20 April, 2020 Physician Kang Ting Tan

The Importance of Sleep and Consequences of Inadequate Sleep

Have you ever wondered why we need sleep? Is there a primary function of sleep? Or does sleep serve many functions? 

In modern society today, most people do not get enough rest. We can stay up all night to work, study, or have fun and neglect sleep. However, most people do not know that a lack of rest, especially on a regular basis; can have many short-term and long-term consequences/effects. 

In 2017, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young for their “discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm”. 

Research has indicated that chronic mismatch between our modern lifestyle and the internal circadian rhythm may be associated with increased risk for various diseases including:

  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Metabolic disorders (such as obesity and diabetes)
  • Neurodegenerative diseases and inflammation. 

These conditions in turn may lead to a shortened life expectancy.

  1. Increased risk for Cancer

In 2007, World Health Organization (WHO) has classified night time shift work as a probable carcinogen due to circadian rhythm disruption. Research studies showed that sleep deprivation led to a decrease in Natural Killer (NK) cells. NK cells help to identify dangerous foreign elements like cancer cells and eliminate them. A decrease in NK cells may raise cancer risk. 

  1. Cardiovascular diseases

Sleep deprivation can increase C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. CRP is a substance produced by the liver and is elevated during stress and inflammation. CRP is a risk factor for cardiovascular and heart disease. 

  1. 3. Weight Gain or Obesity

Several studies have shown that people who habitually sleep less than 6 hours are more likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference compared to people who sleep 8 hours. 

Sleep deprivation stimulates cravings for food high in sugar, fat and carbohydrates. It also affects the hormones (Ghrelin and Leptin) that regulate appetite. Ghrelin stimulates hunger while Leptin suppresses appetite (by alerting the brain that it has enough food). 

Decreased sleep time is associated with an increase in Ghrelin and a decrease in Leptin, which makes one more likely to consume more

In addition, insufficient sleep may result in avoidance of exercise which can help in burning off these extra calories.

  1. Neurodegenerative diseases 

Dementia 

Sleep is a housekeeping event that removes toxins like beta-amyloid from the brain that builds up while one is awake. One main cause of Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation of the beta-amyloid plaques in the brain.

Anxiety or Depression 

Amygdala is located deep in the temporal lobe of the brain and holds a key role in processing emotions. Studies show that inadequate sleep results in aggravated degrees of cell activity in amygdala, making one more emotional. 

Insomnia and depression are closely related. Depression makes it difficult to fall asleep and insomnia often aggravates the symptoms of depression. 

  1. Acne and Ageing 

Long-term inadequate rest can lead to acne, dark eye circles and premature skin ageing. 

When one does not get enough rest, the body releases more Cortisol (stress hormone). Cortisol can break down collagen in skin, causing the formation of saggy skin and wrinkles. Higher levels of Cortisol also causes the skin’s sebaceous glands to produce more sebum. The additional oil can clog pores, trap bacteria, resulting in inflammation and the development of acne.

Disruption of deep sleep also leads to lower production of growth hormone, impairing the repairing and renewing of cells. 

  1. Concentration, Memory and Learning

Sleep is required for the consolidation of memories from Hippocampus to Neocortex for long term storage. Sleep deprivation can affect one’s judgement, focus and ability to learn and retain information.  

  1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day 

The essence is consistency. Try to keep the same sleep schedule on weekdays and weekends. This helps to keep the body’s circadian rhythm to stay on track. 

  1. Sleep the recommended amount for a restorative night

According to National Sleep Foundation, the recommended amount of rest for:

  • School-aged children: 9-11 hours
  • Teenagers: 8-10 hours
  • Adults: 7-9hours
  1. Exercise

Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise at least twice a week. Exercise gives your beauty sleep a huge boost. Aerobic exercise causes the body to release endorphins, reduces stress hormones and improves the time spent during deep sleep.

However, the timing of exercise matters. Exercise at least 2 hours before going to bed, and not close to bedtime. 

  1. Be asleep before 11pm

According to the meridian clock of TCM, the ideal time to be already asleep at night is 11pm.

  • 11pm – 3am time period corresponds with the gallbladder and liver meridian, which plays a vital role in clearing the waste products from the metabolic process. This timing is also reserved for rejuvenation of the body. The process of regeneration of cells takes place during your sleep. 
  1. Lifestyle Improvements/Tips
  • Evaluate your room
    Your bedroom should be cool, quiet and dark/dim. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillow. 
  • Wear comfortable socks to sleep
    Warming your feet before you go to bed can give the brain a clear signal that it’s bedtime.
  • Drink warm milk before sleeping
    Milk contains Tryptophan, an amino acid that induces sleep.
  1. Acupoint Massage

Massage 神门 (shen men, HT-7) Point (located on the ear) for 2 minutes before sleeping. It helps to calm the mind, decreases stress and promotes a good rest. 

If you: Have dreamful sleep

This tea can help to calm the mind and heart.

Note: Not suitable for those recovering from flu

Ingredients:

  • Polygala Root (远志), 5g
  • Ophiopogon Tuber (麦冬), 3-5pcs
  • Spine Date Seeds (酸枣仁), 10pcs
  • Honey, 1 teaspoon (optional) 

Instructions:

  1. Add boiling water and let ingredients steep in a cup for 10 minutes 
  2. Add honey to taste
  3. Drink 3-5 times a week.

If you: Are prone to overthinking and have difficulty falling asleep

This tea helps to nourish the blood, replenishes the qi and calms the mind.

Note: Not suitable for those recovering from flu

Ingredients:  

  • Dried Lily Bulbs (百合), 3-5 pcs
  • Poria with Hostwood (茯神), 10 g
  • Dried Longan (龙眼肉), ½ cup
  • Seedless Red Dates (无核红枣), 1 cup

Instructions:

  1. Bring all the ingredients to boil. 
  2. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Drink 2-3 times a week.

Sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity and a cornerstone of health.

We need to be very thoughtful in making sure we are getting enough sleep and are sleeping well throughout the night.

If you are reading this past midnight, put this device down – it’s time to sleep!  

Note: Information provided is not a substitute for a physician or any form of medical care. Individual symptoms differ due to different body constitutions and diagnosis. One should consult a licensed TCM practitioner for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

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About the Author

Physician Kang Ting Tan

Physician Kang Ting Tan

TCM Physician

Double Degree (First Class Honours): Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences & Bachelor of Medicine (Chinese Medicine), Nanyang Technological University and Beijing University of Chinese Medicine

Physician Tan Kang Ting graduated with a First-Class Honours in B.sc. in Biomedical Science and Bachelor’s Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Nanyang Technological University and Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. She was a scholarship recipient of Beijing University of Chinese Medicine Foreign Student Scholarship. She was also awarded the Lee Kuan Yew Gold Medal in NTU.

She has a passion for learning. She continuously upgrades herself by reading TCM books, journals and e-learning platforms. Her caring personality is well-liked by her patients.

Physician Tan’s expertise: General Wellness, Pain Management, Injury Management and Women’s Health