Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sleep On It !

Like millions of other folks, David Randall has struggled for most of his life with sleep problems. The standard advice from his doctor -- aim for about 8 hours of sleep per night and go to bed and wake up at the same time every day -- didn't help. So Randall, a journalist, stated researching the Science of Slumber.

The effort led him to an eye-opening conclusion: Many studies and historical records suggest our brains are wired to sleep in two shafts, not a single eight-hour block of time. He also discovered that studies consistently showed the quality and depth of sleep we get is far more important than the quantity, regardless of whether it comes in an eight-hour stretch or a 30-minute nap.

Randall's findings, detailed in a new book Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, upends many conventional beliefs about sleep. It also challenges some basic assumptions and recommendations specialists have made over the years. ''You'd think that we'd have as strong grasp on sleep as we do of digestion or any other bodily function,''  Randell says, ''But researchers are for the most part still piecing it together.''  Randell notes in his book that dozens of sleep studies simply don't support the conventional idea that sleeping in one single stretch offers the most restorative, restful period of slumber.

Not everyone agrees, of course. Some ''experts'' have gone as far as to say that napping is harmful to health because it disrupts sleep patterns. But Randall cites a host of studies that have found naps are not harmful and, in fact, are beneficial to many people. An analysis of sleep research, by the National Institute of Industrial Health, concluded: ''Even with naps shorter than 30 minutes, shift work problems may be alleviated by the short nap at the workplace....Studies suggest a decrease in the risk of cardiovascular and cognitive dysfunction by the practice of taking short naps several times a week.''

Many cultures in many countries embrace the afternoon nap, including those in China, India and Spain. Multiple historical references and early works of literature suggest the single-block sleep pattern is a relative new practice. References to a ''first sleep'' and ''second sleep'' appear in everything from the Canterbury Tales to the writings of 16th-century European physicians. and sleep research by the National Institute of Mental Health has even found people deprived of artificial light -- without any prescribed sleep schedule -- tended to wake up a little after midnight, lie awake for an hour or two, and then drift back to sleep again.

Additional studies by NASA, the British University of Lincoln and the City University of New York have all suggested that any deep sleep primes our brains to function at a higher level, regardless of whether it comes in an eight-hour stretch or a shorter rest. Deep sleep helps us think more creatively, come up with good ideas, solve problems better, and recall information more accurately.

The Way I See It....the questions raised by Randall's book have far-reaching implications. Nearly one-third of all working people, world-wide, are sleep deprived. People spend billions a year on sleeping pills. Pills like Ambien, Lunestra, Sonata and their derivatives greatly boost health dangers by being habit-forming, causing disorientation and next-day grogginess. But worse, a University of California (San Diego) study found that regularly taking sleep medication increases cancer risk 35% and over death risk fivefold!

What you eat affects how you sleep. One of the keys to a restful night's sleep without pills is to get your brain calmed rather than revved up.  I advise my patients to seek out tryptophan-containing foods, because tryptophan is the amino acid that the body uses to make serotonin and melatonin, the neurotransmitter that slows down nerve traffic so your isn't so busy. Making more tryptophan  available, either by eating foods that contain this substance, with some carbohydrate, will help make you sleepy. We all know how tired we get after a filling Turkey dinner, that's because turkey is a rich source of L-trytophan, but all animal proteins, like chicken and to a lesser degree red meats, contain some of it as well. Prawns (shrimp) are high in tryptophan with tuna, salmon, sardines and scallops a bit less.

While dairy products contain significantly less L- tryptophan per serving than meats and seafood, they still provide you with a full essential amino aid set along with bone-healthy calcium. I advise my patients to get into a habit of my mother's; a turkey sandwich followed by a tall glass of  milk. This is a triple ''punch'' for sleep-inducing a proper cycle and thereby allow you to achieve a healthy sleep and mood. As another option, many of my business patients who travel overseas regularly will take melatonin tablets to help them reduce jet-lag and return to a normal sleep cycle. If the ''Turkey/Milk Plan'' doesn't suit try ''Plan B''.

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