Sleep and Insomnia

Sleep and Insomnia

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Sleep is a dynamic activity where the brain continues to work while the body tries to rest.  Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or disturbance of sleep patterns that can affect our daily normal functions.

There are times that you can’t get yourself to sleep because you are worried or bothered by a particular problem.  But there are also times when you can’t get yourself to sleep and you don’t know the reason why.  Still, there are times that you feel so sleepy and your eyes are really tired and sore and, yet, you just can’t seem to get yourself to sleep.  You keep tossing in bed, ruffling your pillows but sleep remains elusive and you wonder what is really happening to you.  And just as when the sun is already shining and you’re supposed to be getting up to start your day, suddenly, you doze off.  

Insomnia.  It is the inability to fall asleep, or the disturbance of sleep patterns, such as waking up after a few hours of sleep.  

Many people have the wrong notion that our mind and body is in a passive state when we are asleep.  On the contrary, it is a state of consciousness or dynamic activity which gives our body time to rest and build up strength while the brains continue to work.  

Sleep has five phases.  During the first stage, sleep is light and can be easily awakened.  At this stage, the eyes move very slow as well as muscle activity.  Oftentimes, when a person is awakened, sudden muscle contractions occur as if you are falling off.  At stage 2, eye movements stop and brain waves turn slower with intermittent burst of rapid waves known as sleep spindles. In stage 3, delta waves start to appear.  These are extremely slow brain waves interspersed with smaller, faster waves.  During stage 4, only delta waves are being produced by the brain.  You will have a hard time waking up someone whose sleep is already at stages 3 or 4 or in deep sleep where there is no more eye movement or muscle activity.  People who are awakened during deep sleep experience temporary disorientation.  It is also during deep sleep stage that children experience bed-wetting, night terrors, or sleepwalking.

REM sleep is the last stage where breathing becomes faster, shallow and irregular.  The eyes jerk rapidly in different directions with the limb muscles getting paralyzed for a short period of time.  During this stage, the heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, and penile erections occur among men.  Dreams are experienced during REM sleep stage.

These stages repeat in a cycle.  A complete sleep cycle takes about 90 to 110 minutes on average.  The first sleep cycle each night is characterized by short REM periods and long periods of deep sleep.  But as the night goes by, REM sleep periods become longer while deep sleep periods get shorter.  In the morning, people spend their sleep time in stages 1,2, and REM sleep stages.  According to research, we spend 50% of our sleep time in stage 2 sleep, about 20% in REM sleep, and 30% in other sleep stages.  In comparison, infants spend half of their sleep time in REM sleep.

Sleep and being awake are affected by different neurotransmitter signals in the brain.  When food and medicine change the balance of these signals, we begin to feel alert or sluggish.  It also affects the way we sleep.  Coffee and other caffeinated drinks as well as weight loss diet pills can cause insomnia by stimulating some parts of the brain.  A lot of people suffering from insomnia try to  induce sleep by taking over the counter sleeping pills.  Others resort to alcohol which only leads to light sleep, but deprives them of REM and deeper, more restorative stages of sleep.

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