Uncover the mysteries of sleep and why insufficient shut-eye adversely affects your health.
The standard of good sleep has always been about eight hours of downtime, but ‘good’ actually varies from person to person. In fact, the real reason why we need sleep is not even well understood. Experiments show that brain function is adversely affected by sleep deprivation, leading many sleep experts to conclude that good sleep allows for optimal intellectual performance and rest for the body.
QUANTITY VS QUALITY
The National Neuroscience Institute at the Singapore General Hospital classifies normal sleep into non-rapid eye (NREM) movement and rapid eye movement (REM). Normal sleep happens when NREM alternates with REM. NREM consists of light and deep sleep and REM is better known as dream sleep.
Scientists believe that dream sleep is the more important of the two phases, essential for rejuvenation and wellbeing, better memory function, and better cognitive ability. Unfortunately, one in three workers are sleepless in Singapore, according to a global survey by Regus, based on interviews with more than 24,000 business people from more than 90 countries.
Physician Wong Wen Jun, from the Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic at Jurong Gateway Road, has noticed an increase in the number of patients facing sleep deprivation. For every 10 patients she sees, seven will have sleep-related issues.
EFFECTS OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION
The obvious would be a dip in concentration, and sleepiness throughout the day. According to Physician Wong, more serious cases could develop into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. “More serious cases also involve high blood pressure, heart diseases, strokes, obesity and mental health issues,” she advises. “For pregnant women who are experiencing sleep deprivation, it may even affect the development of the baby.”
Insomnia is a condition that affects the quality and/or duration of a person’s sleep or behaviour during sleep. Insomnia can be a primary sleep problem, secondary to a mental condition, or related to a medical illness or substance abuse.
Acupuncture has been shown to be one of the most effective traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) treatments out there for sleep deprivation. Physician Wong explains that it’s important to pair acupuncture with TCM medication. “The effects of acupuncture will be felt within days of the treatment,” she assures. “But it’s unsuitable for pregnant women or individuals who feel weak.”
For those afraid of needles, the TCM physician could always perform a massage on acupuncture points affecting sleep patterns. “We usually begin by performing cupping on the backs of patients because there is a key acupuncture point there. Cupping actually warms up the viscera, which regulates the ying and the yang, thus improving the circulation of both the qi and the blood,” Physician Wong explains.
OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNOEA (OSA)
OSA patients suffer episodes of airway blockage while asleep, which leads not just to snoring, but also reduced blood oxygen level. OSA patients can stop breathing for 10 seconds or longer during sleep. The number of these stoppages per hour during sleep determines the severity of the condition. If left untreated, OSA can lead to heart attacks, heart failure, high blood pressure, strokes, and even sudden death while sleeping.
Some of the more conservative measures include weight loss, regular exercise, sleeping on one’s side, and avoiding smoking, alcohol and being sleep deprived. Surgery is available for patients with moderate to severe OSA.
At Changi General Hospital’s Integrated Sleep Service department, patients need to provide a detailed sleep history to identify the root of their sleeping disorder. Treatments here include sleep hygiene advice, sleep position training, weight reduction if necessary, continuous positive airway pressure therapy, mandibular advancement devices, and expiratory positive airway pressure therapy and surgery.
Photo courtesy of Thinkstock. This article first appeared in NATURA magazine issue No.9. Find NATURA at Eu Yan Sang retail outlets, newsstands and major bookstores in Singapore.