I’m typing up a post about sleep at 2:03am. Ironic, isn’t it? It so happens that during my tarry this fine morning, I remembered an Awake! article I read sometime ago about sleep, so I dug it up and coined this post. Some of the facts therein pretty much changed my whole perspective.
If you’ve ever thought like I did, that during sleep the brain is resting, you’ve got another guess coming! By studying brain-wave patterns, researchers have learned that there are repeated stages and cycles of sleep. Hence, the human brain runs at high speed during certain periods of sleep.
When you dream, you’re actually undergoing one of the two types of sleep a normal nights rest includes called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. You can easily tell when a person is dreaming when the bulge of his eyeballs can be seen rapidly moving under his eyelids.
The other type of sleep, (Non-Rem) the dreamless sleep, actually has four stages.
Stage One- Drowsiness.
Lasts between 30secs to 7mins. Your muscles relax and your brain waves are irregular and rapid.
Stage Two- True Sleep
Lasts 20% of the night. Your brain waves become larger. You may have fragmented thoughts or images passing through your mind but you’re unaware of your surroundings and cannot see even if your eyes are open.
Stage Three and Four- Deeper to Deepest Sleep
During this delta sleep, you’re most difficult to rouse. It lasts about 50% of the night, your brain produces large slow waves and recovery and repair of your body take place. Anyone, I mean anyone who doesn’t experience the deeper delta sleep usually feels fatigued, apathetic or even depressed the next day.
After the four stages of Non-Rem sleep, REM sleep completes the cycle typically occurring every 90mins. During this REM sleep, your brain waves are as if you were awake but much blood is directed to your muscles rendering you immobile, incapable of acting out your dreams. Theses REM cycles get longer each time they occur during the night and appear to be crucial to mental health. In computerlike fashion, the brain sorts through short-term memory storage, deleting unimportant data and retaining what is desired for long term memory.
When we are regularly deprived of these repeated cycles and get few hours of consecutive sleep, we won’t get as much of the last and longest REM sleep period which is vital to mental health. Irregular sleep or a series of naps doesn’t fix this situation. You need to go through the cycle of REM/NonRem sleep at least four (4) times each night. Those in serious sleep debt suffer from shortened attention spans, memory and vocabulary loss, a lessened ability to think analytically and diminished creativity.
We all know that at least 8hrs of sleep is recommended for adults each night but a honest self examination can help you determine if you’re already in a healthful sleep pattern. The signs to look out for include- easily falling asleep without drugs, you do not wake up in the middle of the night but if you do, you go back to sleep quickly, waking up occurs naturally at approximately the same time each morning, and lastly, once you’re awake, you’re alert all day.
Since insomnia can be brought on by stress, one key to healthy sleep might be making the time just before going to bed a quiet, pleasant period.