All About Sleep

by KEVIN SUNG

 

The average person spends about one-third of his lifetime sleeping. Though this may be surprising in the college culture of pulling all-nighters and taking power-naps, it is true that much of our time is devoted to simply resting. Despite the clear importance of sleep, there are still many questions that leave people puzzled. Here, we discuss some facts and myths about catching z’s and what you can do to ensure that your next night’s sleep is ideal.   

 

How much sleep is enough?

A prevalent question that many people ask about sleep is just how much sleep do people really need? Actually, multiple factors affect the amount of sleep an individual needs. This amount largely depends on a person’s basal sleep need, sleep debt, and the interplay between the two quantities. Basal sleep need is defined as the standard amount of sleep the body requires for optimal performance. Other health issues such as acute or chronic sickness, and poor sleep quality will increase the amount of sleep one needs, but one’s basal sleep need will remain relatively constant throughout ones life. Sleep debt is a term scientists use to describe the difference between the sleep a person needs and what a person actually gets. The amount of sleep each individual requires vary from person to person but usually sits around seven to eight hours for adults.

Getting too little or even too much sleep can have a detrimental effect on a person’s well-being. A recent 2011 study published in Sleep has shown that sleep deprivation in both young and elderly individuals compromise the brain’s capacity to perform on mental tasks included causing delayed reaction times. On the other hand, another 2007 study published in Sleep used a 22-year follow up method that has also displayed a correlation between longer hours of sleep (nine hours or more) and increased morbidity and mortality.

A suggested method for measuring the amount of sleep the body needs is by going to sleep 15 minutes earlier each night until one can wake naturally at the desired time. That would give an approximate number of hours one needs a night. Another way is to pay back all of one’s “sleep debts” when given the opportunity to sleep as long as one wants, allowing the person to reestablish their natural sleeping rhythm, and tell how much sleep one needs.

Dr. Frisca Yan-Go from UCLA Department of Neurology stresses that simply having an ample quantity of sleep is not enough for a good night’s rest. The quality of sleep plays a major factor as well. According to Dr. Yan-Go, the human body follows a circadian rhythm that heavily dictates the optimal times of sleep. Too much deviation from that internal clock will adversely affect the quality of sleep. “We need to be in sync with the environment, for example, in relation to the sun as well as darkness (night). Brain hormones such as dopamine, histamine, and acteylcholine are released during waking hours. Blocking these hormones can induce sleep. Adenosine is a peptide that is pro-sleep, and taking caffeine blocks adenosine, keeping us awake temporarily.” To maintain the body’s circadian rhythm, an individual should plan for sleep, and keep sleeping hours consistent every day. For further information regarding sleep, Dr. Yan-Go recommends visiting the SleepFoundation.org.

 

What are some effects of Sleep Deprivation or Poor Sleep?

Impaired Cognitive Function

A recent 2011 study published in Sleep has shown that sleep deprivation in both young and elderly individuals compromise the brain’s capacity to perform on mental tasks included causing delayed reaction times.

Aches and Pains

Physical fatigue and myalgias has been linked to disrupting sleep. This condition leads to aches and pains in the joints and muscles, rendering sleep uncomfortable for affected individuals. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep disturbance and fibromyalgia is a “double-edged” sword. Fibromyalgia causes poor sleep, and poor sleep only exacerbates the pain.

While there are no clear causes of the condition, research such as the study published in 2010 in the American Journal of Therapeutics, has demonstrated that a clear link exists between sleep and this muscle condition.

There are currently no FDA approved medication to treat fibromyalgia, but there are medication that targets the symptoms of fibromyalgia, including muscle fatigue. Other non-medication treatments include using massages therapy and exercise.

Weight GaiN

 Prevalent research in the field also links sleep deprivation with higher possibility of weight gain. The amount of sleep an individual gets can change the hormone levels, including that of leptin and ghrelin, which are factors that regulate appetite. Leptin inhibits appetite while ghrelin stimulates appetite. A 2004 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine demonstrated that lack of sleep in young men causes a drop in leptin and an increase in ghrelin, leaving an individual less satisfied after eating. An individual to eat more than normal, eventually leading to putting on more pounds. This provides a possible explanation to the link between weight gain and insufficient sleep.

Higher frequency of accidents

From the data collected in polls by the National Sleep Foundation, an alarming 37% report having fallen asleep while driving. In today’s fast paced lifestyle, sleep often gets neglected. Drowsy driving, however, is extremely dangerous and poses danger to not only the driver but to other parties on the road as well. If you feel that you are losing focus behind the wheel, make sure you take measures to stop and rest.

 

Stages of Sleep + What they do.

  • REM sleep

  • Deep sleep

  • Sleep cycles

Sleep in general provides a way for the human body to perform biological maintenance activities and recuperate from the stresses accumulated throughout the day. As we sleep, the body cycles through several stages that fall under either “Non-REM” or REM (Rapid Eye movement) sleep. Non-REM sleep can be further distinguished into three stages of sleep.

The first stage of Non-REM sleep, or Stage N1, involves the process of actually falling asleep. During this phase, muscle activity decreases, eye movement slows under the eyelids, and one falls asleep. Stage N2, the second stage of Non-REM sleep, lasts from between ten to 25 minutes into sleep, and is the beginning of true sleep. During this phase, body movement stops, body temperature drops, and the heart rate slows. Upon reaching Stage N3, the body enters deep sleep. During this time, the body directs blood away from the brain and towards the muscles for physical recuperation. Being woken from deep sleep will leave an individual groggy for several minutes before the body readjusts. Finally, the body enters REM sleep and dreaming takes place. During REM sleep, the body is paralyzed, the eyes flicker rapidly, and the body experiences an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

 

What are tips for better sleep?

  1. Plan sleeping as part of the daily schedule. Sleeping is a necessity and should be made a priority.
  2. Avoid doing work, reading, or watching television in bed to keep the bed an exclusive haven for sleep.
  3. If you have negative emotions, do your best to let them go before you sleep. Buildup of tension prior to bedtime prevents proper relaxation for a restful night’s sleep.
  4. Try to not eat before going to bed. Finishing any food from two to three hours prior to sleep is recommended.
  5. Regular exercises throughout the day (at least several hours prior to bedtime) can help the body get better sleep.
  6. If you feel tired, take a 20 to 30 minute power nap. Taking power naps after dinner, however, may make you unable to fall asleep later at night.
  7. Since the body cycles through deep sleep, REM, and lighter stages of sleep in periods of approximately 90 minutes, time an alarm to wake you after a multiple of about 90 minutes. This way, one can wake during lighter stages of sleep and avoid the groggy feelings after being woken from deep sleep. Every person’s sleep cycle varies, however.
  8. Keeping a sleep diary, where one writes down how he feels after a night’s sleep, can help the individual become more aware of what sleep patterns work best.

 

What are some false myths of sleep?

Sleeping in on the weekends can optimally pay back sleep debts.

One or two nights of solid sleep may not change the amount of “sleep debt” that accumulates over a period of time. Suddenly changing one’s sleeping hours can cause the equivalent effect of jet lag. Sleeping an extra hour or two every night over several days is a much better alternative to make up sleep debt.

As you grow older, your body needs less amounts of sleep.

A majority of adults, including seniors, require approximately the same hours of sleep. Sleep patterns, however, do change. As individuals grow older, they develop lighter sleep and thus are more prone to be disrupted during sleep. Thus, older individuals may sleep less during the night, but make up for this by taking naps.

Sleepiness during the day only means that the person is not getting enough sleep.

While it is true that daytime sleepiness can indicate sleep deprivation, it can also point to another medical condition or a possible sleep disorder as well.  

 

Products to Enhance Sleep

These are some of the products that are on the market related to sleep at the moment. While there is little research providing proof of their effectiveness, these products are still options based on personal preferences.

The Sleep Cycle alarm clock

This type of program application claims to chart an individual’s sleep cycle depending on the amount of movement the individual has during sleep. It attempts to wake the user during lighter stages of sleep, aiming to make waking a more relaxed experience.      

Gradual Waking Alarm Clocks

Another type of program application provide a function that gradually wakes one up starting as early as 15 minutes prior to the set time. There are also new types of alarm clocks with features such as gradually lighting alarms or sounds that progressively turn louder saves sleepers from the traditional jarring alarm buzzers.

 

For more information regarding sleep, visit: sleepfoundation.org

 

Summer 2012 | Vol. 12 | Issue 4