STUDIES SHOW that Americans are sleeping less than ever, and college students are most deprived of decent rest, averaging just six hours a night.
There’s always an excuse to put off the pillow—from study sessions to part-time jobs to epic parties—but there’s even better reason to bed down. Regular sleep restores energy, helps fend off illness, improves the attitude, and optimizes performance.
On the flip side, prolonged disruption of the night cycle has serious repercussions, including depression, anxiety, susceptibility to sickness, mental fogginess, and weight gain.
It’s always tempting to take a pill, but there are plenty of safe, natural ways to bolster slumber that don’t have the side effects of pharmaceutical sleep aids. To spread the word, Brighter Day Natural Foods is hosting the lecture “Sleep Well, Stay Well” led by Dr. Mary Bove on Tuesday, Sept. 26 at the Coastal Georgia Center.
The Director of Medical Education at Gaia Herbs, Dr. Bove has over 40 years’ experience in clinical practice and is considered one of the nation’s foremost expert in herbal medicine. We spoke to her about herbal remedies for good sleep, why those monster-sized energy drinks aren’t a short cut and how a healthy midnight snack can be gamechanger for insomniacs.
Really, what’s the big deal about getting enough sleep?
Dr. Mary Bove: It's big in its connection to stress and the immune system. Researchers are finding that sleep—the amount of sleep one gets as well as the quality of it—has a lot to do with overall health and well-being.
When someone’s under a lot stress—maybe they have a very busy lifestyle and a lot of responsibilities or they’re trying to balance school and life—and they start to feel that load and it starts to disrupt their sleep. Then that disrupts the whole nighttime cycle, which is bad because we restore our physical and psychological capacities during that time.
When we don’t get adequate sleep, we know that it can result in direct changes to our cardiovascular system, our mood, our performance and stamina, our weight, our immunity. And it’s more than just having seven or eight hours, it’s about having a good architecture to that seven or eight hours, so there’s a pattern and depth to it.
What about sleep deprivation and college students? At that age you feel invincible even on four hours of sleep!
That’s so true! I think that age group can afford to scrimp on sleep and not necessarily feel the repercussions for a little while. But eventually it can catch up with you. A college student might find that lack of sleep disrupts their ability to focus and retain information, and they may also find that it impacts their mood and their patience. These days young people already deal with so many mood challenges—anxiety, low mood—sleep can make a huge difference.
On physical level, there are real risks. The company AAA did a study that showed less than seven hours of sleep will compromise driving ability; drivers who only sleep four to five hours a night have significantly higher crash rates.
Also college students start to worry about their weight when they start school. Lack of sleep over a period of time will disrupt your metabolism and your body will be more apt to store fat.
What about Monster and other energy drinks—do they counteract not getting enough sleep?
Well, they’re not really feeding the body—they’re just stimulating the body with sugar, caffeine and whatever combination of things. They may give a short jolt, but in the long term they don’t restore the system and end of undermining the way the body works.
Many people won’t sleep well at night from using those things during the day, and it creates a vicious cycle. We’ll be talking about that at the lecture.
Even with coffee, if somebody is using it as a crutch to get them through the day, that’s a problem. If it’s a beverage and you have a cup of coffee as part of your morning routine, that’s fine. But caffeine all day will undermine our physical systems.
What about screen time?
We know from research that the light from digital screens interrupts endocrine functions, and that the constant stimulation makes it hard to wind down at night. Most people have them in their beds with them. We need to learn how to put them away.
The basis, unfortunately, of our modern society is that people don’t sleep. Kids, too; the amount of insomnia and sleep disturbances in children is ridiculous now. It’s tragic because it affects how we learn and our memory. In middle age, when hormones shift, people start feeling the effects. But it doesn’t just happen from what you did last week, it’s about what you’ve been doing since your 20s and 30s. If you haven’t gotten more than five hours of sleep for the last four or five years, you’re going to end up with issues.
What if you can’t get a good night’s sleep no matter how hard you try?
When somebody comes to me with sleep issues, whether it’s taking too long to fall asleep or they wake up in the middle of the night, I view it as a disruption to a system to that needs to be addressed—usually adrenal, endocrine or immune.
When people wake up and can’t get back to sleep, many times that has to do with what they’re doing during the day. People whose blood sugar falls at two in the afternoon are the ones waking up at two in the morning. Their blood sugar has fallen then, too, and their cortisol levels sound an alarm and they’re waking up go in response to that. So even just little snack, a piece of bread or two ounces of coconut milk in the middle of the night can break the pattern and after a few nights you’ll stop waking up.
In herbal medicine we have these things called adaptogens—plants that actually aid our bodies to adapt to stressors. Adaptogens can keep the effects of less sleep under control, help us modulate the different parts of the wheel. Holy basil, Rhodiola, and Ashwaganda are very effective, but you don’t want to wait until you’re in an acute place to start taking them. They have a place in our day-to-day life.
How can students create healthy sleep habits?
It’s a part of their education to learn how to take care of their bodies! Sleep is at the top of the list of basics. Look at all the places it connects to. They can start with chamomile tea in the evening, or something to relax tension, like Valerian or Passionflower.
College kids slamming chamomile tea?
You know, 30 years ago if you’d asked me to imagine that people would be using Echinacea to treat their colds, I wouldn’t have believed it. So it’s not that far-fetched!