Chemical sleep, induced by taking sleeping pills, has nothing to do with natural sleep. “It is an artificial loss of consciousness, comparable to light anesthesia, a hypnotic state that does not provide any of the benefits of real sleep.“, explains Dr Patrick Lemoine, doctor in neurosciences, psychiatrist and author of Doctor, I’m not sleeping! Sleep in 50 questions (éd. In Press).
Yet around 46 million boxes are sold each year in France, according to a study by the National Medicines Safety Agency (ANSM). Their use must remain punctual, because taken in the long term, these psychotropic drugs can generate serious undesirable effects. In addition to dependence and habituation, they cause drowsiness during the day, a lack of concentration and an increased risk of falls, and therefore fractures. Worse: they can cause or worsen sleep apnea. A study from the University of Bordeaux has even shown that the majority of anxiolytics and sleeping pills (benzodiazepines) degrade memory in the long term and increase the risk of cerebral degeneration. Swallowing more than three months in a row would increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 51% in the years that follow! Better to rely on natural solutions to snuggle up in the arms of Morpheus.
What are the benefits of sleep?
“Sleeping is not a waste of time”, assures Mounir Chennaoui, doctor in physiology at the Institute for Biomedical Research of the Armed Forces (Irba) and co-author of Sleep well for dummies (First ed.). Many of the body’s regulatory mechanisms are indeed at work during sleep.
- Recover his physical capacities. During the night, damaged cells repair themselves and eliminate their toxins. The muscles are invigorated, the skin heals, the immune defenses are sharpened and our energy stock is reconstituted so that the body can function at full capacity the next day. The cardiovascular system also regains strength because blood pressure is lower when you sleep. This is why a chronic sleep deficit (less than 6 hours per 24 hours) increases the risk of myocardial infarction and vascular accidents. It also sharpens inflammation, which makes it more prone to arthritis and diabetes.
- Regenerate your brain. Sleep is the architect of our memory. It allows us to sort out important and subordinate information, to organize our ideas, to take distance from problems and to dispel our anxieties. An American study from Johns Hopkins University has shown that it also boosts brain plasticity by promoting the creation of new connections in the brain, resulting in better reasoning and decision-making capacity.
- Avoid weight gain.Too little time in bed alters hormonal balance and biological signals for hunger. The stomachs of insomniacs produce more ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates the appetite. And fat tissue cells release less leptin, a protein that regulates food intake and feelings of fullness. The result: little sleepers (5 hours or less per night) wrap themselves in extra kilos over the years. “Their risk of obesity is 34% higher than normal“, indique Mounir Chennaoui.
5 natural remedies to restore restful sleep
- Hypnosis, to calm the mind. Stress and anxiety promote ruminations and prevent the mind from wandering freely, an essential prelude to falling asleep naturally. “Medical hypnosis is a tool of choice to release tension and make peace with oneself, specifies Cloé Pavaillon, hypnotherapist at the Royan thalassotherapy center. It also makes it possible to achieve a state of total safety, necessary for a good quality of sleep “. The time to fall asleep is shortened by a third and the duration of deep sleep increases by 80%, according to Swiss researchers at the University of Friborg. In practice: two to three sessions are often enough to get back to good sleep.
- Melatonin, to reset your biological clock. Many sleep disorders result from a desynchronization of the internal biological clock. The production of the sleep hormone – melatonin – proves to be insufficient or is no longer in phase with the day / night alternation and the rhythms of social life. We fall asleep and spontaneously wake up very late. Or, conversely, it is difficult to keep up in the evening and then we wake up between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. Take oral melatonin “allows you to reset your biological clock, without any dangerr “, underlines Dr. Lemoine. For more effectiveness, opt for melatonin with immediate effect: one to two sprays under the tongue (i.e. 0.5 to 1 mg) at bedtime (Chronobiane Immédiat, Somniphyt 30 ‘ …).
- Herbal medicine, to muzzle nervousness. Several medicinal plants can deactivate our arousal systems. In the event of nocturnal or too early awakenings in the morning, valerian and eschscholtzia are recommended because they exert an anxiolytic action and restore the architecture of sleep. And in case of difficulty falling asleep due to excessive nervousness, hawthorn and passionflower are better indicated. Take them as an infusion (1 teaspoon per cup of boiling water, 3 cups per day) or dry extracts (2 capsules at bedtime).
- Tryptophan, to boost the sleep hormone. This amino acid is essential for the manufacture of melatonin, the hormone that drives the sequence of sleep cycles. And to optimize its action, also rely on slow sugars in the evening (wholemeal bread, brown rice, etc.) and vitamin B (brewer’s yeast, wheat germs, etc.). Tryptophan is found in dairy products, meats, and grains like wheat, barley, rye, and rice, as well as parsley, squash seeds, and soybeans.
- Also bet on sport: physical activity of at least 30 minutes before 5 p.m. improves the quality of deep sleep, the most restorative, by 65%, according to an American study from Stanford University.
- Listen to your body. When the warning signs of sleep appear at the end of the evening (yawning, itchy eyes, etc.), go to bed within 15 minutes. Otherwise, you will have to wait for the next cycle to fall asleep naturally, i.e. 1h30 to 2h later.
The expert’s opinion: you need to gently wean yourself off sleeping pills
Dr Patrick Lemoine, doctor in neuroscience and psychiatrist: To break the addiction, the best option is to reduce the benzodiazepines very gradually in consultation with your doctor, especially if you have been taking them for a long time. Weaning turns out to be more complicated if the consumption has been for a long time. Decrease the doses in stages, every three weeks: from one tablet per day, go to ¾ of a tablet, then to ½ and finally to ¼. At this point, ask your pharmacist to prepare placebo capsules – filled with sugar, for example – and capsules containing your sleeping pill. Mix them all and swallow one at night at random, lowering the number of active capsules over the months. The body gradually gets used to going without chemical crutches for sleeping.
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