Thursday, 8 December 2016

Arianna Huffington and the Self-Care Revolution

When it comes to self-care, including sleep, we are often caught between two lines of thinking. Doctors, naturopaths and other health professionals recognise a good night's sleep as essential to health, for reasons such as the fact that sleep is when your immune system is restored. On the other hand, the dominant cultural norm is currently that sleep deprivation is a pre-requisite to achievement and success, especially if you are an entrepreneur. This is something that Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post, used to believe, especially in university. After graduation, she continued on this inadvertently self-destructive path, and tried to get by on just three or four hours of sleep a night until she collapsed from "sleep deprivation, exhaustion and burnout" in 2007. While she had learnt her lesson, she saw that others had not, and so was inspired to write The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time. In an interview with Life Extension, Arianna explains the importance of healthy sleep, and the dangers of pharmaceutical sleep aids.

Source: Kemal ATLI (CC:2.0)
How dangerous is sleep deprivation? Well, Arianna starts with the statistic that less than six hours of sleep a night has been linked with a 15% greater chance of dying. Seven to nine hours a night is the ideal range, but less than six hours is associated with a greater risk of obesity as it increases levels of appetite-stimulating hormones. In other research, healthy adults were found to have higher blood pressure after only being allowed to sleep four hours a night instead of eight. These factors could raise the risk of cardiovascular diseases, one of the world's biggest killers. In fact, a recent study found that men with sleep disorders had 2-2.6 times the risk of heart attack, and 1.5-4 times greater risk of stroke over the 14-year study period. Those who associate death with sleep in an attempt to make it sound less awful really have it the wrong way around.

Sleep deprivation can also endanger the lives of others, as found in a study of around 3,000 first-year medical residents (reference in book). While their working week is "capped" at a massive 80 hours, individual shifts can last as long as 24 hours. In months where interns had at least five 24-hour shifts, patients deaths increased by 300% and fatigue-related adverse events increased by 700%! An Australian study also found that being awake for 17-19 hours impaired cognition just as much as having a blood alcohol level of 0.05%, which also counts as legally drunk in Australia.

However, in her research Arianna has uncovered the dangers of sleeping pills. Harvard medical school professor Patrick Fuller explained to her that the chemical imbalances caused by these drugs can limit restorative sleep and often only create a state between sleep and being awake, leading to side effects such as sleepwalking. Additionally, she found that use of benzodiazepines such as Xanax increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease after 3-6 months of use. Taking them for more than six months raises the risk by 84%. It is best to look at what diet and lifestyle factors are causing a lack of sleep, and using nutritional and/or herbal medicines such as valerian or lavender, instead of pharmaceutical interventions. Sleep is essential, but replacing one consequence for another is not the way to go.

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