Wednesday, March 9, 2011

National Sleep Awareness Week

The National Sleep Foundation campaign to promote the importantance of sleep is sponsoring the National Sleep Awareness Week, March 7-13, 2011, which ends with the clock changing to Daylight Saving Time when most Americans lose one hour of sleep. Some 70 million Americans have a sleep problem in which 40 million adults suffer from a chronic sleep disorder and in addition 20 to 30 million have an intermittent sleep related problem.

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The loss of sleep effects work performance costing US employers some $18 billion in lost productivity. As the average adult American averages roughly 6.9 hours of sleep a night, this is less than the recommended seven to nine hours that is required, according to sleep experts.

75% experience a symptom of a sleep disorder in the past year. A poll in 2011 found that 4% of Americans between the ages of 13 and 6 rarely or never fall asleep easy and stay asleep during the weeknights and over half experience sleep problems like; snoring or waking up too early to feel refreshed in the morning.

It wasn’t until the 1950’s when sleep experts thought sleep as a passive dormant part of our daily lives. Now they know that our brains are very active during our sleep to restore and regenerate our mind and body that allows us to be active during the day and provide health benefits that they are just beginning to understand. During sleep we repetitively pass though five stages of sleep, 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM.

Stage 1 is where we sleep the lightest as our eyes move slowly and muscle activity reduces. This is also when some experience muscle contractions called hypnic myoclonia which often is preceded by a sensation of starting to fall. This sensation is similar to the involuntary jump reflex we encounter when we get startled. I always thought it was when our tense muscles started to relax that made them jerk. We can also be awaken easily in stage one and when we experience hypnic myoclonia we know it is happening, but we also know it is a precursor to falling asleep.

During stage 2 in which we spend 50% of our time, our eye movements stop and our brain waves become slower with occasional bursts of electrical activity called sleep spindles. Stage 3 our brain waves slow down even further, these are known as delta waves. Stage 4 consists of delta waves exclusively and during this stage it is very difficult to be awoken, as this is the stage where you get the deep sleep required for regeneration. There is no muscle activity or eye movement. This is the stage where many people experience a parasomnia like; NS-RED (nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder), sleepwalking, night terrors, confusional arousals and bedwetting. See other related articles related to the above bold parasomnias.

When we enter REM we suddenly start to breathe more rapidly, our eyes move and jerk in various directions and our limb muscles become temporarily paralyzed. We spend 20% of our time in REM sleep and this is the time we experience dreams or nightmares. A complete sleep cycle last 90-110 minutes, in which 70-90 minutes after we fall asleep we will enter into our first REM stage. During the first cycle of sleep we have a short REM stage and longer deep sleep cycles as the night progresses our REM stage increases and deep sleep wanes. By morning people nearly spend all their time in stages 1, 2 and REM.

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Sleep/wake cycles are influenced by different neurotransmitters that signal in the brain and many external influences like food or medicine can change the balance of these signals that affect how alert we are and how well we can sleep. Many suffer from insomnia due to caffeine and drugs that stimulate the brain and prevent us from sleeping. Antidepressants and nicotine suppress REM as many heavy smokers experience nicotine withdrawal during sleep and will wake up after 3-4 hours. Alcohol which can make us fall asleep easy will rob us of REM and the deeper stages of sleep causing us to wake easily when the affects wear off. If your sleep environment is too cold or too hot it will affect your REM sleep and when you go to sleep the next night your body/mind will try to catch up on REM sleep.

If you don’t get enough of the quality and quantity of sleep that is required for YOU, you will experience lack of focus, memory loss and slow physical response time (that impacts using heavy machinery). The required amount of sleep varies from person to person, but most adults need 7-9 hours to feel rested. When sleeping less than seven hours women are more likely than men to experience trouble functioning the next day. Lack of sleep can impact our daily activities and over time can affect our health. Sleep isn’t a luxury, it is a necessity!

The content provided in National Sleep Awareness Week is for information purposes only, intended to raise the awareness of different solutions for you or your families sleep problems and should not be considered medical advice. For medical diagnosis and treatment, please see your qualified health-care professional.

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