To Your Health
December, 2009 (Vol. 03, Issue 12)
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You Need Your SLEEP

Here's How to Get It

By Dr. David Ryan

In theory, the average person spends one-third of their life sleeping. In reality, millions of people suffer from inadequate and/or poor sleep, which can have a variety of short- and long-term consequences on their health and well-being. Lack of sleep contributes to depression, cardiovascular disease, digestive problems, gastric reflux, muscle aches, headaches, allergies, irritability, lack of mental ability, loss of lean muscle mass and loss of appetite, among other unpleasant health conditions. (And by the way, going without sleep longer than 19 days straight can literally kill you!)

We often screw up our chances of getting a good night's sleep at the beginning of the day. We eat things that don't agree with us, or things we shouldn't be eating that make us feel guilty. And many of us create poor sleep conditions, such as leaving a TV, radio or light(s) on (the entire night), and lots of other distractions that prevent the body from going into its normal sleep cycle.

All of these things can keep people from getting to sleep or staying asleep. Not getting a good night's sleep will restrict your body from producing human growth hormone (HGH) and other natural hormones, like thyroxin, which is important for energy, weight loss and pain tolerance. In short, the consequences of inadequate or poor sleep are profound.

Sleeping Basics 101: Sleep Cycles

Baby sleeping - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Your body completes a sleep cycle approximately every 90 minutes. That means technically, you should try to sleep through at least three cycles (4.5 hours minimum) but preferably 6, 7.5 or 9 hours at a time (easier said than done, right?). When you just start to fall asleep, your mind is conscious, but as you begin to fall asleep it progressively falls into a subconscious state. This is necessary because the brain is going to be very active doing other things. It is similar to when your computer is busy processing and does not allow other functions to take place; essentially, it locks you out.

As we go through the sleep cycle, our body goes into a deeper and deeper subconscious state. The deepest is called the delta wave sleep. During this deep sleep, it is very difficult for you to be awakened. A loud noise or a rogue alarm clock may wake us up to a conscious state, but that's not a good thing. If you stay awake, it is likely that your body will drag around like you are wearing an anchor the rest of the day. Sometimes you'll have to "reboot" with a power nap (30-45 minutes) or you may need a completely normal full night's sleep the next night.

The stages or phases of sleep are designed to allow our various organs time to produce hormones and then distribute them throughout the body, register how much is actually produced and then prepare for production in the next phase. The need for hormone production tapers off as the sleep cycles progress. With normal sleep, the process is usually finished after six hours of sleep. However, your body may need more sleep depending on your mental and physical state.

The phases of sleep are very logical. On the pathway to deep sleep, your body is busy reading the billions of receptors and signs that tell how many hormones need to be produced. On the way out of deep sleep, the hormones are simply pushed out of the organs and into your bloodstream, and eventually contact the brain and cause the REM (rapid eye movement) phase, and then whole process will continue to repeat. It shouldn't take you longer than 15-30 minutes to enter into a particular sleep cycle.

The REM phase is the typical dream phase. It occurs after the other non-REM phases have been completed. When all those hormones your organs have been producing hit your brain, it causes lots of activity and your mind reacts with what you might recall later as a dream. This happens approximately 90 minutes after the onset of sleep and repeats, as do the other phases, throughout the night.