People dream about sleep; however, there are many people who have never slept a wink since childhood or even infancy. Unfortunately, most people do not realize that sleep is necessary for proper psychological health and physical well-being. People go on trying to sleep in an endless cycle – they try to sleep, they don’t sleep, they sleep again, and so on. While sleeping, our body recovers from the various stresses which cause us to be awake and alert.
Sleep is associated with reduced perception of external stimuli and a state of extreme muscle relaxation. Sleep is an automatically recurring state of body and mind, characterized by decreased perception of external stimuli, decreased muscle activity, decreased sensory activities, reduced brain activity and hypnogogic effects, particularly during REM sleep. It is suggested that the extended sleep duration and poor quality of sleep are the results of the stimuli which are not able to be evoked during wakefulness. These stimuli include: worries, fear, stressful emotional states, alcohol and drug use, insufficient sleep duration, insomnia, circadian rhythm disturbances and the common disturbance resulting from the normalization of sleeping and waking patterns caused by stressful life experiences. Abnormal sleep duration and poor quality of sleep are the results of the reduction of the natural sleep duration and increased time awake after sleeping.
The lack of sleep or abnormal sleep patterns are the results of the lack of required brain activities to facilitate arousal and wakefulness. The brainstem is composed of two regions – the pineal and the brainstem. The pineal gland is responsible for the secretion of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone. The brainstem controls the major reflex activities involved in the waking state and the arousing of the body.
Most of the studies on humans have been based on animals such as rats, mice and guinea pigs. In most experiments on these animals, the main focus is on determining whether there are any differences between how animals sleep and how humans sleep. While most of these experiments showed that sleep is different between animals and humans, they do show that humans do utilize some of the same sleep procedures and patterns. For example, most experiments on awake and asleep mice showed that when they were made to perform a type of task, the mice spent much more time actually performing the task than when they were sleep. They also showed enhanced reaction times and that their performance was better when they were asleep than when they were awake.
The lack of deep sleep and the decreased number of arousals during the night is often associated with various types of sleep disorders. Sleep duration was found to be shorter and less stable in people with sleep apnea, which is a type of sleep disorder where breathing stops while asleep. Short sleep durations and increased risk of awakening is also associated with various types of enuresis.
It is important to consider the sleep habits and behaviors of patients before making any health or lifestyle changes. People should try to sleep as deeply and as long as possible and should avoid sleeping pills and other medications that change sleep patterns. It is also important to consider the environmental factors that may contribute to sleep disorders. For example, people should try to sleep as far away from fluorescent lighting and loud noises as possible. Losing exposure to artificial light and avoiding caffeine, which triggers insomnia, may also decrease people’s need to take prescription sleep aids.