Morning person? Night owl? Something in between? When are you at your best? I’ve found that no matter the hour of day, I am the best me I can be after a good nights’ sleep. Sleep a wonderful state of unconsciounsness after shopping at the mall with a four year, a five year old, a six year old, and a 7 year old. Let’s face it for some of us sleep is a luxury, better than a day at the spa, but the reasoning behind sleep and the various disorders, damages and wonders it can cause are a mystery to even the brightest scientific minds. What do we really know about the all-powerful world of sleep?
We know that we should sleep at least 8 of every 24 hours. We know that there are 24 hours in a day and we know that it takes the earth 24 hours to rotate. (Rathus,100) Coincidence? I think not. The earth turns to a circadian rhythm or cycle that is connected with the twenty four hour period of the earth’s rotation, but we don’t know why. For now this remains one of the great mysteries of the universe, literally. So, what happens when we sleep?
During most of our day, we are awake, conscious of the world around us. Once a body realizes it is tired, the natural reaction is to relax. As our bodies begin to get drowsy our consciousness or awareness begins to slip away into the unconscious state of sleep. We are then in whole new world. One where there are five progressive stages of unconsciousness. Four stages of NREM (non- rapid eye movement sleep) and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
In stage one of NREM, our bodies assisted by slowed brain waves that create a theta pattern, which have a frequency of about 6 to 8 cycles per second and are accompanied by slow, rolling eyes. Stage one is the lightest stage of sleep, and could also be considered dozing. In stage 2 of NREM sleep, brain waves slow just a bit at 4 to 7 cycles per second. Stages 3 and 4 are considered the deep sleep stages and produce brain waves called delta that cycle approximately 0.5 to 2 times per second. (Rathus, 101)
It is at this time when it gets interesting. One would think after stage 4, there would be a transfer into REM sleep, which is said to be the deepest sleep of all. This doesn’t happen. The cycle is then reversed and from stage four we go cycle back though stages 3, 2, and 1. Upon returning to stage 1, we then fall into REM sleep. Therefore it would be logical to conclude that while REM sleep is much deeper than stage 1 sleep, the brain waves are extremely similar. The difference here would be in the amplitude of the brain waves and the rapidity of eye movement. During REM sleep, our eyes tend to dart around rapidly as if searching for something lost that is urgently needed.
Earlier we determined that sleep is necessary to function at 100%. Unfortunately, there are problems related to sleep that can interfere with our ability to function at our best, they are called sleep disorders. Sleep disorders include insomnia, the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, narcolepsy also, known as sleep attacks, apnea, sleep terrors, bed-wetting and sleepwalking. Insomnia is a common sleep disorder affecting approximately 2/3’s of adults each year. Apnea is a sleep disorder in which an affected patient stops breathing often several hundred times a night. Sleep terrors are similar to nightmares but are extremely terrifying and interrupt sleep. Both bed-wetting and sleep-walking are both thought to end with maturity although, have been known to happen well into adulthood.
Narcolepsy, while being a sleep disorder does not happen while you are asleep, instead it makes you fall asleep suddenly with no warning while you appear to be wide awake. It is a dangerous disorder and can cause various accidents including loss of life or limb. It is said that Abnormalities in the hypocretin system may be responsible for the daytime sleepiness and abnormal REM sleep found in narcolepsy. (Cunha) It can often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years delaying treatment and preventing a cure. Once it has been correctly diagnosed, Amphetamines can be used in treatment. It is also suggested that regular exercise and exposure to bright light be used for alertness in combination with alertness medicines prescribed by a physician.
Sleeping disorders come in all shapes and sizes, and affect the smallest of children to the oldest of adults. For example, currently the sleep disorder in my family, and that of many families with young children is bedwetting. My son, who is four, just can’t seem to get up and get to the bathroom in time. The remedy in our house at the present time is to attempt to wake him up around 2 or 3 in the morning, unfortunately we don’t always get to him before, well the you know, happens. Previously I’ve had issues with sleep apnea due to a medication given to me in the hospital. I was constantly monitored by nurses, who would constantly wake me to give me breathing treatments. Fortunately, insomnia is not a non-issue until about 7 am on Saturday and my darling devils decide it’s time to play, but I suppose that form of insomnia is not a disorder.
Rathus. S. A. (2011). Psych 110: Franklin University. Mason, Ohio: Cengage Learning Cunha, J. P. (2010). Narcolepsy. Retrieved from http://www.medicinenet.com/narcolepsy/article.htm