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Sleep and Health

Sleeping well = health, beauty & vitality

Sleep is seen as a time for the entire body to rest, recuperate and repair.  Detoxification and elimination are an important part of the body’s recuperative activities.  The nervous system plays a large role in the regulation of sleep rhythms and also physiological function.

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is generally associated with ‘fight and flight’ and the parasympathetic (PNS) with ‘rest and digest’.  During slow wave sleep, the PNS becomes dominant and activity of metabolically important organs such as the liver and gastrointestinal system is favoured.

While good quality sleep is, therefore, important for effective detoxification, the dysfunction of detoxification systems may also have a detrimental impact on sleep and contribute to the development of sleeping disorders.

Digestion, immune function and kidney function are also important considerations in their connections with sleep and detoxification.

Sleep, and more to the point, an adequate amount of good quality sleep, is vital to an individual’s health and wellbeing.  Sleep gives the body time to recuperate, repair and detoxify.  It also gives the brain a chance to process the activities of the day, and plays a role in memory formation.  Stage 1 sleep is particularly associated with immune activity and repair mechanisms, while stage 2 sleep is associated with memory development and cognitive function.  Circadian rhythms control the sleep-wake cycle, however, other behaviour and physiology, governed by such cyclic rhythms include metabolism, detoxification and cellular repair.


Sleep and the Nervous System

Both hormones and neurotransmitters play a role in initiating sleep and in the regulation of circadian rhythms.  Neurotransmitters (GABA and adenosine) play a specific role in the initiation of sleep.  As does the hormone melatonin, secreted from the pineal gland.  Neuro-endocrine interactions such as this form a large part of the body’s control mechanisms in the sleep-wake cycle. Numerous nutrients and certain herbs can support the nervous system in particular the inhibitory neurotransmitters associated with sleep.  Your health care practitioner is able to assess and support your individual needs.

Your brain also needs adequate rest.  Research has identified how poor or interrupted sleep can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.


Sleep and Inflammation

As well as the neuro-endocrine interactions described above, bidirectional communication between the brain and the immune system also plays a role in mediating sleep.  Neurotransmitters and hormones interact with immune cells to influence their functioning.  Substances released by immune cells signal specific areas of the brain to cause neural activity and modify behaviour (including sleep), hormone release and autonomic function.[ii]  Dysfunction of this system may therefore negatively affect sleep behaviour and vice versa.  For example, reduction in sleep quantity contributes to elevated levels of pro-inflammatory substances.[iii]  Sleep conditions, including obstructive sleep apnoea have also been associated with changes in inflammatory cytokine levels.[iv]  There are specific nutrients which assist in decreasing this inflammation and protect against free radical damage.


Sleep and the Liver

The liver is the major organ of detoxification in the human body.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine the time of the liver is between 1:00 and 3:00 am. There are a number of nutrients considered beneficial for liver function and detoxification providing essential support for neutralising free radicals.  There are two phases in liver detoxification and it is important that both phases be supported to enable proper processing and elimination of toxins.


Sleep and Digestion

As the parasympathetic nervous system ‘rest and digest’ is dominant during slow wave sleep, this is seen as a time of activity of the digestive system. A lengthening of the sleep-wake cycle (and of the wake time) results in a slowing down of the processes of digestion and evacuation of the bowels, in parallel with an apparent reduction of total energy expenditure.[v]  Supporting digestive processes is important during times of rest, relaxation and sleep. This is another area where nutrients provide essential support for digestive processes, enhancing fat breakdown, absorption and utilisation as well as inhibiting growth of detrimental organisms.  Other areas benefiting from proper nutritional support is the gastrointestinal integrity and immune system (as 80% of the immune system resides in the gut).


Sleep and Elimination

The intrinsic body clock within the brain which regulates the sleep-wake cycle also regulates other physiological parameters that exhibit circadian rhythms, such as kidney function.  The kidneys are also an important consideration in detoxification and elimination strategies as they are involved in filtering of the blood and excretion of waste products and toxins in the urine.


Sleep Medication & the side effects

In a study just published in the open access British Medical Journal online, ‘Hypnotics association with mortality or cancer: a matched cohort study’ it was  established that medications commonly prescribed for insomnia, such as zolpidem, temazepam, eszopiclone, zaleplon, and other benzodiazepines, barbiturates and sedative antihistamines, increased the risk of premature death and cancer.

The study also highlighted the evidence from controlled trials, which show that hypnotics, ” impair motor and cognitive skills, such as driving. Increase the risk of automobile crashes and an increase in falls, due to hangover sedation. In some patients, hypnotics increase sleep apnoea, prolong apnoea or suppress respiratory drive, though among other patients, there may be mild improvement. Sleep apnoea, in turn, may lead to motor vehicle crashes, hypertension, heart failure, arrhythmias, cardiovascular diseases and death. Hypnotics may cause somnambulistic night-eating syndromes resulting in poor diet and obesity as well as other automaton-like behaviours, which can be dangerous.”

The research team conducting the study concluded by saying that, “the meagre benefits of hypnotics, as critically reviewed by groups without financial interest, would not justify substantial risks.”

To read the full article follow the link


Sleep, weight and disease

Turn off all the lights – the importance of sleeping in a dark environment explained by a Northwestern University study.

But what about how much sleep?  Most of us know someone who feels great after regularly only getting four hours’ sleep.  Yet, others say that unless they get a good eight hours, they feel shattered.  We are all different – a new study reveals how we are hard wired for sleep needs: 


Always consult a qualified health care professional for your supplemental needs.  Self-prescribing can result in imbalances leading to ill health.


[i] Schibler, U., The daily time of gene expression and physiology in  mammals.  Dialogues Clin Neuroscience, 2007.9(3):P. 257-72

[ii] Lorton, D., et at. Bidirectional communication between the brain and the immune system:  implications for physiological sleep and disorders with disrupted sleep.  Neuroimmunomodulation, 2006. 13(5-6): p. 357-74

[iii] Haack, M., Sanchez, E. & Mullington, J., Elevated inflammatory markers in response to prolonged sleep restriction are associated with increased pain experience in healthy volunteers.  Sleep, 2007. 30(9): p. 1145-52

[iv] Selmi, C., et al. Inflammation and oxidative stress in obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome.  Exp Bio Med, 2007. 232(11): p. 1409-13
[v] Aschoff, J.,  The timing of defecation within the sleep-wake cycle of humans during temporal isolation.  J Biol Rhythms, 1994.9(1): p. 43-50