Do you feel drowsy and lethargic in the morning and yet lay wide awake on your bed at night? If you are, experts say you are suffering from sleep deprivation, which sadly, is true of most people living in the modern city. And if you doze off typically after 5 min of lying down, the deprivation is serious.
When we don't get enough restful sleep, we cannot function well in the daytime. It can wreck our emotions, hurt our relationships, and even cause death. Unfortunately, we often do not think of such consequences when we push back or cut 1 or 2 hours of our sleeping time in order to finish work reports or other seemingly more important matters.
Most of us know about the quantity of sleep that we should have at different stage of our lives (adults 7-8 hours, teenagers about 9 hours, infants 16 hours) but many fault to realise that the quality of sleep is important as well.
To understand this, we need to know how our sleep cycle works. Our sleep cycle consists of 5 stages, Stage 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM (Rapid Eye Movement).
Stage 1 is the light sleep stage where we are easily awakened as we drift in and out of sleep. Eye movement is slow and muscle activity slows. This is also the stage where we might experience sense of sudden falling.
In Stage 2, eye movement stops and our brain waves become slower, with occasional bursts of rapid waves. This is the stage where we spend most of our sleeping time (about 50%) with the exception of infants, who spend 50% of their time in REM sleep (REM stage stimulates the brain region for learning).
In Stage 3, we experience extremely slow brain waves called delta waves. Smaller, faster waves still occur at intervals at this stage but by stage 4, these disappear completely as the brain produces exclusively dealt waves. Stage 3 and 4 are what we call deep sleep stage, where restorative process takes place. There is no eye movement and no muscle activity. It is very difficult to wake someone up in the deep sleep stage.
In the next stage of REM, the blood pressure builds up, heart rate goes up and our breathing becomes more rapid, irregular and shallow. There is also significantly more eye movement.
A complete sleep cycle takes about 90-110 minutes on average. The relatively shorter REM periods grow longer as morning approaches while the initially longer deep sleep period may be completely skipped by morning.
When we talk about the quality of sleep, many factors come into play. We are familiar with most of them - caffeine, alcohol or drugs before sleep, pain, anxiety, discomfort, depression, nicotine withdrawal, exposure to light, jet lag and shift work.
Many people took to medication to try to sleep. What is better is to examine the reasons that are causing you to have difficulty in sleep and work on sleeping problems using holistic treatments, including herbal medicines, vitamins & supplements, lifestyle changes, exercise, yoga, meditation, homeopathy and acupuncture.
We mention in our Ziziphus page that this sour jujube seed (called Suan Zao Ren in Chinese) can help to improve deep sleep.
In deep sleep, the body increases production and reduced breakdown of proteins. Proteins is the building block of cell growth and helps the repair of damage such as stress. Hence the term "beauty sleep" comes about. Research has shown that deep sleep helps us to maintain optimal social and emotional functioning when we are awake. We also learn better if we get sufficient deep sleep as memory encoding also occurs at this stage. Therefore, we can say that Stage 3 of our sleep is the healing and revitalising stage.
This is not to say that taking ziziphus can help you fall asleep faster, but rather it can help you get a more restful sleep. Ziziphus not only has great sedative powers, but also increases GABA's inhibitory action on the arousal system.
Ziziphus has tons of health benefits, however like all things, if abused, it can lead to some problems. Excessive use can cause allergies, numbness of lips and diarrhoea. Recommended Suan Zao Ren dosage is from 6 to 15 grams in decoction or from 3 to 5 grams in the forms of powder and pills.