Why Humans Don’t Get Enough Sleep

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We spend a third of our lives sleeping, and at lest that much worrying. However, most of us know very little about sleep and stress, and even less about how the two relate. Many people, myself included, have observed that when we are under stress and need sleep the most, it is actually very hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. This had been the extent of my knowledge on the subject before I read “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” by Robert Sapolsky. In this book Sapolsky explains in detail the mechanisms of sleep, and how it is affected by stress. Sapolsky describes our sleep as a complex cyclic structure that is comprised of several stages, each serving a specific purpose. He explains that stress activates the sympathetic nervous system and causes the level of glucocorticoid, which is a stress hormone, to go up. Sleep deprivation is a stressor that causes an increased secretion of stress hormones. Also, stress itself is a disruptor of sleep. I have been caught in this vicious cycle several times. Some of my insomnia experiences have been strange, some rather scary. Sapolsky’s book helped me to understand sleep and stress better. I will share some of my insomnia experiences and go over the main points of Sapolsky’s explanations. I have a personal interest in the subject of stress-related sleep problems because I have had several episodes of stress-induced insomnia, two of them quite serious. Once, when I had a visa problem, now happily resolved, I could not get more then one or two hours of poor quolity sleep per night. Some nights I could not sleep at all. After a week of such severe sleep deprivation the whole world appeared a confusing dream. Some places seemed familiar but somehow different, and I could not remember how I got there. In fact, I could not remember much of anything; my short-term memory was disrupted. I was cold and disoriented all the time. For several days I existed in some bizarre frozen wonderland. I no longer was able to tell the difference...
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