Sleep Facts and Help
Are you one of those people who get to bed on time and wake up feeling rested and ready for your day? If you are, then you are lucky. But, how many of us get enough sleep at night that makes us feel rested in the morning? According to the National Institutes of Health, 50 to 70 million Americans are affected by chronic sleep disorders and intermittent sleep problems that can significantly diminish health, alertness and safety.
How much sleep do we actually need? For most people 6 to 8 hours is the ideal amount of sleep. Others may be okay with 5 or need as much as 10. Infants need about 16 hours and teenagers need about 9. More sleep is needed during the first 3 months of pregnancy and when we are stressed out or sick.
Sleep is essential to overall health. There are 5 stages of sleep and each one is important. When sleep gets disrupted, our body’s ability to repair itself declines. Some indications you have not been getting enough sleep are weight gain, frequent infections and other health problems, trouble focusing and diminished motor skills among others.
Stages of Sleep
Here are some interesting facts and stats.
- The average human will spend 1/3 or their life sleeping, which equates to about 20 – 25 years over 75 Year life span
- The record for the longest period without sleep is 18 days, 21 hours, 40 minutes during a rocking chair marathon. The record holder reported hallucinations, paranoia, blurred vision, slurred speech and memory and concentration lapses.
- It’s impossible to tell if someone is really awake without close medical supervision. People can take cat naps with their eyes open without even being aware of it.
- A new baby typically results in 400-750 hours lost sleep for parents in the first year!
- One of the best predictors of insomnia later in life is the development of bad habits from having sleep disturbed by young children.
- The continuous brain recordings that led to the discovery of REM (rapid eye-movement) sleep were not done until 1953, partly because the scientists involved were concerned about wasting paper.
- REM sleep occurs in bursts totaling about 2 hours a night, usually beginning about 90 minutes after falling asleep.
- Dreams, once thought to occur only during REM sleep, also occur (but to a lesser extent) in non-REM sleep phases. It’s possible there may not be a single moment of our sleep when we are actually dreamless.
- REM dreams are characterized by bizarre plots, but non-REM dreams are repetitive and thought-like, with little imagery obsessively returning to a suspicion you left your mobile phone somewhere, for example.
- Certain types of eye movements during REM sleep correspond to specific movements in dreams, suggesting at least part of the dreaming process is similar to watching a film
- Seventeen hours of sustained wakefulness leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a blood alcohol-level of 0.05%.
- The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska, the Challenger space shuttle disaster and the Chernobyl nuclear accident have all been attributed to human errors in which sleep-deprivation played a role.
- Most of what we know about sleep we’ve learned in the past 25 years.
- As a group, 18 to 24 year-old deprived of sleep suffer more from impaired performance than older adults.
- Experts say one of the most alluring sleep distractions is the 24-hour accessibility of the internet.
- The extra-hour of sleep received when clocks are put back at the start of daylight in Canada has been found to coincide with a fall in the number of road accidents.
- Some scientists believe we dream to fix experiences in long-term memory; that is, we dream about things worth remembering. Others reckon we dream about things worth forgetting – to eliminate overlapping memories that would otherwise clog up our brains.
- British Ministry of Defense researchers have been able to reset soldiers’ body clocks so they can go without sleep for up to 36 hours. Tiny optical fibers embedded in special spectacles project a ring of bright white light (with a spectrum identical to a sunrise) around the edge of soldiers’ retinas, fooling them into thinking they have just woken up. The system was first used on US pilots during the bombing of Kosovo.
- Tiny luminous rays from a digital alarm clock can be enough to disrupt the sleep cycle even if you do not fully wake. The light turns off a “neural switch” in the brain, causing levels of a key sleep chemical to decline within minutes.
- To drop off to sleep, we must first cool off; body temperature and the brain’s sleep-wake cycle are closely linked. That’s why hot summer nights can cause a restless sleep.
- Diaries from the pre-electric-light Victorian era show adults slept nine to 10 hours a night with periods of rest changing with the seasons in line with sunrise and sunsets.
- People who suffer from sleep behavior disorder, which causes them to violently act out dreams, seem to be more susceptible to neurological illnesses like Parkinson’s disease and dementia.
- Difficulty falling asleep is but one of four symptoms generally associated with insomnia. The others include waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep, frequent awakenings, and waking up feeling unrefreshed.
Loss of Sleep Symptoms
Our bodies are regulated by something called our biological clock or circadian rhythm. Our brains cause us to have a 24 hour cycle of fluctuations in body temperature, hormone secretion and many other biological functions (below is an example). The most important function it has is controlling the cycle for daily sleep and awake times. When we sleep our body does its repairs, so, when we have this important cycle interrupted, it disrupts our overall health.
Some of the symptoms of lack of sleep are: drowsiness, not feeling rested upon waking, obesity, changes in appetite, slow mental function or brain fog, hormonal imbalances, mood swings, sicknesses, digestion problems, stress, anxiety, depression, irritable, slow motor functions and driver fatigue.
Worst Sleep Aids
It’s easy to want a quick solution to sleepless nights. There are many sleep aids out there, the most popular of which is a pill. Unfortunately, not all of those products are safe or effective. The problem is that taking the quick way out does not address the underlying cause or causes. Many times the quick fix comes with consequences later, especially with prescription drugs.
Side effects can include daytime drowsiness, confusion, forgetfulness and dry mouth. When you take them long enough you can become dependent and or tolerant to the drug so you need more to get the same effect as the first time. Not only that, but when you stop taking them you can get withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating and shaking as well as rebound insomnia which is worse than before. Other problems are more serious like drug interactions which can make side effects more acute and even cause death.
Best Sleep Aids
The best sleep aid is you and how you treat yourself throughout the day. What you eat and how you prepare yourself and sleeping area are also important. Exercise and taking the right kind of supplements can help, too.
First, avoid a lot of alcohol. It may get you off to sleep, but it will eventually disrupt your overall sleep pattern. Avoid nicotine (or stop smoking all together), spicy and fatty foods, sugars, lots of liquid and caffeine in the hours before bed.
Second, eat a small bedtime snack like cherries (which contain melatonin), light carbohydrates, light proteins and dairy (which contain tryptophan) and fruit. Try snacks like whole grain cereal, non-fat (or preferably raw) milk, bananas, yogurt, crackers, bread, cheese, oats and honey. Eat plenty of protein and omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like tuna, salmon or trout throughout the day.
Some Ideas For Your Sleeping Area
Make it as dark as possible, even the slightest amount of light can disrupt your patterns. It’s a good idea to move your alarm clock away from your bedside, this way you aren’t constantly reminded what time it is. Plus, the light it emits and possible electro-magnetic fields are another disruptor of your circadian rhythm. Keep the room cool, no higher than 70 degrees. And, DO NOT work in bed!
Some ideas Before Bed
Establish a bedtime routine. Doing the same thing every night can trigger your body that it’s time to sleep. Go to bed around 10; your body does most of its repair work between 11 pm and 1 am. Have your small bedtime snack and read instead of watching TV.
Herbs and Supplements for Sleep
Calcium, magnesium, B-complex, vitamin D, omega 3s which help reduce inflammation, a good multivitamin, Valerian, German chamomile and passion flower are just a few of the ways you can help your body be better equipped to have a good night’s sleep.
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