Sleep A, B, and Zzzz’s
In earlier times, there were many misconceptions surrounding the importance of sleep. It’s hard to believe, but medical science ignored the impact sleep played in the life cycle of people. Sleep was only associated with rest, and losing an hour or two of normal sleep was considered insignificant. However, studies and research over the last decade have proven deep sleep is vital to the overall health of an individual.
Though everyone’s individual sleep needs vary, most healthy adults need an average of eight hours of sleep each night. However, the quality of sleep is usually more important than the quantity of sleep. Sleeping without interruptions from your environmental or internal factors, is more advantageous to help maintain your body’s natural sleep pattern and result in a more restful and restorative sleep.
Let’s first start by discussing the stages of sleep.
Stage 1: non-REM sleep. This period of sleep occurs in the first moments after you have laid down and closed your eyes. The eyes move slowly and muscle movement ceases. In this stage, the sleeper can be easily awakened by noise or other disturbances as s/he drifts in and out of sleep.
Stage 2: non-REM sleep. In this stage of sleep, the individual is actually asleep and they are not aware of their surroundings. Body temperature drops, breathing and heart rate are regular, and eye movements decrease significantly (or are non-existent.) Brain waves slow down and become larger, although there may be a few bursts of sudden activity. One spends about half their sleep in this stage.
Stage 3: non-REM sleep. This is deep sleep, characterized by even slower brain waves and less sporadic bursts of brain wave activity. One’s breathing rate slows and muscles begin to relax. During this stage, sleepers are hard to awaken. Unfortunately, it is also during this stage that children sometimes wet the bed.
Stage 4: non-REM sleep. This is the deepest stage of sleep and is characterized by very large and slow brain waves and contains no sporadic bursts of brain wave activity. As with Stage 3 non-REM sleep, sleepers are hard to awaken. Scientists believe that tissue repair takes place during this stage of sleep. Also, hormones may be released to assist with growth development.
Stage 5: REM sleep. The REM stage is the sleep phase during which we dream. It is characterized by rapid eye movements, hence the title REM. Breathing is often rapid, irregular, and shallow and one’s heart rate and blood pressure increase. Muscles of the extremities experience a type of paralysis that keeps individuals from acting out their dreams.
Dreaming is not well understood, but the process does stimulate parts of the brain used for learning and memory. REM sleep is associated with a process known as memory consolidation. When the body is resting, the brain is full of activity. It processes the day’s activities, creates connections between various events that occurred during the day, processes sensory inputs, emotional feelings, and creates memories, both good and bad. This last cycle of the stages of sleep occurs about an hour to 90 minutes into the sleep session.
The “R’s” of Sleep
Rest. Waking up rested after a good night’s sleep is essential to productivity and increased alertness. Enhancement of memory and concentration in people who reduce their sleep debt also results in better decision making. A good night sleep leaves one feeling refreshed, alert and ready to tackle the day’s tasks. One has an extra pep in their step, more consistent moods (less likely to become irritated or snap), and are often more engaged in the conversations around them.
Reduce. When an individual is sleep deprived, the body enters into a state of stress. The body releases stress hormones and places the individual in a state of potential disease. Proper sleep helps reduce the release of stress hormones, reduce inflammation, and increase immune responses, thereby reducing the chance of illness and disease.
Repair, rebuild, and regenerate. The cell is the structural and functional unit of life. Human cells undergo a continuous process of cellular turnover, whereby old cells die and new cells are formed. During sleep, the body produces additional protein molecules. These enhance the speed of formation of new cells and increase the pace of cellular repair. Also, during sleep melatonin is released. As you age, melatonin levels decrease. Studies show that individuals that are sleep deprived, don’t release as much melatonin and show signs of premature age. Alas, I suspect it is a result of this information that one coined the phrase “I need my beauty sleep!”
Routine. Establishing a regular sleep schedule, and sticking to it, is essential when you’re trying to achieve better sleep. If your bedtime fluctuates significantly (e.g. 10:00 pm one night; 11:30 pm the next; 1:30 am on weekends), your health can suffer. Setting up a consistent sleep schedule helps your body and brain regulate its internal clock, or circadian rhythm. This type of conditioning is a vital part of achieving better quality sleep that will benefit your physical and emotional well-being.
Chiropractic and sleep
It is very common for patients to advise their Chiropractors they sleep much better after being adjusted for reasons other than sleep deprivation. As mentioned, sleep is one of the most important functions for the brain to operate properly. Healthy sleep is required for one’s nervous system to regulate responses to external stimuli. Conditions that may contribute the greatest amount of continual stimulation to the brain include physical pain, caffeine, certain diseasese, hormonal changes, unsuitable sleep environment, poor diet, and lack of exercise. A Chiropractor is an expert in the nervous system, and aids in eliminating the nervous interferences that may contribute to sleep disruptions. A physical examination and an in-depth sleep history may reveal how and why your sleep is being disturbed. This can be the first step on your plan to a healthier and improved you.
Here’s to a great night’s sleep,
Dr. Crysta Serné
Vancouver Chiropractor and owner of Vitality Clinic