Sleep is a well-known natural state of body and mind, often characterized by decreased consciousness, lowered mental activity, decreased muscle activity and decreased interaction with the environment during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, and reduced eye movements during non-REM sleep. Sleep is important for the proper functioning of the body and brain. When we sleep our brains experience a state of profound inactivity, allowing for easier recall of previous events and improved memory formation. Sleep also allows the body to rejuvenate through the processes of growth and repair. As we age, the amount of sleep we experience tends to decrease as a natural part of the aging process.
Many factors affect how much sleep we actually need. Age, gender, physical health and activity level are among the most common factors which can affect how much sleep you need. Certain activities like smoking, alcohol use, and taking prescription drugs can also have an effect on how much sleep you need and can adversely affect your ability to stay awake and alert throughout the night.
The two stages of sleep are generally described as light or deep sleep. In children, Stage 1 sleep lasts for about four to seven minutes, while Stage 2 sleep takes longer – ten to fifteen minutes. At the end of each stage, the brain signals the body to wake up and begin the normal day. Sleep cycles typically progress from one to the next, but the brain activity between each stage can vary, depending on the individual characteristics of the individual.
Sleep can be broken down into different stages, each of which is made up of different brainwave patterns. Alpha is the brainwave pattern that occurs during REM sleep and is the state in which the body becomes inactive and the mind and muscles begin to relax. Delta is the dominant brainwave pattern during light sleep and is the time in which most of the body’s activities occur. Beta is the brainwave activity that occurs during slow wave sleep or the period in which the body becomes awake. The brain waves are also related to the amount of wakefulness or drowsiness felt during a person’s waking moments. Lastly, Theta is the brainwave activity that occurs during the night and is related to dreams.
The inability to get enough sleep cycles or quality sleep has been linked to the tendency of people to become easily tired. Additionally, an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep for the full period of time causes the body to experience poor memory and mood swings. People who suffer from insomnia are likely to experience these problems in the course of their life and tend to grow older at an accelerated rate. The lack of adequate rest also affects the reaction times of individuals, resulting in more mistakes during the day. Therefore, falling asleep or staying asleep during daytime can have a very detrimental effect on overall health and performance.
Although sleep disorders can have severe effects on the physical and psychological well-being of an individual, there are many ways to fall asleep and stay asleep without resorting to medications. A number of techniques such as progressive relaxation, deep breathing, meditation, yoga, visualization, or progressive muscle relaxation have been known to aid in inducing sleep. This means that there is no physical need to take medication or sleep aids to induce sleep. These natural methods can also provide an excellent and restful night’s sleep for the sufferer.