For this post I thought I would share some information I recently acquired at a seminar. I’m thinking it is going to be a series of posts giving you digestible amounts of information each time while making an effort not to be too technical. I’m thinking it will be in 3 parts: 1) Description and definition of sleep 2)Mechanics of Sleep; and 3) Sleep Disorders and how to address them.
What is Sleep?
Sleep is a state in which humans (and all animals) are in a semi-conscious state which is reversible (we wake up!). There is a species-specific body posture which is typically assumed when we sleep (i.e. laying down, standing up, one eye open-as in the case of Dolphins!)
As sleep deepens, it becomes more difficult to arouse (awaken) the individual, and the person’s sensitivity to external events (ie people talking) will decrease. If we do not sleep for prolonged periods, when we do get to sleep it will likely be for a longer period of time in order to regain metabolic balance for our bodies.
The brain and body are still at work (which I’ll talk about in a later post) in that sleep progresses in cycles and rhythms. During sleep heart rate, body temperature, muscle tone and metabolism increase and decrease. Many parts of our brain and bodily systems/structures play a role in coordinating alertness, wakefulness and sleep.
Why Do We Need Sleep?
- For neurologic (brain) repair and maintenance
- Openings between neurons (nerves) allow toxins to leave the brain and damaged neurons are replaced through regrowth
- It restores the energy we deplete while awake
- The energy restored to the brain aids in cognitive (thinking) performance for decision-making and memory
- When we lack sleep, our body and brain respond with shifts/changes or even break downs in functioning.
- It is essential to good physical and mental health
Some information regarding deficits or deprivation:
Sleep patterns are 8-9 hours for youth; 6-7.5 hours for adults; and 5-6.5 hours for the elderly–these are known as the “Goldilocks Zone”. Studies have found that sleep duration correlates with mortality rates, so it is recommended that you decide on your optimal “Goldilocks Rate” as even too much sleep can be detrimental.
When there is a sleep deficit (sleep lost in a given night) and that deficit becomes cumulative over time (sleep debt), the brain will work to pay back the sleep debt and a person may “sleep in” for longer time periods and total recovery time may take more than one night.
Things to do for Better Sleep
- Use bedroom only for sleep or sex
- Cooler room equals better sleep
- Keep a consistent sleep/wake time
- Go to bed when sleepy
- Determine your own “Goldilocks Zone”
- Eliminate TV, computer, cell phone when going to bed
- Invest in quality linens (sheets, pillows, mattress)
- Use night lights or small pen/flash light when disrupted to urinate (see light activates wake-up cycle)
- Exercise regularly but not after dinner
- Practice relaxation techniques daily
- Avoid overstimulation (intense/violent TV, extra food or caffeine) before bed
- Use blackout shades if necessary
- Avoid excessive sleep medications
If you are having trouble with sleep, there may also be underlying stressors which contribute to your difficulties. Contact me to arrange an appointment to assess these stressors (908-278-9073) and come back again to read the follow up installments to this series.