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Do you often find yourself sleep deprived because of an important exam, job obligations or an exciting adventure, while saying that you will make up for the lack of sleep the next day or on the weekend? Most of the time we are not aware of how important it is to get enough sleep in order to function properly during the long hours of the day. Having a good night’s sleep is essential for your health because while we sleep the body repairs itself and the immune system strengthens.
Sleep is a process which almost starts from the moment we lay down to rest and close our eyes. There are four stages of sleep which form the sleeping cycles. The first three periods of sleep are the first three phases of non-Rem sleep which are then followed by a period of REM sleep. REM is short for rapid eye movement.
The first stage is commonly known as somnolence, which is a state between sleep and wakefulness. During this stage it is possible to experience muscle contractions that make you feel like you’re falling or jumping when you are startled. This sensation is referred to as hypnic myoclonia.
The second stage is commonly known as light sleep when your body temperature drops and heart rate slows. You are still aware of the sounds around you, on the radio or TV or people talking in your presence, but you cannot react to them because you cannot really understand them. Since this phase takes only about five percent of total sleeping time, you might feel like you haven’t slept a wink if you suddenly wake up.
The third stage takes approximately twenty percent of total sleep time and we refer to it as deep sleep which is harder to wake up from. Even if somebody succeeds in waking you up you may feel confused and unsettled. Furthermore, children and some people experience sleep-walking or sleep-talking and in some cases even night terrors. It’s important for parents and guardians to be aware of night terrors and know how to appropriately respond to them. Often the child will wake up with no memory of what occurred during the night because they were in a deep sleep. This is something children do grow out of because as we get older we get less deep sleep.
Once the nonREM phases are over, REM sleep starts. Breathing is quicker and heart rate becomes irregular and each following period of this stage lasts longer so that REM sleep may last up to two hours. If REM sleep is interrupted, the next time we fall asleep the body will not follow the normal sleep cycles and we will start off sleeping directly from REM rather than firstly going through the three stages of nonREM.
People typically dream intensely during the REM phase. This occurs as a result of busy brain activity and muscle paralyses. When a person wakes up during REM sleep they usually describe irrational and unreasonable dreams. If you miss a few dreams during the REM the brain remembers that and forces you to continue dreaming next time you close your eyes thus ignoring the nonREM stages. Dreams also tend to be more vivid.. This phenomenon is known as REM rebound.
REM is important for efficient daytime performance. The body relaxes and hormone levels increase. Cutting back on sleep could make you restless, moody, stressed and also hungry during the day and skipping sleep on a regular basis might lead to more serious sleep disorders and breakdowns. Even if you are spending enough time sleeping, from seven to nine hours, you can still have trouble waking up and feeling rested. What’s important is the quality, not quantity of sleep. This means that you need to spend enough time in each stage of the sleep cycle.
It can also happen that after just a few minutes of sleep you might wake up and not be able to remember what happened the last several minutes before you went to sleep. This so-called amnesia is the cause of people forgetting phone calls they received during the night and postponing or turning off the alarm in the morning and going back to sleep after doing that.
Sleep and health
Many factors can influence how you sleep at night and repress REM. For instance, eating too much before going to bed, drinking alcohol, caffeine, smoking, medications, or even sleep environment.
Electrical devices such as mobile phones and laptops are detrimental to the quality of sleep, so removing them from your bedroom is a definite step in the right direction. A comfortable mattress can also aid to increasing the quality of your sleep. A bad mattress can also lead to poor spinal alignment and long term back problems. If you have back pain, seeing a specialist is recommended. Who will be able to prescribe a suitable mattress to meet your needs.
Establishing a daily yoga practice has been proven by Harvard Medical School to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep and cure insomnia. Other more vigorous forms of daily exercise have been proven to improve your sleep but be mindful that theses are not done before you go to sleep as it will have the opposite effect.
Sleep affects our physical and mental health and changing our sleep schedule and being sleep deprived can cause serious problems to our daily functioning. Your everyday routine basically defines how you sleep at night. Sleep is good for metabolism, learning, creativity, coordination; in general – it helps the brain to work properly. So make time to protect your well-being by getting the sleep your body needs. Avoid anything that is limiting your sleeping hours and try to limit napping during the day.
It is vital that your body goes through the whole sleeping cycle without interruptions, thus accomplishing what is necessary for it to function in a healthy way. Feeling rested and well slept and alert will make you productive and happy.