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Getting Enough Sleep

More and more scientific research is coming out showing the importance of sleep, and how detrimental lack of sleep is to your health. Recent research has found that people who routinely sleep less than seven hours per night have 21-26% higher chance of dying of any cause, than people who routinely sleep more than eight hours per night.

Every single animal sleeps. There are no animals that do not sleep. Biologically, that means sleep is as important as breathing and eating.

There’s been some fascinating brain research recently that found out more about how the brain works and what it does at night. I was astounded when I read it. When we’re active during the day, working, exercising, and doing our daily activities, we’re heavily using our brain functions. This causes a build up of toxins and chemical byproducts that naturally occur as part of that process. When we sleep at night, the brain actually pumps through a nightly “wash cycle”, like a dishwasher, that washes out those toxins and built up byproducts from the day. Just stop and think about that for a moment. What happens if you don’t wash your dishes thoroughly? Lots of crud builds up. Now think about that happening in your brain. What do you think happens when lots of toxins and crud build up in the brain? Is it going to have an impact on brain function and health? Absolutely. If you don’t get enough sleep at night, the wash cycle doesn’t run properly.

Decades of sleep research show that eight hours of sleep per night is the magic number. Kids and teenagers need a little bit more.

In Chinese Medicine, we want to balance yin and yang in the body to restore and maintain health. Yang energy provides the heat, fire, and functional activity in the body. Daytime is yang time. It’s warm, light and the time when we’re busy going about our daily activities. Many of us end up acting “too yang”, that is, go, go, going all the time, without enough “down time” or time to rest and rejuvenate the body (and mind and spirit, for that matter).

Yin energy is the cooling, moistening, nourishing energy in the body. Night is yin time, when it’s cooler, dark, and quiet. During yin time, our body naturally needs to be quiet and rest, in order to replenish itself from the activities of the day. What happens when you stay up too late, do too much, and don’t rest enough? You overwork, burn up the yin energy, and feel tired. The yin/night/ rest time is just as important as the yang/active time! Unfortunately, all of our great technology to make us more efficient, instead of giving us more leisure time, has made us do much more stuff in less time. We’re always trying to fit in one more thing that we can get done before we go to bed.

If you think doing more stuff is more important than sleeping, consider the research mentioned above. And, research has shown that those who don’t get enough sleep (less than 8 hours) gain more weight, and there’s an increase in heart attacks in those who don’t get enough sleep.

As you can see, eight hours of sleep per night really is important. Tonight, consider whether you really need to do one or two more things before bed. Do you really need to stay up and watch the end of the movie or finish reading the book tonight? Plan your time at night, just like during the day. What time do you need to go to bed in order to get eight hours of sleep? If you start watching the TV program or movie, will it end in enough time to let you get in bed at your target bedtime? Set an alarm if you need to, to tell you to stop whatever you’re doing and get ready for bed. It’s a matter of creating good habits and training your body when it’s time to stop and go to sleep. Never work in bed.