Sleep - An Essential Component of Good Health: Sleep is absolutely essential to good physical and mental health. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep EVERY night. Sleep deprivation -- caused by insufficient sleep or poor quality of sleep -- impairs the body’s immune system, physical reflexes, emotional stability and cognitive functions, such as the capacity to focus one’s attention, memory, decision-making and the ability to complete complex creative activities or mathematical calculations. Severe sleep deprivation may lead to weight gain; an increase in muscle, joint and nerve pain; depression and even hallucinations. Sleep disorders also can be a symptom of more serious illnesses such as clinical depression and heart disease -- so please talk with your doctor if you are having problems falling or staying asleep.

If you or your doctor thinks that you might have a sleep disorder, take action now. A first step that you can take to see if you might have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder is to answer the Eight Questions of the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. If your score is equal to or higher than 10, please tell your doctor. Depending upon your symptoms, your physician may determine that you are a candidate for a sleep study.

Another step you can take is to begin keeping a sleep diary, documenting your daily activities -- including your sleep activities (i.e. tossing and turning, waking in the middle of the night, sleep walking, grinding teeth, etc.). Take careful note of the times you actually get good sleep versus the times you don’t. If you are attempting to heal from an acute injury or a chronic illness, your treatment program will be greatly enhanced by your commitment to proper sleep hygiene.

Commonly-Diagnosed Sleep Problems: There are a large variety of sleep disorders. Some are caused by physical problems, such as an airway obstruction that leads to sleep apnea or when chronic pain or indigestion/reflux causes insomnia. Sleep problems can occur as a side effect of taking certain medications or supplements. They can also be created by emotional difficulties including depression, post-traumatic stress disorders, and anxiety about life situations. In many cases, there are several factors contributing to sleep disturbance, including anxiety about the sleep deprivation itself. Some commonly-diagnosed sleep disorders are listed below:

- Insomnia – Inability to fall asleep within 15-20 minutes.

- Dysomnia – Frequent awakenings throughout the night and/or early-morning awakenings.

- Restless Leg Syndrome – When lying in bed, unpleasant “crawling” sensations in the legs that create an irresistible and sleep-disruptive urge to move one’s legs.

- Sleepwalking – Walking during sleep or engaging in other activities, such as eating, that are normally associated with wakefulness.

- Sleep Apnea – Obstruction of airway during sleep, causing breathing irregularities that interrupt and interfere with sleep. Sufferers are at higher risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Snoring may be a sign or symptom of sleep apnea, so it’s something you should mention to your doctor. Please click here, for more information about sleep apnea, including an animated illustration of the disorder (created by NIH).

Treatment of Sleep Disorders: There are a wide range of over-the-counter and prescription medications advertised as sleep aids. All of them -- including nutritional supplements, Chinese herbs, non-prescription-medications and prescribed-medications -- may have side effects or cause drug interactions. Please talk with your doctor before taking ANY sleep aids.

Alternative Treatments

- Calcium (1,500-2,000 mg daily, taken after meals - 500 mg per meal - and 500 mg at bedtime.) Calcium is a nutritional supplement that helps relax the body’s muscles.

- Magnesium (1,000 mg daily.) A nutritional supplement that helps to calm the body’s nervous system and relax the muscles.

- Cortisol Manager (1 tablet daily.) Reduces cortisol levels for all-day stress reduction and restful sleep. Safe for use every night.

- Valerian (1,000 mg daily.) Valerian is an American herb that has been found effective in helping to induce the onset of sleep.

- Phosphatidylserine (PS 100, take 1-2 at bedtime.) Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid nutritional supplement that stops hyperactive production of cortisol in the body, allowing unhealthy, elevated cortisol levels to decrease, and consequently, more restful sleep to occur.

- Melatonin (1-3 mg daily, but consult with your doctor before using, especially if you are taking an anti-depressant.) Melatonin is a hormone that helps induce and maintain sleep. It can be useful in helping people recover from jet lag by reorganizing the sleep cycle (assisting the body adjust to time-zone changes).

- L-Tryptophan (1,000-3,000mg, 30-40 minutes before going to bed). L-Tryptophan is a serotonin-precursor, amino-acid nutritional supplement that can help initiate sleep and can be used to reduce chronic pain and depression.

- Chinese Herbs Can be very helpful in treating and resolving sleep problems, but need to be prescribed by a physician or licensed acupuncturist trained in Chinese Herbal Medicine.

- Acupuncture (Talk with your doctor about the frequency of treatments that might be helpful for you.)

- Meditation (20 minutes daily.)

- Aerobic Exercise (3-4 times/week, completed at least 3 hours prior to bedtime).

Immediate Steps You Can Take to Help Ensure You Get the Rest You Need:

• Plan your daily schedule to allow 7-9 hours for sleeping.
• Keep a consistent sleep pattern, even on weekends.
• Eliminate caffeine from your diet or reduce your consumption to one cup of coffee, tea or one soda/day. Caffeine is a stimulant, and it takes 6 hours or more for your body to metabolize.
• After 3 pm, drink only non-caffeinated beverages.
• Take B-vitamins and ginseng in the morning, not before bedtime.
• Get regular physical exercise (3-4 times a week).
• Create a bedtime-relaxation routine, where you:

o Get ready for and go to bed at the same time each night.
o Take a hot shower or bath before bed.
o Enjoy a cup of chamomile tea before sleep.
o Avoid drinking alcohol near bedtime (although alcohol may cause drowsiness initially, alcohol inhibits sleep continuation).
o Once in bed, read a book, rather than watch TV (instead of having a relaxing effect, watching television before bed actually stimulates the mind).
o Journaling is a way of getting problems “off your mind” and onto paper – so they can be dealt with in an orderly way in the future.
o Make sure that sleeping conditions are comfortable (proper temperature and darkness).
o Remain consistent with your sleep routine – even on weekends and holidays.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Gary Kaplan, D.O.
Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine
Founder and medical director of The Kaplan Center. A pioneer and leader in the field of integrative medicine, Dr. Kaplan is one of only 19 physicians in the country board-certified in both family medicine and pain medicine. He is board-certified in Medical Acupuncture and is a fellow of the American Board of Medical Acupuncture. A Clinical Associate Professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine, he also has served as a consultant at the National Institutes of Medicine (NIH).