Welcome back! In “Sleep Much (Part I)” we learned that many of our ancestors slept in a biphasic manner consisting of two sleep periods each evening with a quiet awake time in between, especially during the winter season. Some cultures that sleep in a biphasic fashion take a siesta or mid afternoon nap, especially in the hot summertime mid-afternoons. Young children, the elderly, and some by personal preference may take a short nap in the afternoon. It is interesting to note that there remains a billion people in the earth who still practice biphasic sleep.
Myth or Not?
Are humans fundamentally different from all the other animals because our sleep has been consolidated into one continuous nocturnal session? If one considers how other mammals such as dogs, cats, chimpanzees, horses, etc., sleep (which are actually poly-phasic in their sleeping patterns), man may not be so unique after all. In the annals of history well-known people such as Nikola Tesla, Leonardo DaVinci, Salvador Dali, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Winston Churchill have been recorded as having practiced polyphasic sleep.
The industrial revolution of the the late 18th and the late 19th centuries caused biphasic sleeping to lose popularity. Natural gas-powered street lamps increased in prevalence, especially in the cities. The first homes “wired” for artificial light were actually “plumbed” with gas pipes to gas-powered lanterns. Electricity was soon discovered, the modern light bulb was invented …and the artificial light pierced the darkness.
Further changes that came about from the industrial revolution changed how people thought about time. Factories and “production lines” caused people to become more conscious of productivity and efficiency and therefore time and began foregoing a second sleep. In face, there were actually reform movements on both sides of the pacific ocean called “The Early Rising Association.”
Monophasic sleep is practiced by most of industrialized society today. Monophasic means that we get all of our sleep at one time or in “one phase,” usually at night. Should something serve to disrupt that sleep such as our jobs, children, insomnia, etc. it is difficult to get caught up on missed sleep the same day. This is because modern society changed to support a monophasic-type of sleep cycle. When sleep is routinely missed, the chronic lack of sleep we then experience is called sleep debt or sleep deprivation.
For those of us in the “developed” world, It would be wise to take note that artificial illumination has an enormous effect on human physiology. It literally alters/resets the human body clock, called the circadian rhythm. Many people find that the longer they stay awake, the more pressure they feel to sleep in the remaining time they have because of the obligations of the next day.
Thomas Wehr, Psychiatrist from the National Institute of Mental Health commented on his 1987 study. “By compressing all nocturnal biochemistry and all sleep patterns into an eight-hour period pretty much year-round, Dr. Wehr said, ‘we essentially live in an endless summer, from the day we are born until the day we die.’ The consequences of that compression have yet to be charted.” This is the million-dollar question. In just a moment we will take a deeper look into how human physiology responds to our modern sleep habits.
Now while our ancestors did not appear to sleep better than we do, their quantity of sleep was more significant. They slept an average of nine hours in a 24-hour time period, compared to our modern average of seven.
“A large-scale study published in The Journal of Adolescent Health in 2010 showed that a scant 8% of US high school students get the recommended amount of sleep. Some 23% get six hours of sleep on an average school night and 10% get only 5 hours.’ (Garey et al.) The teenage years are very stressful, and meeting the minimum hours of sleep is crucial to managing stress and maintaining good health.”
As we can see from the aforementioned adolescent study, sleep debt does not only affect adults. Sleep debt has a significant effect upon teens. Imagine, how high levels of stress and the disruption of hormones incurred by young people affect their developing bodies and psyche. Is it any wonder that teens have such startling high rates of mood disorders, depression, and suicide never seen before?
When sleep takes a low priority, sleep debt will also affect the smallest among us who need many more hours of restorative sleep to rejuvenate their rapidly growing bodies for the activities of the next day. Age appropriate bedtimes seem to be a thing of the past as our culture whirls itself into a frenzy of activity with most people consistently not getting enough of their body’s greatest healer,… sleep!
Yet Another Difference Between Men and Women!
Dr. Wehr’s insightful study also found that the release of the main circadian hormone, melatonin, secreted by men during winter was exactly the same as that secreted in the middle of summer. Lightheartedly, Dr. Wehr quips, “When it comes to seasonal change, men just don’t get it.”
Yet in comparison to men, the woman’s sleep hormone melatonin is dramatically increased in the winter and much less so during the summer. This information, although inadvertently discovered, may comprise part of the answer to why Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) disproportionately affects women in the winter season.
Surprising Dangers of Sleep Deprivation
Studies reveal that sleep debt can lead to impairment that equals or exceeds being legally drunk.
“Drowsy driving has caused or contributed to hundreds of thousands of motor vehicle crashes and thousands of deaths in recent years. Estimates of drowsy driving-related accidents, injuries and deaths vary, however. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), sleep-deprived and fatigued drivers caused 846 deaths in 2014. The NHTSA reports that, on average, an estimated 83,000 crashes a year were blamed on sleepy drivers between 2005 and 2009.”
16.5% of fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver.AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
Waking performance is affected by sleep.
Sleep debt affects the ability to perform one’s work safely and efficiently. Many transportation related accidents beyond cars are caused by sleeplessness – buses, trains, trucks, planes, etc. Shift work increases the risk as well. Hospital medical errors in the United States are estimated to cause 100,000 deaths each year. Sleep deprivation has been implicated in a large percentage of these errors.
Psychological Effects of Sleep Deprivation
As sleep debt becomes chronic, hormone levels become unbalanced. Adrenaline levels climb making the person physically and mentally distressed. Symptoms begin to present such as brain fog, irritability, or grumpiness, along with anxiety (or increased anxiety), and panic attacks, memory problems, increased perception of pain, a racing heart, and hyperventilation.
For some, chronic stress causes depression or a combination of anxiety and depression when adrenaline begins to dip. Other psychological indications of sleep deficit can be visual or auditory hallucinations, impulsive behaviors, suicidal thoughts, and in those with bipolar disorder, mania can be a result.
How many of us have had anxiety because of our sleep debt, which causes more anxiety resulting in an increased inability to sleep, which then causes even more sleep debt and more pressure to sleep? A vicious cycle, but one that most of us have experienced at some point.
Physiological Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Paul Bergner writes, “The state of sleep debt, induced when hours of sleep drop below the physiological requirement of the individual, includes profound changes in the endocrine, cardiovascular, and immune systems. Herbal and other natural treatments for these systems will ultimately fail unless the underlying sleep debt is corrected. Herbal nervines and hypnotics, administered in the context of lifestyle changes to induce recuperative sleep and establish normal sleep duration and depth, become critical to the successful practice of herbalism in chronic disease. Sleep debt is a major obstacle to cure, and is present to some extent in the majority of patients in the U.S. today.”
“Herbal and other natural treatments for these systems will ultimately fail unless the underlying sleep debt is corrected.”– Paul Bergner, Medical Herbalist & Clinical Nutritionist
Once sleep debt becomes chronic symptoms can present as depression, nervous system misfiring, tingling in the arms and/or legs, headaches or back aches, and unexplained pains and odd sensations in different parts of the body. Beyond this reduced inspiratory muscle strength, decreased immune function, and corresponding frequency of sickness have been identified. This is supported by a number of studies revealing that just a small amount of sleep deprivation causes a reduction in natural killer cells that are crucial to the work of defending the body against viral infections and perhaps even cancer.
“A survey of Japanese men showed that two or more days per week with less than five hours of sleep were associated with a 200-300% increase in heart attacks (Liu and Tanaka). This is in the range of five to ten times the risk of having high LDL cholesterol. In a group of women, those reporting less than five hours of sleep per night had an 82% increase in cardiovascular events (Najib et al). Those sleeping fewer than six hours had a 30% increased risk. These risks in women are higher than risks for moderately elevated total cholesterol or LDL cholesterol.”
“Sleep debt is a major obstacle to cure, and is present to some extent in the majority of patients in the U.S. today.”– Paul Bergner, Medical Herbalist & Clinical Nutritionist
The natural health professional should be interested in your quality and quantity of sleep. It is important to understand that most people have become acclimated to sleep deficit and no longer recognize it as abnormal. It is common to compensate for sleep deficiency by consuming caffeine, energy drinks, etc. The professional should also be armed with remedials and techniques to assist the you in obtaining and adhering to a regular, restorative sleep cycle. This will provide the impetus the body needs to make huge gains toward homeostasis and get you well on the path toward healing.
Dr. Henry Lindlahr a Naturopath who founded the Lindlahr College of Natural Therapeutics in 1904, as well as opening and running The Lindlahr Sanitarium. The sanitarium, “a 300-bed inpatient facility in Chicago, routinely prescribed complete bed rest on weekends for his outpatients suffering from chronic disease.” Rest and sleep are still reasonable recommendations by modern natural health professionals.
Disastrous Effects of Sleep Deprivation
“Less than 1 week of sleep curtailment in healthy young people is associated with striking alterations in metabolic and endocrine function.” This study found carbohydrate tolerance was lowered and there was increased sympathetic tone. These are indicators of a higher potential for developing insulin resistance, hypertension, and obesity.
In this age of stress, toxicity, and nutrient deficiency, sleep deprivation is the catalyst which is sending children over the edge and into an abyss of chronic disease. “Old people’s diseases” are now occurring with alarming frequency in children. Sadly, as a society we have reached the turning point where children are likely to have shorter lifespans than their parents.
“A baby born in the U.S. in 2017 is expected to live to be 78.6 years old, which is down from 78.7 from the year before.”– Uptin Saiidi, CNBC 
Findings from a study on the impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function states that “glucose tolerance was lower in the sleep-debt condition than in the fully rested condition, as were thyrotropin concentrations. Evening cortisol concentrations were raised and activity of the sympathetic nervous system was increased in the sleep-debt condition.” It continues, “Sleep debt has a harmful impact on carbohydrate metabolism and endocrine function. The effects are similar to those seen in normal aging and, therefore, sleep debt may increase the severity of age-related chronic disorders.”
“The average life expectancy in the U.S. has been on the decline for three consecutive years.” (Written in 2017. It continues to decline.)– Uptin Saiidi, CNBC 
A decrease of thyrotropin or thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) as mentioned in the study above, has significant potential. Consider this, the medical community often relates causation for low TSH (hyperthyroidism) to thyroid damage, tumor growth, infection/inflammation, or a malfunctioning pituitary gland. Yet chronic sleep debt does not generally enter into consideration. Sadly, most people or their physicians do not correlate the two, therefore treatment protocols do not fix the continued sleep deprivation, making the condition worse until surgery is the only option.
When the thyroid indicator is misread and the thyroid silenced, it will not be long before another part of the body will manifest the systemic dysfunction that is continuing to occur due to sleeplessness. How sad. This might give one cause to wonder how many healthy thyroids have been removed simply because the patient was chronically sleep deprived.
Some in the scientific community believe the type of markers and diseases caused by chronic sleep loss are actually signs of early aging. In another study, we are informed that the development of Alzheimer’s may be an end result of many instances of full or chronic sleep deprivation. While there may be a conglomeration of mitigating factors present in any disease, sleep debt should be considered and rest and recuperation would be a wise recommendation.
Sleep debt also negatively impairs carbohydrate insulin resistance which progresses to Diabetes Type II. It affects the inflammatory processes in the body such as increasing blood levels of C-reactive protein. The C-reactive protein test called hs-CRP is a marker of inflammation used to evaluate the risk of developing coronary artery disease. It is important because this inflammatory process damages the lining of the blood vessels preliminary to atherosclerosis, which is the hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels. This puts the person at risk for hypertension and eventually, heart attacks.
Weight gain is another side effect of insufficient sleep. When someone is sleep-deprived, the body produces less leptin, a hormone that signals satiation to the brain. At the same time, more ghrelin, a hunger-producing/appetite-increasing hormone that signals it is time to eat is produced. This makes sleep-deprivation a “gain/gain” proposition with obesity as a potential result. Additionally, ghrelin is increased in response to stress, therefore dealing with the cause of sleeplessness may be very beneficial for the person with weight issues.
Less is More!
Initially, insomnia can be due to our own desires to do whatever we want. There are many reasons for this. Maybe we just want to have fun and hang out with friends, play video games, or whatever we find entertaining. Perhaps we schedule our days so tightly that any error in sleep habits causes great stress, upsetting our expectations, and resulting in a cascade of negative occurrences. Or maybe we dream so big we become overwhelmed at the many tasks we think we need to do. Burning the candles at both ends may be an attempt to create more hours in the day. However productive it may seem, it does not outweigh the ensuing destruction in our body, mind, and spirit.
Remember this concept of time and productivity is a modern contrivance. Although we may seem counter-culture or old-fashioned, we can choose to live differently. Like my mother used to say many years ago. “Tomorrow is another day.” …and it is.
Prepare to Sleep
Here are some suggestions to help prepare the mind and body for sleep:
- Set a bedtime allowing for adequate hours to sleep. We simply will not consistently meet unset goals. (By-the-way, it is harmful to stay awake after 1 AM.)
- Prepare a space solely for sleeping (and intimacy.) Do not allow cell phones, TVs, computers, or other distractions in that space.
- Sleep in a completely dark room that is a comfortable temperature.
- The room should be quiet or with “white noise.” White noise is anything that makes a soft continuous noise like a fan, or very soft, relaxing music.
- Create a bedtime ritual of the things you need to do before bed. The body recognizes to these patterns and will respond to them as they become habitual.
- Exercise, but do so early in the day as it is stimulating. Exercise actually helps to improve sleep quality.
- Don’t eat three hours before bed.
- Take a warm (not hot) bath.
- Read before bed. Books that are interesting, but non-stimulating. Definitely avoid horror books if you are inclined toward that sort of thing.
- Do not use computers, phones, or TVs for at least an hour before bed. They are stimulating.
Nutrition Necessary for a Great Sleep
B Complex Vitamins – A deficiency of the B complex vitamins can cause insomnia because they are necessary in the syntheses of serotonin which is necessary in the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Be sure to take B Vitamins in the morning so that the energizing and other necessary processes they take part in occur in preparation of sleep.
Vitamin B12 – This vitamin is often lacking in those aged 60 or older. Without B12 the body cannot produce the sleep hormone melatonin.
Calcium – Calcium is necessary for the release of melatonin, a hormone that aids in sleep. It is important to eat foods high in calcium like leafy greens, kale, broccoli, fruit, and nuts. While dairy is a source of calcium it is nowhere near as bioavilable as fruits and veggies. Dairy is also one of the top allergens and a potential cause of insomnia. (Do not consume supplements made with calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is limestone (yes, the rock!) and is indigestible.)
Magnesium – The mineral magnesium is ‘hands down’ the most important nutrient for good sleep. It is necessary in over 600 cellular processes in the body. It can help the brain relax and activate the parasympathetic nervous system which helps us to relax. It is also useful for regulating melatonin, a hormone that directs the circadian rhythm in the body. Magnesium also calms nerve activity using the same neurotransmitter pathway as pharmaceuticals like Ambien without the negative side effects that may occur such as depression, memory loss, behavior changes, hypnosis, amnesia, and hallucinations, etc.
Potassium – While it might not be the first mineral to come to mind, potassium is a requirement balanced with magnesium to keep insomnia at bay. People rarely get enough potassium from their diet. Potassium-dense foods are: sweet potatoes, white potatoes, beet greens, squash, carrots, avocado, bananas, apricots, apples, oranges, Lima beans, white beans, coconut water, blackstrap molasses, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, and more.
Collagen Hydrolysate / Gelatin / Bone Broth – Contain the amino acid glycine which encourages a deeper and more restorative sleep making the sleep you do get a higher quality. It also contains the necessary amino acids and peptides the body needs to help calm the nervous system.
EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids / Vitamin F) – EFAs may induce sleep as they are found in high concentration in the brain and used to support the transmission of nerve impulses. EFAs are absolutely required by every cell in the body to produce prostaglandins which are hormone-like substances that work as chemical messengers and regulators of a variety of processes in the body. Omega-3 EFAs are found in fish, fish oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil.
Tryptophan (the amino acid) – While it has other functions, the one most valuable to the sleep deprived would be tryptophan’s sleep-inducing qualities. Here is a list of foods to help one take advantage of this effect. Healthy sleep-inducing foods are: turkey (especially high in tryptophan), chicken, lamb, beef, pork, game, tuna, salmon, trout, haddock, cod, mackerel, shellfish, (real) cheese, whole eggs, pumpkin and squash seeds, white beans, kidney and pinto beans, black beans, and lentils, figs, dates, and walnuts – These foods all contain the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan. Ever notice that friends and family fall asleep after eating a traditional Thanksgiving dinner? Now you know why!
Eliminate for a Great Sleep
- Sugar or chocolate – Foods which contain tyromine, a brain stimulant.
- Caffeine – Especially in excessive amounts and in the afternoon and evenings. Taken too late in the day, it suppresses melatonin levels thereby disrupting the body’s circadian rhythm.
- Alcohol – While it may seem to help with falling asleep, even one serving of alcohol makes it more difficult for the body to enter deep, restorative REM sleep.
- Smoking – Nicotine is a neurostimulant that actually causes the inability to sleep.
- Sleep Medications – “Many authorities believe that they can almost only work by upsetting natural sleep cycles, thus leading to an unusual form of unnatural control.”
- Allergens (Especially food allergens like dairy, corn, and wheat gluten.) Insomnia may be the only symptom of a food allergy and is often accompanied by fatigue, migraines, depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD, heartburn, constipation, IBS, celiac disease, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, hyperthyroidism, or menopause.
- Stress & Worry – Identifying and eliminating triggers is important. Prayer, meditation, journaling, and exercise are all effective methods of bringing stressful situations into a proper perspective. A very effective FREE method of reducing stress is to incorporate the following breathing technique into your daily routine:
Some Essential Oils to Aid Great Sleep
- Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) – A couple drops on the pillow can be mildly sedating to the body.
- Lavender or German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – Place a couple of drops of diluted oil on the bottoms of the feet.
- Blend a couple of drops each: Lavender, German Chamomile, and Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides) in a diffuser 30-60 minutes before bedtime in preparation for sleep.
Herbal Remedies Useful for Great Sleep
There are many herbs that can be helpful for inducing sleep or deepening light sleep. Perhaps relax with a cup of tea while reading your book before bedtime. Here are a few you can try:
- German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – Mildly sedating. Can be combined with Valerian, Oatstraw, Skullcap, and Passionflower.
- Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) – A mildly sedative herb that is helpful for those who suffer from sleep debt caused by anxiety. Can be combined with Chamomile, Valerian, Hops, and Kava Kava.
- Catnip (Nepata cataria) – Mildly sedative. Does not promote daytime sleepiness.
- American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) – Well-known in the Appalachian mountains for promoting sleep. American Ginseng relaxes the nerves.
- Vervain (Verbena spp) – A mildly sedative herb that works to decrease inflammation and anxiety. In this manner, it is helpful for supporting the ability to get to sleep.
Homeopathics Helpful for Great Sleep
- Coffea Cruda is a wonderful remedy for insomnia caused by the inability to stop the mind from compulsive thinking.
- Kali Phos is helpful for insomnia from stress-related anxiety and worry as well as mental exhaustion.
- Natrum Mur or Aurum Met may be beneficial for insomnia rooted in chronic depression or melancholy with negativity.
- Ignatia is better-suited for sleeplessness due to acute depression from grief, overwhelming emotions, loss of love or loved ones and with waves of sadness and weeping and dwelling in the past.
- Nux Vomica may be helpful for those who fall asleep but cannot stay asleep.
There are many other methods and remedies for getting high quality sleep on a consistent basis. It is best to use these remedies only while correcting the root of the problem. Should you need additional help, your natural health professional is available and competent to help you rest!
If you are interested in becoming a Master Herbalist, Clinical Master Herbalist, Natural Health Consultant, Traditional Doctor of Naturopathy, or Holistic Health Professional, I invite you to consider the Genesis School of Natural Health. Preparing the natural health professionals to meet the complex health needs encountered today. For more information click the link below:
5, 6, 7 Medical Herbalism: A Journal for the Clinical Practitioner Volume
13, Number 3, Spring 2003, Sleep debt: pathophysiology and natural therapeutics by Paul Bergner
12 Naturopathy for the 21st Century by Robert Thiel Ph.D. p124