better sleep

  1. Poor sleep linked to hypertension

    If you're battling blood pressure problems, you don't need another med -- you just need better sleep... and that doesn't necessarily mean more sleep.

    "Better" sleep is slow-wave sleep -- the deep sleep that helps to refresh our bodies and restore our minds. And now, a new study finds that people who miss out on it aren't just tired, forgetful, and irritable -- they have a dramatically higher risk of hypertension, too.

    Researchers checked the BP levels and monitored the sleep habits of 784 senior men on two occasions, three and a half years apart.

    They found that men who spend less than 4 percent of the night in slow-wave sleep were 83 percent more likely to develop hypertension between the two tests than men who spend at least 17 percent of the night locked inside that deepest of slumbers.

    The men who got the low-quality sleep were also more likely to get less overall sleep, wake up more often, and even suffer from sleep apnea.

    So how much quality sleep are you getting? There's no way to know for sure without spending a night in a sleep lab. But one way you can tell on your own, right now, is to just see how you feel in the morning.

    If you wake up feeling lousy, odds are you're not getting enough. Poor sleep can do so much more than raise your blood pressure. Lack of sleep and low-quality rest can boost the odds of everything from cognitive decline to an early death.

    You definitely don't want any part of that – but don't rush off to your doctor and beg him for sleep meds, either, because there are natural solutions that can help you to get the best rest of your life.

    One recent study found that seniors can overcome sleep problems with the help of talk therapy in as little as two in-person sessions and two follow-up phone calls. (Read about it here.)

    Other studies have found that you can get relief by making simple lifestyle adjustments -- like cutting back on late-day caffeine -- or easy nutritional additions, such as a calcium and magnesium supplement before bedtime.

    For more on the risks of sleepless nights -- and how to beat them -- read this.

  2. Yin vs. yang in Parkinson's treatment

    Centuries before James Parkinson described the "shaking palsy" that would later bear his name, the Chinese were already treating the condition they called "the shakes" with a simple herb.

    But gou teng is more than just a folk remedy with a funny name: A new study shows this stuff might have the power to help tame or even beat Parkinson's disease.

    Researchers in Hong Kong gave 115 Parkinson's patients either a blend of traditional herbs including gou teng, or a placebo, for 13 weeks, and found that those who got the traditional treatment had better sleep, improvements in speech, and a lower risk of depression.

    Even better, the patients who took the herbs along with the Parkinson's drug levodopa suffered fewer of the med's notorious side effects -- including hallucinations and delusional thinking.

    The researchers didn't stop with the clinical trial -- they also isolated the compounds in the herb and ran some tests to see if they could figure out what makes it work so well.

    And they may have found it.

    Hidden inside gou teng is an alkaloid called isorhy, which researchers say may have the power to normalize the cell death process that often goes haywire in the brains of Parkinson's patients.

    That's the scientific explanation, anyway.

    In traditional Chinese medicine, the description gets a little strange. I read one that explained how gou teng increases yin to counterbalance too much yang.

    That's a little "out there" for most of us here in the West -- but it's considered a perfectly reasonable explanation in the world of traditional Chinese medicine, where the balance between yin and yang is believed to play a key role in health.

    Those yins and yangs must be pretty busy, too: Gou teng has been used in China to treat high blood pressure, tinnitus, headaches, sleep problems, and more.

    The one caveat here is that the research team behind the Parkinson's study has also applied for a U.S. patent for their herbal blend, and plan to bring it to market here after a second phase of the study ends in 2013.

    That's a big enough conflict that I'd want to see more independent research on this before anyone starts taking gou teng -- but if it really works, I'm sure plenty of Parkinson's patients would be willing to balance their yins and yangs.

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