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The joys of motherhood are never fully experienced until all the children are in bed.
- Unknown

 

Getting the Sleep You Need

Getting the Sleep You NeedA good night’s sleep not only helps us feel rested and ready to take on the challenges of our day, it is also essential to our ongoing health. But what makes for a good night’s sleep and what are some tips for getting the real rest you need?

Sleep is an active state brought about by natural brain cycles. The two basic states of sleep are REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and NREM (non rapid eye movement), the latter of which has four stages.

Throughout the night your brain will cycle between these two stages, generally starting off with a period of NREM sleep, followed by short periods of REM sleep. NREM sleep stages can last from about five minutes to fifteen minutes each. During a completed sleep cycle you progress through all four stages of NREM before attaining a short period of REM sleep. At this point the cycle begins again.

Stages of NREM Sleep

Stage one of NREM is a light stage of sleep, during which a person can be easily awakened. If you are awakened during this stage, you may feel as if you haven’t been asleep at all. During this stage you may experience a feeling of falling, which is caused by a sudden muscle contraction called hypnic myoclonia.

Stage two is another period of light sleep when you experience spontaneous muscle tone mixed with moments of muscle relaxation. You body is preparing to enter deeper sleep and during this phase your temperature will drop and your heart rate will slow.

Stages three and four are when your body enters deep sleep. These are known as slow-wave or delta sleep and if you are awakened during these stages you may feel groggy and disoriented for a bit. These are critical phases as it is during these deep stages of NREM that your body regenerates itself, building bone and muscle, and strengthening your immune system.

It is only after about 90 minutes of NREM sleep that you enter the REM sleep stage. Initially the REM state only lasts about 10 minutes before jumping back to NREM sleep and going through the cycle again. It appears, however, that with every cycle of NREM to REM, each REM stage will last a little longer. The final REM state may last as long as an hour.

The Paradox of REM Sleep

So what’s happening during REM sleep? Curiously, brainwave patterns during REM sleep are similar to patterns when you are awake. People with a healthy sleep pattern will experience an increased heart rate and respiration will speed up and become erratic during REM sleep. REM sleep is a paradoxical mix of brainwave excitement combined with muscular immobility. Your brain is awake, but your body is immobile. REM sleep is highest in infancy at about 50% and gradually declines as we age. Adults generally experience only 20% of their sleep in REM.

Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, and regardless of what we think is happening, we do not adjust to not getting as much sleep as our body needs. If we are sleep deprived over a long period of time there are a whole slew of consequences to our health.

Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

If you get too little sleep there are a variety of ways in which your body may respond, including fatigue, impaired thinking and memory, a lowering of your immune responses, increased pain, and depression. Certain stimulants, like caffeine, can temporarily overcome the negative effects of sleep deprivation, but not over an extended period of time. Your body needs sleep, both NREM and REM, and lack of sleep can cause real harm to our health.

Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Some simple tips can help you get a better night sleep, including going to bed and getting up at the same time each day; avoiding over-consumption of caffeine drinks, especially in the evening and getting regular exercise. Chamomile tea and warm baths may also help you relax before bed. Most of us will experience disrupted sleep at some point in our lives, however, if you find yourself experiencing insomnia, fatigue during the day, recurring headaches, overall grogginess, or other symptoms of sleep deprivation, be sure to talk with your AOA physician. Your AOA provider can help you find solutions that can help you get the rest you need and keep your body as healthy as possible.

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