Sleep is a natural, recurring state of body and mind, characterized by decreased sleep, decreased sensory activity, decreased muscle activity and sleepiness during wakefulness, and relatively lower interaction with the environment during REM sleep. We know that sleep can be disrupted by many different factors, including certain drugs, medications, chemicals in the body, or even the quality of sleep you get. It is a normal part of the aging process, but sleep problems are serious. These problems can lead to serious disabilities and even death if not properly treated.
The average person needs about seven hours of deep sleep every night to maintain proper brain function. However, most people are either never really sleep enough to reach the required levels of deep sleep or their sleep cycles are too short. In addition, the average person does not even reach the required levels of deep sleep in the first place, leaving them no option but to depend on artificial means such as drugs and alcohol to try to make themselves sleep. This is especially problematic for those whose jobs involve constant mental stimulation and activity during the day.
What happens then? The brain is usually recuperating from the last night’s activity when it reaches the level of tiredness it requires to think clearly and remember things for the next day. When the brain does not require much sleep at all, the body is prepared to go back to sleep. But what happens instead is that the body continues to work non stop, keeping the brain from rest in order to provide its own supply of energy and proteins. When this continues for more than six hours, the body starts to break down.
The first stages of sleep represent the first few hours after waking up, and the last stages represent the rest of the day. During the first two stages, which are known as the waking period, the brain activity is highly active, alert, and responsive to stimuli. The more active it is, the deeper its sleep will be. People who get less sleep during the first two stages are said to have “growth sleep”, since their brain activity remains highly active during the day, but gets very sleepy in the evening.
Growth sleep is characterized by slow-wave sleep (which is the deepest stage of sleep), deeper sleep, deeper REM sleep (which occurs during the final stage of sleep), and a very light sleep phase. People who get less than seven hours of growth sleep are considered to be in a “precocial” stage, since they are in the REM or dream stage of sleep. During the second stage of sleep, or the non REM stage, the body is more relaxed, the mind calmer, and the eyes open less frequently. People who get less than seven hours of non REM sleep are classified as “non-conspiring” sleepers, since they do not require the amount of sleep needed for physical health.
Dreaming occurs during the third stage of sleep. Dreamers may have the same amount of sleep as non-dreamers, but they also experience much more dreaming. Some people claim to dream while they are sleeping, or they may only remember one-third of a dream. Dreamers can remember most of the dreams that they have had while they were sleeping, but they have nightmares and “night terrors” in addition to these memories. Sleep cycles take about twenty-four hours, so a person needs about six hours of sleep per night to be asleep.