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Sleep and Recovery

Jacqueline Raposo -- “The healthiest people go to sleep with the sunset and awake with the sunrise.” So we all know that adults generally need 7-9 hours of sleep a night for the healthy functioning of the brain and body. But why? And how does illness affect this need?

First off, we just can’t live without sleep.

Without proper REM sleep, our lives are simply shorter. Proven. Period. Check out Source 1 below if you don’t buy it. Lack of sleep also contributes directly to such infirmities as diabetes, high blood pressure, hypertension, memory loss and obesity. (Source 3)

Second, we need our “beauty sleep,” which is aptly called.

Sleep helps the release of hormones and the increase in protein production, which are the building blocks for cellular growth and healing. It also relaxes the decision making, emotion-controlling aspects of our brain so that we can complete these tasks better when awakened.

Point C, lack of sleep impairs our basic functions when awake:

Motor skills, verbal skills, emotional balance, decision making, ability to do calculations… all suffer when we’re sleep deprived.

The brain is a beautifully complex organ with countless functions, operating in ways we don’t even notice most of the time: our natural ability to breathe without thinking, the way fingers type letters on a keyboard, even just putting one foot in front of the other are all results of our complex craniums.

The brain is so smart, that it compensates for lack of sleep too, inhibiting certain functions to compensate for the ones most needed!

“Dr. J. Christian Gillin’s team at the University of California, San Diego, and the San Diego VA Medical Center found that the brains of some sleep-deprived study participants tried to overcome the language-center shut-down by shifting activity to another part of the brain. These individuals performed better on the memory test than their sleep-deprived peers, but not as well as they did when rested.” (Source 2 below).

So even though we may be able to complete certain tasks, other parts of our brains suffer as a result!

Problem is, sleep deprivation isn’t something you can do for a while and then store up by sleeping late on weekends. Or even go without sleep for one night and make it up in two: studies done at the University of Liege showed how patients who had been sleep deprived for one night did dramatically more poorly on tests than did their well-rested peers, two days after having gotten full nights’ sleep! And in fact, my sources all coincided on this one fascinating point: the most restorative sleep we get is actually the earlier part of our sleep cycles! More of the body is healed in the first few hours of sleep! So your extra two or three hours on Sundays is doing more for your peace of mind than your mind itself.

One might go on forever about the brain and sleep and deprivation, but let’s move on to the connection with chronic illness.

If healthy people need sleep for proper hormone secretion and protein building, imagine how lack of it affects the unwell. 60% of those with chronic illness have problems sleeping. As protein is what fixes damaged cells throughout the body, lack of this restful time conflicts with what the body needs.

Sadly, google “chronic illness” and “sleep” and you’ll most likely find two things: suggestions of obvious things to avoid before bed (spicy foods, caffeine, sugar) and suggestions for medications. This being a blog about natural healing, I’ll just give you my own experience.

For months at the onset of my last bout of illness, my sleep was short and irregular: horrible time falling asleep; up multiple times a night; and up early despite exhaustion. At this point my body wasn’t yet able to heal itself: I wasn’t eating, wasn’t pooping, wasn’t doing anything but feeling pain. And watching a lot of television.

With my treatment came a host of suggestions. So the first step is to combat the illness from the outside with food and a good ND [Ed: Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine]. Then, as things start to get ticking, try these:

-- Chamomile tea: obvious, I know. But the oils of the tea are the most important and most overlooked. So steep for a good 15 minutes with a tight-fitting lid, at least two teabags, and drink a half hour before bed.

-- Linden Tree Tea: Even more soporific than chamomile. Brew as above.

-- Linden Tree Extract: Take 30 drops a half hour before bed in a small glass of water.

-- 5-HTP: This is a new one for me, but combined with the Linden Tree I now sleep an average of 10 hours a night. 5-hydroxy-tryptophan increases seratonin in the brain and works like an anti-depressive. Even if you’re not emotionally “depressed,” chances are your brain is. By reducing stress and anxiety as you sleep, the body is more thoroughly relaxed and can sleep longer -– at least that’s my experience. And it gives you extremely vivid dreams. Take anywhere from 1-4 supplements an hour before sleep.

-- Keep the room dark: obvious, but the darker the room is when you awake, the more your body will be tricked into continuing to sleep. I invested in some dark bamboo blinds from Home Depot and my sleep was all the more encouraged.

-- Keep electronics away from you…: more and more studies being conducted on the effects of electro-magnetic waves and the body. Many of us sleep with alarm clocks, phone chargers, and even televisions within arms reach. Move them far enough away so that you have to get out of bed to reach them, and your brain will be relieved of all the activity it still ingests while you’re trying to rest.

Happy sleeping!

1. Jacqueline's Blog on Insomnia
2. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
3. BrainReady
4. The Franklin Institute
5. WebMD
6. Suggestions for sleep from Rest Ministeries

The above is not intended as medical advice nor to replace professional treatment. Please consult your professional healthcare practitioner before beginning any regimen.

A classically trained actor, Jacqueline Raposo has lived with Lyme Disease, and other health conditions, since the age of 12. In moving from chronic illness to chronic wellness, she has explored numerous means to better understand and heal her body and now offers natural health remedies, medicine foods, and clear insight based on her personal experiences, research, and success. Visit her blog at to learn more about dietary and lifestyle factors in achieving greater wellness and balance.

© 2009 I Am A Whole Human, Being

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