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Health Benefits of Sleep

Sleep is necessary for overall health and well-being. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) sees sleep as having five major benefits:

1. Recharging the physical body
When we sleep, fundamental substances like jing, shen and qi (vital energy) flow inside the organs, making the physical body calm and relaxed. Sleep also enables the blood and qi flow smoothly, lowers the body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure, while reducing respiration and production of internal secretions. The low metabolic rate of the body during sleep helps the body to recharge itself.

2. Maintaining mental functioning
Individuals with sleeping problems usually exhibit easy irritability, low energy, poor memory and difficulty in concentration. Extreme sleep deprivation can even cause paranoia and hallucinations. Rest allows the brain to clearly process thoughts, feelings and memories. Getting a quality sleep helps maintain mental efficiency.

3. Enhancing defense and immune systems
The body depends on the immune system to fight against infection and to clear the body of harmful toxins in order to maintain a harmonious internal environment. Sleep relates to the ability to form antibodies or disease-fighting cells; it is also a time for the body to repair damage caused by stress, the sun's ultraviolet rays and other harmful things. The body accumulates fundamental substances while sleeping, which enhances the body's immunity and allow it to heal itself.

4. Promoting growth and development
Sleep is an essential part of growth and development in children. The amount of sleep needed changes as a child grows older. Newborns sleep approximately 16 to 17 hours a day, while preschoolers need only about 12 hours a day. Before adulthood, growth hormones are released in spurts during sleep which ensures normal physical and mental development.

5. Enhancing beauty and minimizing the effects of aging
Getting enough sleep means the body has rested and recovered from the "wear and tear" of wakefulness. With sufficient sleep, the physical effects of aging will be delayed. A good night's sleep is the best antidote against developing dull, wrinkled skin, age spots and lusterless hair.

From a TCM perspective, sleeping problems such as insomnia should not be identified alone, as the problems themselves involve a range of internal changes, which then give rise to various manifestations. During the consultation, TCM physicians try to collect as much health information as possible and further analyze this in a systematic manner. Eventually, specific symptom profiles form the criteria for TCM diagnosis that correlate with a particular underlying disharmony state. Returning the disharmony state to one of order and harmony is the core of TCM treatment for sleep disorders.