Finding Cures for a Sleep-Sick Nation

The right herbs, foods and supplements can help you get the rest you need.

| May/June 2007

  • chamomile
  • hawthorn
  • passionflower is sleep-supporting herbs.

  • A soothing massage oil with chamomile, clary sage, neroli or lavender essential oils is sure to send you off to dreamland.
  • A massage right before bedtime is ideal to help you get a good night’s sleep.
  • vervain is sleep-supporting herbs
  • valerian is sleep-supporting herbs.
  • California poppy is sleep-supporting herbs.
  • lemon balm

  • lavender

If you’re among those who think being a little sleepy won’t kill you, consider a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 2000: Among older people, particularly older women, daytime sleepiness was associated with an increased risk of death from any cause—greater than death from illness, cardiovascular disease, heart attack and congestive heart failure.

Rather than getting the eight hours of sleep a night that most of us need, Americans on average sleep 6.8 hours on weekdays and 7.4 hours on weekends, according to the National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF’s) 2005 Sleep in America poll. Lack of sleep is so rampant that renowned sleep researcher William C. Dement, M.D., calls it a hidden epidemic and says the United States is a “sleep-sick nation.” The 2005 poll also found that 75 percent of adults frequently exhibit signs of a sleep problem, such as taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, excessive daytime sleepiness or having trouble staying asleep.

Compared with the same poll in 1998, skimping on sleep has become more common. Many respondents admitted that sleepiness impaired driving skills and work performance and caused them to stay home from work and other events. Fatigue also put a wet blanket on sex drive. However, the majority of those surveyed either ignored or downplayed these symptoms.

“People who are chronically sleep deprived can be completely unaware of the root cause of their overwhelming fatigue,” says Dement, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford University and author of The Promise of Sleep (Dell, 2000). This chronic mismanagement of a vital bodily function leads to accidents, illness and premature death. Sleep loss can impair reaction times on par with alcoholic intoxication (at a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent, illegal for driving a motor vehicle). According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths.” Dement says, “Drowsiness is a red alert to get off the road.” He adds that sleep deprivation was a factor in the Exxon Valdez running aground in 1989, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil.

A night or two of poor sleep will impair concentration and memory, interfere with work and suck the air out of your social life. Mood begins to erode. First come crabbiness, peevishness and difficulty coping with everyday hassles, then a mounting vulnerability to depression. Fending off infections becomes more difficult. Worse, chronic sleep deprivation worsens diabetes and heart disease.

If you’re tired most days, you might have an underlying problem that disturbs your sleep, such as stress-induced insomnia, sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, among other problems. See your doctor to rule out an underlying condition. For most people, daytime fatigue usually derives from burning the midnight oil. Because most doctors don’t think to ask about a patient’s sleep habits, it’s up to you to consider sleep as important as diet and exercise in maintaining your health.

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