BY JEN PALMER
Sleeping only four hours a night may be misperceived as a ‘badge of honor’ by overachievers, but sleeping that few hours on average is no reason to brag or gloat, especially in the pursuit of overall health and wellness. Sleep is vital to our health, happiness and longevity, and if those are included in your personal goals, it’s time to make sleep a top priority. The CDC recommends that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and teens need even more! Yet at least 20 million adult Americans experience occasional sleeping problems. According to a Gallup poll, 40% of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep per night on a regular basis. Clearly, America has a sleep problem.
What happens as we sleep? We may not notice anything happening while we sleep, except perhaps a few dreams, but really there is a lot going on behind the scenes. During a normal sleep cycle, we pass through four phases: stages 1, 2, 3, and the fourth is known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. After we progress in a cycle of the non-REM stages 1-3 and then to REM sleep, the cycle repeats over again throughout the night. Each cycle lasts between 90- 120 minutes.
Sleep is important not simply to prevent nodding off during the day. Stage 3 is considered the deepest level of restorative sleep which offers critical health benefits. Some of the amazing things happening while we slumber include:
• Nervous system restoration
• Immune system activity
• Weight maintenance
• Risk reduction for diabetes and heart disease
• Lowered risk of mortality in diabetes and heart disease
• Mental health boost
Clinical research shows us how getting proper rest can help us live longer, even with medical conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Penn State College of Medicine conducted a large clinical trial which was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Half the participants had high blood pressure and the other half had type 2 diabetes accompanied by heart disease or history of stroke (which combined represents about 45% of the adult American population!). The study participants were tracked for up to 25 years, and during that time, 512 out of 1,600 participants passed away. The researchers determined that the amount of sleep they got correlated with their mortality risk.
Regardless of having high blood pressure or diabetes, they had double the risk of dying from a stroke or heart disease if they slept less than 6 hours per night, as compared to those who slept more. For those who had heart disease or stroke, if they slept less than 6 hours nightly they had triple the risk of dying from cancer. Likewise, those with high blood pressure or diabetes who slept more than 6 hours nightly did not have increased risk of death despite having similar medical conditions. These results demonstrate the profound protective effect of sleep for Americans with commonplace ailments.
According to the CDC, inadequate sleep can contribute to the beginning stages of type 2 diabetes, and is linked to weight gain and increased obesity rates. Recent research shows that optimizing the number of hours slept and the quality of those hours has a positive effect on managing blood sugar control, and can alter markers such as hemoglobin A1c.
What’s at the root cause of sleep deprivation? There are many factors that interfere with sleep, which makes it tricky to research. Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition which includes frequent interrupted breathing during sleep. It is usually associated with loud snoring but not necessarily. In order to prevent the development of consequential medical conditions, it’s important to rule out sleep apnea as the cause of disrupted sleep.
Then there is stress and anxiety; these are some of the more common person is under pressure or in stressful situations, the body releases cortisol, a hormone that triggers the fight-or-flight response. Cortisol can give the body a burst of energy that’s useful when it’s needed, but too much cortisol over the long term can have a negative effect on sleep cycles.
Another factor that can contribute to sleeplessness, and one that is often overlooked, is inconsistent sleeping and waking times. Keeping the circadian rhythm consistent helps us fall asleep when we need to.
It’s important to pay attention to what we eat and drink if we are having sleep problems. Coffee, caffeinated soda, and even medications such as decongestants, have the ability to cause insomnia. Even drinking alcohol can interrupt sleep; it may help us fall asleep, but it hinders the deeper, restorative stages of sleep.
Lifestyle recommendations for better sleep:
• Work with your physician to rule out sleep apnea
• Limit caffeine consumption in the afternoon or evening, and use alcohol sparingly
• Maintain a regular sleep schedule
• Reduce stress with meditation, exercise, yoga or your favorite relaxing activity
CBD might help support healthy sleep cycles
CBD stands for cannabidiol. It is the second most prevalent of the active ingredients of cannabis (marijuana). CBD is not a sedative. it doesn’t make you drowsy if you take it during the day, in contrast to sedating prescription sleep medications. But CBD may help you relax so you can nod off when it’s time to go to sleep. While researchers are not all in agreement that CBD is linked to better sleep, there are many reasons why CBD might help.
Recent research shows that optimizing the number of hours slept and the quality of those hours has a positive effect on managing blood sugar control, and can alter markers such as hemoglobin A1c.
One of the mechanisms by which CBD seems to help with sleep is by helping reduce stress and anxiety —the most common reasons for sleep interruption. Research has shown that CBD can improve a sense of calm and create the right mindset or frame of mind to help you fall asleep. This seems to be how it worked in a 2019 study published in The Permanente Journal. Study participants experiencing anxiety and sleep disorders took CBD capsules, ranging from 25-175 mg CBD daily, for up to three months. Most of the participants reported improvements in anxiety and many reported improvements in sleep.
The American Sleep Association says: “Although more studies need to be performed, some research supports the theory that CBD and cannabinoids may improve sleep.”
How much CBD should you try? If you’re considering CBD, I recommend choosing a full-spectrum hemp extract; it offers more than just CBD with additional phytocannabinoids such as CBD, CBN, and CBG, as well as beneficial compounds like terpenes, fatty acids, flavonoids and phytosterols — each with their own health benefits. This medley of plant compounds works together to support the actions of CBD, creating a synergistic phenomenon known as the entourage effect.
Everyone’s CBD experience is unique. Some people notice a benefit from the very first time they try it, and for some, it takes consistent daily use for several weeks. I always recommend that a new CBD user have patience and take time to figure out what works best for them. Start with a low amount, perhaps 10 mg CBD per day, and increase slowly. Finding your unique serving size, or “sweet spot” can best be achieved by keeping a journal and tracking how you feel daily. This serves as a reminder to show how you felt in the beginning, and what has changed over time. Once you achieve the sweet spot where you are getting desired benefits, stick to that amount.
What products should you take for sleep? During the day, anxiety and stress can be detrimental to sleep and can interfere with our ability to concentrate and feel grounded. Full-spectrum hemp extract can be beneficial for supporting a sense of calm and focus, and to support regular sleep cycles.
CBD & ANXIETY
If you have occasional anxiety, you may want to consider CBD. It was demonstrated to offer relief to teenagers who frequently experienced anxiety in social situations, as published in a 2019 study in Frontiers in Psychology. Another study published in Neuropsychopharmacology in 2011 showed that taking CBD prior to a public speaking event helped support a sense of calm for the speakers, and supported normal heart rate and blood pressure during the activity as compared to the participants who took a placebo.
ND is the director of education for Charlotte’s Web, hemp-derived CBD industry pioneers. Dr. Jen is a naturopathic doctor with 20 years’ experience in the dietary supplement industry and integrative medicine profession. As a graduate of Bastyr University, she is passionate about sharing her knowledge about natural medicine through writing and speaking to consumers, retailers, and physicians.
She recently created a one-year herbal certification CME program for physicians and authored “Berberine: Everything You Didn’t Know” by Woodland Publishing, among other writings. Her dedication to educating on the health benefits of hemp-derived CBD started when she used hemp extract to successfully support her dog’s health.