Just a few more minutes, please!
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Everyone is familiar with those mornings where it seems easier to just roll over, hit the alarm clock and go back to sleep...for just a few more minutes. What creates this desire for more sleep? Why is it so hard to get up in the mornings, or after a nap? Is something wrong? Or are we just tired? Is sleep really that important? Why does it seem we can never get enough? Is there a right amount of sleep that we need? Can you catch up on sleep? Is anyone getting tired just thinking about sleeping?

In this lesson we're going to look at what sleep is, how we use it, what we need and various myths and suggestions about sleep. Hopefully after this you'll go away with having some great ideas for ways to improve your sleeping habits to gain a more restful sleep and wake feeling refreshed and ready for a new day.

According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), "sleep is essential for day-to-day functioning, performance, learning and overall health. Sleep disorders, including insomnia, are a leading cause of accidents, lost productivity and illness" (NICHD, 2013). Sleep in general is a very complicated biological process that can be simplified greatly or it can bury one in information. There are cycles our brains and bodies process through while we're sleeping, these are called circadian (pronounced sur-kay-dee-uhn) rhythms. Our body has an internal clock and these cycles are biologically set. There are five circadian rhythms our bodies go through, these are called Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3, Phase 4, and Rapid Eye Movement (also known as REM) sleep. Let's take a quick look at what these phases do for us!

In phase 1, individuals are between being away and falling asleep and will begin to sleep lightly. As you move into phase 2, individuals move into a deeper sleep and become disengaged from the surroundings.
In phase 2 our body temperature drops. Phase 3 and 4 is the deepest and most restorative sleep. Blood pressure drops, breathing slows down, muscles relax, our bodies increase the supply of blood to our muscles, our bodies perform tissue growth and repair, our energy levels increase again and our bodies release hormones. As our bodies move into REM sleep (or phase 5) this equates the other 25% of our sleep. Generally this occurs about 70-90 minutes after first falling asleep, and then on and off for the remainder of your circadian rhythm. REM sleep often lasts longer as you move later into the night.

During this cycle our brain and bodies are energized, our daytime performance is supported, our brains are active and dreaming often occurs. Our eyes will dart back and forth, creating the "rapid eye movement". If you watch someone during this cycle you can see their eyes moving beneath their closed eyelids! REM is involved in the process of retaining memories, learning and maintaining balanced emotions. Our bodies also become immobile and relaxed and our body temperature isn't tightly regulated. The whole process of going from phase 1 to phase 5 is usually around 90 minutes.

Naps are another huge factor! If you just need a quick dose of energy, studies suggest that a quick 10-20 minute rest is best for your body. This allows individuals to rest and relax but not to get into that deep sleep and feel groggy and more tired when they awake. If you want a longer nap, be sure to sleep for 90 minutes...then your body will be ready to go again!

As we lose sleep we lose our ability to focus which in turns slows down our response times, increases our chances to take risks and make poor decisions. This can affect our relationships, our jobs and even our driving. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute say that the lack of sleep "can cause irritability...particularly for children and teens...and are more likely to become depressed".

Depending on the age of the individual, we handle the loss of sleep differently. Usually adults can maintain control of their irritability, whereas with younger children they often become fussy, cry more readily or pitch fits to try and compensate for their feelings. Often, a simple nap or an early bedtime can solve these problems long term. Losing sleep also affects our health. Not getting proper amounts of sleep can greatly increase our risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and mental distress or several other medical conditions.

(Continued next week)


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