Improper sleep negatively affects our physical reflexes, fine motor skills and our judgment.
These effects of sleep disorder put us in greater risk of injury, increase our mistake load and lead us to make poor decisions in all areas.
7. Proper sleep supports overall proper brain functioning.
Plain and simple.
Sleep and Emotional Health
I think we have all experienced the crankiness and irritation a poor night of sleep may bring, but chronic sleep issues go much deeper than suffering from a day of annoyance. Here are some of the main emotional issues that may stem from a sleep disorder. Unfortunately, for many individuals, these two go hand-and-hand and tend to feed off each other, making the struggle for emotional health and a healthy sleep cycle all the more difficult.
1. Lack of sleep leads to a heightened feeling of irritation, crankiness, frustration and an overall lack of patience.
If your sleep disorder is chronic, these heightened emotions will be too. This makes you quite undesirable to your partner, friends, family and coworkers and these relationships tend to become disrupted. These are all considered imbalanced Pitta emotions in Ayurveda.
2. Poor sleep habits may increase feelings of anxiety, worry and fear.
These same emotions that are caused by a sleep disorder may very well be a main reason of insufficient sleep in the first place. Whichever issue came first, both sleep disorder and anxiety feed off of each other, as anxiety inhibits proper sleep and lack of sleep increase anxiety. These are all considered imbalanced Vata symptoms in Ayurveda.
3. Improper sleep may increase feelings of depression, lack of motivation and a lack of confidence.
With these heightened emotions, it may be difficult to function in daily life and find the energy needed to get the help you need. These imbalanced emotions are all signs of a Kapha imbalance.
4. Lack of sleep has been shown to increase cortisol in the body.
Cortisol is one of our major “stress hormones”, and has been linked to obesity and metabolic disorders when found in high levels. This increase comes on strongest at night which is a result of sleep disorder, but also is a cause as it spikes the energy levels during this time of desired rest. Once again we fall into a “positive feedback loop” here (don’t let the name fool you, this “positive” feed back loop is actually negative in action and just means that each issue reinforces the other).
5. Improper sleep reduces our ability to control our emotions and our behavior, cope with change and react gracefully in our daily relationships.
Once again this effects our daily life and our relationship with others.
6. Sleep disorders have also been linked to a higher risk of suicidal behavior and general risk-taking behavior.
With our decision making skills being poorly effected, unfortunately this is not surprise.
These emotional imbalances may manifest solely, but more often come in groups. As the sleep disorder becomes more chronic, more emotional imbalances may stem. Our daily relationships become negatively affected, which also will further our emotional imbalances. Negative physical symptoms also will increase due to our negative emotions (i.e. depression leads to weight gain, which furthers the depression and increases the lack of confidence).
As you can see, sleep plays a vital role in all aspects of our life. Typically the more chronic the sleep condition, the more symptoms that will be manifesting, as they tend to feed off of each other and create a domino effect. No matter how long the sleep disorder has been occurring in your life however, it is never too late to begin your battle towards optimal sleep and optimal health!
Benefits of Proper Sleep
Although I have shared with you many of the important roles that sleep plays in our overall health and wellbeing, I also wanted to share a quick list on the benefits of a healthy sleep cycle. I hope these items listed will help to motivate you on your journey towards sound sleep and improved health!
- Improves memory and the ability to learn
- Increases attention and focus
- Increases creativity
- Reduces inflammation in the body and therefore is beneficial in arthritis and other painful conditions
- Reduces risk for heart attack
- Reduces hypertension
- Balances elevated blood sugar levels
- Increases muscle mass
- Increases tissue regeneration
- Boosts our immune system
- Balances our hormones