THE BLOG
08/19/2013 03:41 pm ET Updated Oct 19, 2013

The Difference Between Natural and Chemically-Induced Sleep

Natural sleep is necessary to life. Each night it rejuvenates and re-energizes one's body, keeping it running at its maximum potential.

New findings in the Michael Jackson wrongful death suit revealed that Dr. Conrad Murray was treating Jackson's insomnia with Propofol on a daily basis, placing him into a catatonic state. However, a drug-induced coma does not offer the same reparative qualities provided by a true night's sleep.

According to the Associated Press on June 21, 2013, sleep expert Charles Czeisler, who gave testimony in the case, cited reports that the entertainer was not only losing weight and exhibiting signs of paranoia, but his overall condition appeared to be deteriorating. These symptoms were consistent with someone who hadn't gotten any real sleep in a long time.

Sleep disorders affect as much as 34 percent of the U.S. population -- a virtual epidemic.

In recent years studies have begun to link chronic partial sleep deprivation to serious physical health consequences. Regularly catching only a few hours of sleep can hinder metabolism and alters hormone production in a way that is similar to the effects of aging.

Chronic sleep loss may speed the onset or increase the severity of age-related conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and memory loss. Researchers have shown that just one week of sleep deprivation altered subject's hormone levels and their capacity to metabolize carbohydrates.

The list of side effects from prescription sleep drugs is long, with the most common being headache, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, muscle and joint pain. One popular sleep drug was even shown to cause people to sleepwalk into their kitchen, consuming thousands of calories with no memory of it in the morning!

Insomnia is the inability to sleep during a period in which sleep should normally occur. Sufficient and restful sleep is a human necessity. The average adult needs slightly more than eight hours of sleep per day and only 35 percent of American adults consistently get this amount of rest. People with insomnia tend to experience one or more of the following sleep disturbances: (1) difficulty falling asleep at night, (2) waking too early in the morning, or (3) waking frequently throughout the night. Insomnia may stem from a disruption of the body's circadian rhythm, an internal clock that governs the timing of hormone production, sleep, body temperature, and other functions. While occasional restless nights are often normal, prolonged insomnia can interfere with daytime function, and may impair concentration, diminish memory, and increase the risk of substance abuse, motor vehicle accidents, headaches, and depression. Recent surveys indicate that at least one out of three people in the United States have insomnia, but only 20 percent bring it to the attention of their physicians.

Joining my longtime crusade of sleep reform are media titans Dr. Memet Oz and Arianna Huffington. Huffington lectures and has written numerous articles about the benefits of sleep in our everyday lives. Dr. Oz has also presented shows on the importance of sleep.

While many still attempt to make sure that they get a certain number of hours of sleep, for me it's not only about the number of hours one sleeps, it's also about the type of sleep one gets. Sleep occurs in various stages of REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep, which are differentiated by which type of brain wave predominates. If we don't get into the non-REM part of the sleep cycle which results in deep restful sleep, we can't obtain the full rejuvenating benefit that sleep is supposed to provide.

In the case of Michael Jackson, Propofol is just an extreme example. It's not even indicated for use as a sleep aid, although all of the most commonly-prescribed sleep drugs act on our brain chemistry in much the same manner as Propofol. The popular sleep drug Ambien, as well as drugs like Valium and Xanax, produce sedative effects by affecting the action of a certain brain chemical (the neurotransmitter GABA), which seemingly helps people sleep yet prevents deep sleep. Aside from this single most important problem with these drugs, the list of their side effects (sleep driving and sleep eating among them) is long and serious.

Because of these issues, people are embracing alternatives to prescription drugs. They will no longer accept instant relief at the cost of long-term health consequences. Fortunately there are many safe and effective alternatives to be found in nutritional supplements and homeopathic remedies.

For more by Stuart H. Garber, D.C., Ph.D., click here.

For more on sleep, click here.