Medical School Professor says, "Sleep builds competitiveness."

Medical School Professor says, "Sleep builds competitiveness."

The most common and most overlooked health issues are probably insomnia and lack of sleep. It was not until the rise of sleep medicine did people start to realize that sleep and health are connected. China Medical University professor and head of public affairs, Li Xin-da, an authority on sleep medicine in Taiwan, published a book called “Helping Sleep," explaining how all kinds of illness most likely stem from lack of sleep.

Unmasking the mystery of sleep

“In reality, it isn’t that hard to improve your sleep. As long as we understand how important sleep is, and that lack of sleep can harm us physically, we can make a firm resolution to change." Li is not making empty promises. Eight years ago, he was 15 kg heavier than he is now. After studying sleep medicine for 20 years, he experienced surprising health benefits from practicing what he preached.

Middle-aged people can regain their health with exercise and sufficient sleep. They can even have the same amount of strength they had when they were young. This led Li to write “Helping Sleep." The book is not an academic study on the complicated process of sleep science, but more like a manual on how sleep works. It also introduces you to the sleeping cycle and how it influences your body.

The book classifies problems associated with sleep, such as insomnia and sleep apnea, including a variety of chronic diseases associated with sleep and how to get a good night’s sleep. This is to share tips with readers on the secret of how sleep can affect health.

20 years ago, the term “sleep medicine" wasn’t known in the Taiwanese medical field. After Li graduated from Kaohsiung Medical University and moved to the U.S. for further studies in physical studies and rehabilitation, he found that the States advocates recovering from chronic illnesses starting with sleep and exercise.

Li says, “I didn’t understand it then and was curious if sleep is really that important for one’s health."

In addition, Li also found that almost half of the research funds for the American Thoracic Society go to sleep research. Numerous students apply to research sleep because they are curious about this trend. This is how Li started his journey of researching sleep.

Photo Credit: Tony Alter @Flickr CC BY 2.0

Photo Credit: Tony Alter @Flickr CC BY 2.0

When the monitoring technology was still not very advanced, it was difficult for sleep medicine to progress.

“It was very hard for scientists to observe the changes people went through during sleep, and difficult to detect what was happening during that time, so we couldn’t understand how important sleep was. But everything changed after we were able to use a computer to monitor and analyze sleeping behavior,” writes Li.

After the data, analysis and research were revealed, sleep medicine became a more valued medical science. But knowing something is not equal to achieving it. Li says, “I knew I suffered from sleep apnea and it was deeply affecting my sleep. But I ignored it until I started practicing for marathons eight years ago. Only then did my life really change.”

When Li’s wife recommended him to start running, not only did his bodyweight begin to drop, but his sleep apnea also improved significantly.

“I spent an hour running long-distance every day and was up for three extra hours every day. I wouldn’t yawn or doze off during the day, and my mental state improved. Falling asleep also begin easier,” he says.

Men are snorers and woman are light sleepers

Li says that exercise and quality of sleep are closely related. Sleep apnea is a big problem. For example, when someone goes to sleep, his or her muscles will be completely relaxed. The back of the tongue will also fall backwards and easily press onto one’s respiratory tract. If the respiratory tract is too narrow, it causes snoring.

“The snoring is sleep apnea in most cases. Take myself as an example; when I researched sleep, on average I ceased breathing 45 times an hour. Because my body was lacking oxygen, it tried to self-preserve by faintly waking up. This represents brainwaves being compelled to jump from a deep sleep stage to being awake. Meaning that the time snorers enter deep sleep is very little and they don’t sleep all night,” he writes.

Li says about 25% of adult men snore. Women snore less, but sleep apnea still exists.
“Women are not able to bear severe hypoxia, so before the airway is completely blocked, brainwaves will jump from deep sleep to an awake state instantly, meaning that a lot of women constantly wake up from their light sleep."

But whether it’s light sleep or snoring, both are caused by respiratory tracts becoming narrow during sleep, which makes it hard to breathe. However through exercising, your airway becomes wider because you’re losing weight. The respiratory tract muscles also become more flexible, which makes it harder for them to become narrow and improves sleep apnea.

Photo Credit:Carlos Martnz CC BY 2.0

Photo Credit:Carlos Martnz CC BY 2.0

Apnea problems are very common, but most people overlook or ignore it. The main issue is we don’t understand how sleep affects our health.

“Sleep occupies one-third of a person’s lifetime and is when the body restores itself. You can even say it’s the most important part of a day. The modern person is very familiar with depression, obesity, headaches, gout, strokes and other chronic diseases, which mostly have to do with your endocrine being severely unbalanced. The brain produces various hormones and controls the endocrine and your metabolism. People who don’t sleep enough will have a hard time avoiding physical problems."

In addition to chronic diseases, ordinary people aren’t concerned about lack of physical strength. They feel worn out easily and start yawning a lot in the afternoon. All of these symptoms stem from deficiency of sleep. Many people believe that catching up on sleep and taking a nap during the day will solve the fatigue. But Li says, “What you catch up on is only light sleep, which doesn’t have the positive effects of deep sleep. Moreover, taking a nap during the day will affect sleeping at night and create a vicious sleeping cycle.”

Unrepairable deep sleep

In addition to sleep apnea, another sleeping issue is postponing sleep. Many people are only able to sleep during the day because they need to work at night, which shifts the time they go to bed. Li believes that even if these people sleep for eight hours, it will still have a negative influence on the body.

“I suggest they still try to adjust their sleeping pattern, because one’s melatonin level determines whether or not you can enter deep sleep. On a bright morning, the body’s melatonin level will stop secreting quickly and will only gradually start rising again around 8 pm, reaching its highest point around 2 am or 3 am. You need a certain level of melatonin for deep sleep, which occurs between 12 am to 4 am.

He explains that even if you delay your own sleep and get eight hours of sleep, you will miss the highest level of melatonin secretion, unless people postponing their sleep can create a night-time environment.

“If there really is no alternative, we recommend people who work at night to try and create a night-time environment, such as not consuming any caffeine eight or nine hours before your shift ends and wearing sunglasses when you get off work. Make sure you enter a non-translucent room before you go to sleep."

Li advises if you don’t necessarily have to work at night, try to transfer to a regular sleeping time pattern. He says, “If you really care about success, don’t sacrifice your sleep. Sleeping well can naturally help you become healthier, think clearer, balance your emotions and make good strategic decisions."

Translated by Sarah Grasdijk
Edited by Olivia Yang

The News Lens has been authorized by WE PEOPLE to repost and translate this article.