Understanding Your Sleep Cycles


Understanding Your Sleep Cycles

Sleep is a natural recurring state of body and mind, often characterized by decreased awareness, lessened physical activity, lessened brain activity, decreased sensory ability during sleep, decreased motor activity during REM sleep, decreased interaction with the external environment, and impaired linguistic ability. Sleep disorders can impair cognitive functioning, decrease memory, cause headaches, cause daytime sleepiness, increase tension, create sleep disturbances, increase irritability, cause increased heart rate, cause sleepwalking, and create problems in the relationship between sex, emotions, moods, and sexual drive. As sleep deprivation occurs, it is possible that sleep disorders may be caused by environmental issues such as poor lighting, sleep disturbances caused by alarm clocks, skipping meals, excessive caffeine, stress, inadequate sleep hygiene (e.g. having inadequate bedding), alcohol, medications, or other sleep related disorders such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, snoring, or sleep talking.

During normal sleep cycles, light sleep is required for the restoration of consciousness and the control of physiological processes such as breathing, heart rate, metabolism, and immunity functions. On the other hand, REM sleep is characterized by rapid eye movements (REM sleep) and sleepiness during the daytime. REM sleep accounts for about 60% of the total sleep periods. REM sleep tends to fade naturally after about one week, and the ability to REM sleep increases slightly each week up to the week following.

Healthy sleep cycles occur about three to four times a week. Each sleep cycle lasts approximately ten to fourteen hours. The first sleep cycle occurs when the body goes through the waking day’s sleep cycle. The body enters REM sleep, where it processes and stores information about the previous night’s activities. The body enters REM sleep once the brain signals that the breathing muscles have settled down.

Some people experience minor disruptions in their sleep patterns. For instance, some people have trouble falling asleep after eating or drinking caffeine or alcohol during the night. Some people may also experience mild dreams during the night or feel as if they are awake during the night but not really feeling sleepy. These types of disturbances are normal occurrences during a healthy sleep cycle.

Other symptoms may indicate that you are suffering from sleep disorders. Sleep disorders can affect all sleep cycles; however, certain sleep cycles may be affected more severely than others. Chronic insomnia, difficulty staying awake for the full eight hours, alternating sleep cycles, sleeping too much or too little, waking up too early or too late, sleep deprivation, nightmares, sleep paralysis, jet lag, restless sleep apnea are only some of the disorders that may be associated with sleep disorders. In addition, different disorders affect different individuals; therefore, it is essential to seek professional medical advice to rule out any serious health problems.

Some of the disorders that disrupt sleep are: a common primary problem called insomnia, the secondary problem of narcolepsy and the third most common problem, obstructive sleep apnea. There are several treatment options available for these three common disorders; however, in order to treat the primary condition of insomnia, you will need to eliminate the primary cause, which is lack of sleep. However, for obstructive sleep apnea, treatment is more difficult because this disorder is not caused by a lack of sleep. Your treatment options should include changing your lifestyle or sleep habits and taking prescription sleep aids.