We live in a “sleep sick nation”, according to Dr. William C. Dement, MD. Dr. Dement is a sleep researcher who also calls this phenomenon a “hidden epidemic”. This hidden epidemic is a contributing factor to the rise in chronic disease and general bad health in the west, especially America. Over the last few decades, the relevance of sleep for a strong immune system has become more evident. It`s no wonder that a “sleep sick nation” manifests such a high medical bill. Fortunately, if understood better, sleep is something that can be dealt with directly and inexpensively for better health.
Quality Sleep Is Missing
According to the 2005 National Sleep Foundation`s Sleep in America Poll, the nightly hours are not so far off on average. Just under 7 hours weeknights and a half hour under 8 weekend nights looks pretty good on paper, compared to the recommended 8 hours nightly. Of course, it`s hard to tell how accurate the individual answers were.
But the same poll determined that 75% of Americans had trouble getting to sleep, problems staying asleep, and experienced daytime grogginess. Most of us are under the impression that close to 8 hours in bed is sufficient. Put in the hours and you`ll be fine is the general consensus. So what is missing from this picture?
Contrary to the 8 hours needed for sleep concept, there are those who claim you can do well on less than 8 hours nightly sleep, if the quality of sleep is good. And there are many who put in the hours but are still sleep deprived because of low quality or interrupted sleep cycles. There are two different natural cycles involving sleep. The outer cycles are apparent to most, but the inner stages are not as obvious. Both of them have an effect on our quality of sleep.
Circadian or Outer Cycles
Most are familiar with the circadian cycle of waking and sleeping. These are mostly externally influenced. Jet lag, night shift work, and arbitrary time changes are among the most obvious. But the slight changes of our body temperature, around 3 degrees F or 2 degrees C, have an immediate influence on our circadian cycles.
These changes do occur throughout the day, especially if we are physically active. In the early morning it is at its lowest. That`s when someone running a fever thinks he or she is well! Then there is a mild dip in the afternoon, that`s usually when many of us feel sluggish and should take a nap, but instead we have to go for that cup of java! At night the body temperature is at its highest, which is a signal for the body to go to sleep.
People who are sedentary and don`t compensate with some sort of regular exercise have the greatest risk of upsetting the body temperature`s circadian cycle. They may not experience the temperature change needed to doze off easily. This is why people who exercise tend to sleep better. All the circadian disruptions need to be dealt with accordingly, because they affect the inner stages of sleep itself.
There are 5 different inner stages of sleep that should recycle through every one to two hours. They do not, as commonly understood, move through 5 stages only once through the night. Two of those stages are vital for the physiological immune system directly, and one is a key to emotional health, which indirectly handles the stress that affects the immune system.
The Inner Sleep Stages Detailed
Brain waves have been a useful index for the scientific study of human activity and emotion since around 1950. While awake, the human brain experiences Beta waves, which are high in frequency but low in amplitude. They are also very irregular and vary according to the type of activities involved.
Stage 1 is the doorway to sleep. That`s when the Beta waves start giving in to Theta waves of slower speed and greater magnitude. There may be a brief period of Alpha waves that are characteristic of relaxation. But ultimately, the Theta waves kick in. This is the shortest stage, and is not repeated again unless one is awakened enough to start all over.
Stage 2 is longer than the short first stage. The Theta waves continue with the addition of Sleep Spindles, which have a higher frequency, and K-Complex waves that are greater in amplitude. These two variations pop in every minute or so, and they are all that distinguishes stage 2 from
stage 1. Both these stages are part of light sleep, when someone is easily awakened.
Stage 3 begins the deep sleep period when the immune system gets refreshed the most. The brain patterns switch to mostly Delta waves, which are by far the slowest and have the largest amplitude. Delta waves are experienced when one is totally unconscious. Stage 3 and 4 are both deep sleep Delta waves. The only difference is the percentage of Delta waves in each stage.
Stage 4 has over 50% Delta waves. In stage 3 it is under 50%. Delta brain waves release anti-aging hormones, heal the mind and repair muscles, while accessing the deepest possible states of relaxation. This is when the heart and breathing slow down and the blood vessels dilate to provide more nourishment to your cells.
Delta waves raise the amount of melatonin from the pituitary gland, which influences your endocrine system positively and even adds an intuitive dimension to one`s psyche. Delta waves also help reduce cortisol levels. Cortisol causes brain cell damage and speeds aging. It is a hormone that is released under stress and tends to overwork (fight or flight) the adrenal glands. And exhausted adrenals lead to serious health issues.
A study at the Mt. Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach, Florida consisted of observing the brain wave sleep patterns of 10 men who had tested positive for HIV but had no early signs of AIDS. The observation was that somehow these 10 men all spent 50% more time in Stage 3 and 4 sleep than most average healthy people. The indication is that the immune system can be strengthened enough in these two deep sleep stages, if long enough, to ward of AIDS in HIV positive people. The trick is figuring out how to manifest this level of sleep for Delta waves more!
Stage 5 is the notorious REM (rapid eye movement) stage. This stage exhibits a kaleidoscopic mix of unsynchronized alpha and beta waves, almost similar to the awakened state. This stage is where most of us do the heaviest dreaming. Many psychiatrists and psychologists posit that this is when the bits of energetic negative charge attached to waking life are resolved or disassembled. In other words, REM serves as a safety valve for releasing negative emotions.
One researcher at Florida State University is even doing a study on REM sleep disorders with suicidal and chronically depressed patients. Wonder how she`ll manage with all those meds they`re on! The attempt is to determine how sleep disorders engender suicidal tendencies, and which chemicals are out of balance that can be restored to resolve those tendencies.
Sleep Deprivation Remedies
The above stages cycle through every one to two hours in such a manner that the early cycle phases have the most stage 3 and 4 times (Delta deep sleep). Then as the sleep goes on, the REM cycles become longer. Stage 1 is not repeated unless one is awakened for a long enough time to require a new effort at getting to sleep. So any disruption of these stages recycling or even not occurring, especially the Delta stages and REM, has an adverse effect that is noticed immediately mentally and emotionally, and repeated enough even physiologically.
Trying to sleep with too much light inhibits the pineal gland`s melatonin production. A busy mind or too much caffeine that keeps you from falling asleep, restlessness that causes you to wake up, trips to the bathroom, anxiety or tension that doesn`t get resolved in REM, feeling tired after a “good night`s sleep” (hours quantity), staying up late with too much stimulation and getting up early, any form of sleep apnea, heavy snoring, and any manifestation of insomnia are all sleep disorders that are more than merely inconvenient. They are mental and physical health hazards.
The tendency to reach for prescription or over the counter drugs and even booze as remedies should be avoided, since these actually interfere with the 5 stages of sleep and how they recycle. There is a supplemental melatonin, which is actually sleep inducing. It is sold in health food stores and on line and in drug stores. It is considered safe for most who have sleep disorders.
However, if there is a chronic, serious health condition, one should consult a health practitioner first. It comes in capsule or tablet form, some are sub lingual. Sub lingual is the fastest acting, and can be plopped under your tongue as you hit the sack. Orally consumed capsules or tablets with water need to be taken around a half hour before going to bed. Melatonin should only be taken just before retiring.
The dosages are small, anywhere from 0.5 mg to 5 mg. Up to 20 mg daily dosage for several months has been used successfully for treating prostate and breast cancer. Most medical practitioners recommend synthetic melatonin because the natural supplements are derived from cow brains. Mad cow anyone? The sub lingual variety, since they are absorbed directly into the blood stream via the small lower mouth and under the tongue capillaries, usually require less dosage. If you wake up a little groggy, cut back a little on the dosage.
Proponents of melatonin praise its antioxidant properties as well as its ability to restore proper sleep cycles. In a California study, lab rats injected with melatonin lived 20% longer than those not injected. It is not addictive, so stopping its use when you don`t need it is easy. Most users have experienced immediate positive results. But it doesn`t work for everyone. Some people complain about vivid dreams, and others feel more wide awake after taking it!
An excellent time tested herb to help with sleep disorders is Valerian Root. It is often offered in extract or tincture form. It is actually sleep inducing, and there are no side effects. It is safe, but not as effective for everyone. Any extremely assailable form of magnesium, such as a powder that fizzes in water, taken before retiring has a soothing and relaxing effect that is almost sleep inducing. And you would be taking in a normally lacking mineral, which is essential to over 300 internal metabolic functions.
There are other herbs that are not sleep inducing, such as chamomile, that can be made into a tea. This type of herb works to relax tension and sooth some anxiety. But St.John`s Wort has the best reputation for resolving anxiety issues.
Then there are methods with yoga, tai-chi, and chi-gong to restore the proper flow of energy in and around the body known as Chi or Prana. These require some effort but have long term benefits for becoming relaxed and centered all the time. Everyone who practices Hatha Yoga, even those who don`t, need to pay careful attention to the corpse pose for ultimate relaxation.
Some mediators are able to go beyond the Alpha state into the Delta brain wave state while conscious. This is not so common, but may be worth the effort to pursue since there are benefits from meditating anyway. There are various “brain entrainment” devices on line that claim to induce Delta wave states. Just plug one in and put the headset on!
Know yourself and your situation well enough to determine which remedy or remedies to pursue. Sleep is a daily habit that will be around for some time. Might as well get the most out of it!
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Melatonin Overview WebMD
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