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Combat Stress with a Good Night's Sleep

Combat Stress with a Good Night's Sleep

Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter | Excelle

August 05, 2010

Americans are a bit overscheduled. Our work days are getting longer. Our family responsibilities are increasing. And 24/7 technology keep us up watching TV, answering calls, checking emails, and responding to text messages well into the night. With all that’s going on in our lives, there’s not much time for anything else – and that includes sleep.

According to the latest poll from the National Sleep Foundation, only about 40 percent of American report that they get a good night’s sleep most nights. Unfortunately, this can result in a lot more than a few yawns during the day. Chronic sleep loss can significantly affect our health, mental functioning, and safety.

Sleep is a basic human need. When we don’t get enough of it, just about every aspect of our functioning is affected. Our productivity suffers. Our reactions times are slower. Our judgment worsens. And our concentration and attention are impaired. Excessive sleep loss also has been linked to mood disorders, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, substance abuse, obesity, reckless behavior, and increased accidents at home, work, and on the road. In fact, in the most severe cases of sleep deprivation, hallucinations and paranoid delusions can develop.

Why is sleep so important? Because it’s the only block of time where our bodies have a chance to recharge. Although it may seem like the body and brain turn off when we sleep, nothing could be further from the truth. The brain is hard at work during the night, refreshing and replenishing what gets used up by our bodies during the day.

This replenishment happens through what sleep experts call our “sleep architecture.” Sleep architecture is the relatively predictable, alternating pattern of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep that occurs in 90-minute cycles while we sleep.

REM sleep is the most active stage of the sleep cycle, both mentally and physically. It’s when we dream. It’s also the period of sleep when our breathing and heart rate increase and become irregular, our muscles relax, and our eyes move back and forth under our eyelids. In fact, during REM sleep, our heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing are very similar to what they are like when we’re awake. It is the REM stage of sleep, which makes up about 25 percent of sleep time, that provides energy to our brains and bodies and helps us perform throughout the day.

Non-REM sleep accounts for the other 75 percent of sleep time. Non-REM sleep has four distinct stages. Stage 1 is that period of drowsiness you feel just as you’re starting to doze off. Stage 2 is the onset of actual sleep. In Stage 2, our breathing and heart rate remain regular and our body temperature drops. In Stages 3 and 4, our blood pressure lowers, our muscles relax, and our breathing slows down. Stages 3 and 4 are the deepest stages of sleep and provide our bodies with the best chance to restore what we used up during the daytime.

Next Page: How to Fall Asleep Faster →


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