March is National Sleep Awareness Month. We all need sleep, but many of us are not getting enough of it. Research shows that lack of sleep, on a regular basis, may have long-term health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and obesity.
A good diet and exercise help to maintain good health, but sleep can also affect one’s wellness. Sleep is an essential component of your wellness, and there are many factors that influence your sleep patterns.
Sleep and the Brain
Sleep is important for brain functions, including how nerve cells (neurons) communicate with each other. Did you know that your brain and body stay remarkably active while you sleep? Recent findings suggest that sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake.
There are two basic types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and 3 stages of non-REM sleep. Each is linked to specific brain waves and neuronal activity. You cycle through all stages of non-REM and REM sleep several times during a typical night, with increasingly longer, deeper REM periods occurring toward morning.
- Stage 1: non-REM sleep is the changeover from wakefulness to sleep. During this short period of relatively light sleep, your heartbeat, breathing, and eye movements slow, and your muscles relax with occasional twitches. Your brain waves begin to slow from their daytime wakefulness patterns.
- Stage 2: non-REM sleep is a period of light sleep before you enter deeper sleep. Your heartbeat and breathing slow, and your muscles relax even further. Your body temperature drops, and your eye movements stop. Brain wave activity slows but is marked by brief bursts of electrical activity. You spend more of your repeated sleep cycles in stage 2 sleep than in other sleep stages.
- Stage 3: non-REM sleep is the period of deep sleep that you need to feel refreshed in the morning. It occurs in longer periods during the first half of the night. Your heartbeat and breathing slow to their lowest levels during sleep. Your muscles are relaxed and it may be difficult to awaken you. Brain waves become even slower.
- REM sleep first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep. Your eyes move rapidly from side to side behind closed eyelids. Mixed-frequency brain wave activity becomes closer to that seen in wakefulness. Your breathing becomes faster and irregular, and your heart rate and blood pressure increase to near-waking levels. Most of your dreaming occurs during REM sleep, although some can also occur in non-REM sleep. Your arm and leg muscles become temporarily paralyzed, which prevents you from acting out your dreams. As you age, you sleep less of your time in REM sleep. Memory consolidation most likely requires both non-REM and REM sleep.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but after age 60, nighttime sleep tends to be shorter, lighter, and interrupted by multiple awakenings. Elderly people are also more likely to take medications that interfere with sleep.
There are a variety of sleep disorders. Approximately 70 million people experience sleep disorders each year. Practice healthy sleep habits to promote restful sleep every night and talk to your doctor if your sleep problem persists.
- Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm causes a person’s circadian rhythms to be so disorganized that there is no clear sleep or wake pattern.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea causes you to stop breathing during sleep because of obstructions in the airway.
- Insomnia occurs when you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or do not feel refreshed in the morning.
- Insufficient Sleep Syndrome occurs when you regularly fail to get enough sleep at night and the result is sleep deprivation.
- Narcolepsy is excessive daytime sleepiness that leads to an irrepressible need to sleep and daytime lapses into sleep.
- Frequent Nightmares that prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep are also considered a sleep disorder.
- Sleep-Related Leg Cramps are sudden and intense feelings of pain in the leg or foot.
- Restless Legs Syndrome causes a burning or itching inside your legs when you lie down.
- Bruxism involves the grinding or clenching of teeth during sleep.
If you’re regularly having trouble sleeping OR experiencing daytime fatigue even though you thought you slept soundly through the night, it might be time to talk to a doctor about your concerns.
Your healthcare provider can help identify the source of your sleep problems and provide appropriate treatment options to help get you back on track.
For more information visit www.thensf.org.