We may not be fully aware of the benefits of a good night's sleep until we're not getting it. Lack of quality slumber reduces our cognitive abilities, affects our mood, and can lead to weight gain and premature skin aging.
When sleep deprivation becomes chronic it can weaken the immune system, thereby increasing the risks of various other conditions such as dementia and cardiovascular diseases.
Types of Sleep DisordersGenerally speaking, sleep disorders are classified as instances where sleep problems occur for at least three days in a week, or when insomnia persists for a month. Brief episodes of insomnia lasting just a few days don't fully qualify as sleep disorders.
1. Difficulty falling asleepChildren or adolescents who struggle to fall asleep within 30 minutes after lying in bed with their eyes closed, or within 1 hour for adults.
2. Nighttime awakeningsPeople experiencing this type of sleep disorder often wake up multiple times during the night and take more than 30 minutes to fall back asleep each time. Under normal circumstances, the number of awakenings during the night should not exceed two times.
3. Chronic shallow sleepIndividuals with this type of sleep disorder do not have trouble falling asleep. However, they experience extended periods of light sleep with very short periods of deep sleep, resulting in poor sleep quality. Despite sleeping for seven to eight hours, they may still wake up feeling fatigued.
People with allergies often experience nasal congestion, prompting them to resort to mouth breathing. Consequently, their mouths can become dry, causing them to wake up during the night to drink water. Such disruption can result in nighttime awakening or chronic shallow sleep, leading to poor sleep quality.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) treatments yield positive results for issues related to nasal congestion and nasal polyps. In clinical practice, TCM practitioners often utilize acupuncture to target acupoints like Bitong, Suliao, Yintang, Shangxing, and Baihui, effectively alleviating nasal blockages. When combined with Chinese herbal medicine, allergic symptoms can significantly improve, leading to better sleep quality. In contrast, Western medicine treatments for nasal allergies often involve antihistamines or other medications, which can lead to daytime drowsiness as a side effect.
4. Early morning awakeningThis refers to waking up at least one hour earlier than usual or having an overall sleep duration of less than five hours. Normal sleep duration typically ranges from 6.5 to 8 hours, and both inadequate and excessive sleep can lead to fatigue.
5. Excessive dreamingThis refers to experiencing numerous vivid dreams during sleep. Some people may dream of being chased or running tirelessly, and upon waking up, often feel exhausted.
In traditional Chinese medicine, this type of sleep disorder is often addressed through acupuncture on the Laogong acupoint or the use of a Chinese herb known as Huanglian. Both methods are direct and effective.
The Adverse Effects of Poor SleepThe human body undergoes self-repair during sleep, highlighting the significant impact that sleep disorders can have on overall health.
1. Impaired brain function and increased risk of dementiaInadequate sleep can lead to declines in brain function and memory deterioration. This is because the short-term memories stored in the hippocampus can only be transferred to the frontal lobe and become permanent memories during deep and restful sleep.
2. Weakened immune systemPoor sleep can cause disruptions in the functioning of the nervous and endocrine systems, resulting in a weakened immune system.
3. Disrupted metabolism and increased risk of obesity and cardiovascular diseasesSleep disorders can affect the body's metabolism, potentially leading to metabolic syndrome. This increases the risk of obesity and significantly raises the chances of developing conditions like diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and stroke.
4. Dull skin and premature agingGenerally, the body initiates a process of cleansing and repairing the skin around 3 a.m., which helps maintain its radiance and youthfulness. Therefore, poor sleep quality can result in premature skin aging.
Primary Causes of InsomniaSleep disorders are often caused by psychological factors. Anxiety, depression, and significant mental stress can all contribute to the development of insomnia. An ancient Chinese saying, "Rest the mind before resting the eyes," emphasizes the importance of calming the mind and easing away excessive thoughts before closing one's eyes to promote better sleep.
Additionally, factors contributing to insomnia include shift work or long-distance travel, as they can disrupt the body's internal clock. Smoking or consuming stimulating substances like caffeine-containing tea and coffee before bedtime can also negatively impact sleep quality.
Another contributing aspect to disrupted sleep quality is physiological factors, including conditions like frequent urination, coughing, sleep apnea, and bodily pain.
Dietary Remedies for Better SleepIn traditional Chinese medicine, there are specialized treatment approaches for sleep disorders caused by various factors, that often offer advantages over Western medicine's approach.
1. Traditional Chinese herbal remedies for better sleep
- For individuals experiencing sleep difficulties due to anxiety, Xiao Yao San can be a suitable remedy.
- If restlessness is a contributing factor to poor sleep, an adjusted formula known as Jia Wei Xiao Yao San, which contains Mu Dan Pi and Shan Zhi Zi, may be more effective.
- Additionally, adding a small amount of Liu Wei Di Huang Wan to the formula helps improve sleep.
- Individuals experiencing symptoms of palpitations and chest tightness can benefit from the addition of Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan to the formula, leading to effective treatment outcomes.
2. Traditional dietary recipes to prevent nocturia and promote sleepAn ancient Chinese dietary remedy for better sleep called Gan Mai Da Zao Tang can help stabilize emotions and promote restful sleep.
- 30 grams of Fu Xiao Mai
- 4 to 5 jujubes
- 9 grams of licorice root
Add 800 ml of water to the herbal mixture and simmer for 30 minutes. Take 200 ml about an hour and a half before bedtime. This can help induce pre-sleep urination and prevent nocturia (the need to get up during the night to urinate), thereby avoiding disruptions to your sleep.
Another recipe that promotes sleep is Xiao Mi Zao Ren Zhou (millet and jujube porridge).
- 100 grams of millet
- 15 grams of sour jujube kernel powder
- 30 grams of honey
- 1000 ml water
Five Natural Ways to Improve Sleep DisordersDr. Wu Kuo-pin, the superintendent of Taiwan Xinyitang Heart Clinic, recommends five simple and effective natural remedies for improving sleep quality.
1. SunbatheExposing your body to sunlight for at least 30 minutes in the morning can help regulate the autonomic nervous system and the pineal gland in the brain, thereby normalizing melatonin secretion. Alternatively, sunbathing for an hour in the afternoon can also be beneficial.
2. Pre-sleep foot bathScientific research has found that the closer the temperature of the body's internal organs is to that of the limbs, the easier it is to fall asleep. Normally, the temperature of our internal organs is higher than that of our hands and feet. Soaking the feet in hot water can help reduce the temperature difference between the extremities and the internal organs, thereby promoting better sleep.
3. Take a hot bathWhen taking a hot bath, the temperature of the internal organs slightly rises, but it will decrease to a level lower than usual after bathing. This narrows the temperature gap between internal organs and the limbs, making it easier to fall asleep. Additionally, taking a bath activates the parasympathetic nervous system in the body, promoting relaxation and improving sleep.
4. Perform stretching exercises before bedtimeEngaging in some stretching exercises before bedtime can help relax your joints and muscles, as well as calm your mind, making it easier to fall asleep. Falling asleep can be difficult if your muscles are tense.
5. Practice rehabilitation exercises for the cervical spinePeople with chronic sleep disorders often have neck stiffness, which can affect sleep. Even if they manage to sleep, it tends to be shallow and of poor quality.
Dr. Wu tells of a patient in her seventies with a sleep disorder. Despite taking melatonin supplements, she still struggled to sleep. After seeking advice from other traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, there was some improvement, but she still felt the need for sleeping pills.
One day, she came across Dr. Wu's self-rehabilitation exercises for the cervical spine and after practicing them for just three days, she found herself sleeping soundly without the need for medication. Impressed, she consulted Dr. Wu, who further improved her sleep quality through additional cervical spine treatment.