Sleep is a natural, recurring condition of the body and mind, characterized by decreased awareness, lessened behavioral activity, decreased muscle activity and decreased interaction with the surrounding environment during non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) sleep. Sleep can be induced or facilitated by external stimuli such as light, brain activity, and muscle tone. It can also be a spontaneous response to the internal signals emanating from the brain that indicate threats or dangers. Regardless of the state of consciousness, it is essential for individuals to have adequate sleep for healthy functioning.
The amount of sleep required depends on a person’s age, physical health, mental status, and life stage. Furthermore, gender, level of alcohol or drug use, and the pattern of sleep are strongly linked to the amount of sleep needed. Individuals with sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia, experience poor sleep quality. Studies have linked these types of sleep problems to reduced cognitive and memory abilities, increased risk of motor vehicle accidents, and workplace injuries. These diseases and behaviors are linked to decreased levels of melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland. Other studies have shown that people who have a high level of stress also have low levels of melatonin.
Sleep apnea refers to a sleeping disorder characterized by abnormal breathing during sleep. This condition occurs when the soft palate or uvula is not closed during breath. This airway is then folded back repeatedly and causes the individual to snore. People with sleep apnea are not aware that they are doing this, thus they do not wake up in time to catch their breath. The result is that their heart rate and breathing are highly elevated during sleep, which increases carbon dioxide and increases the likelihood of a sleep disorder.
Snoring is the most common sleep disorder that has strong potential for causing serious daytime sleepiness and, in the worst case scenario, life-threatening circumstances. Snoring is caused by the vibration of soft tissues inside the throat that cause it to vibrate when breathing occurs. The best way to avoid snoring is to ensure that there is enough sleep for each of us. People who go to bed at random times or suffer from a sleep disorder are more likely to snore excessively.
Our circadian rhythms are a vital part of our sleep. They tell our brain and nervous system that it is time to sleep and rest. People who have sleep disorders are either unable to sleep or do not sleep well at all. They need more than seven hours of sleep each night in order to maintain normal sleep cycles. If we cannot sleep, we cannot properly manage our daily stress, complications in day-to-day living, and the likelihood of disease and injury increase significantly.
Our immune system does its best work when it gets enough sleep. Individuals who do not get enough sleep are more susceptible to illness and disease. They have shorter life spans, higher risks of heart disease, strokes, and cancer. Getting enough sleep helps to keep our immune system in peak performance for longer, better health and longer life. If you feel you cannot get enough sleep at night, you might benefit from a natural sleep aid like melatonin or Valerian root.