Understanding Sleep

Sleep is a normally recurring state of body and mind, characterized by decreased perception, relatively reduced sensory activity, decreased motor activity, decreased concentration and inhibition of most voluntary muscles during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, and decreased interactions with external environments during waking hours. Sleep is a crucial part of the human circadian rhythm, and the amount of sleep needed each day to maintain a normal life span has been known to vary between individuals. Although some of our memories may be recalled during the delta stage of sleep, most others are retrieved during the waking hours. Sleep can affect cognitive performance, memory and mood and, in severe cases, can result in a disease such as Parkinson’s disease. It is important to get regular sleep.


The circadian rhythms in our bodies are mainly caused by the pineal gland. The pineal gland produces melatonin, which is responsible for the sleep-wake patterns in our bodies. During the natural nightly phase, the pineal gland produces a hormone called melatonin. As the melatonin level in our blood stream falls below the levels required to support healthy sleep patterns, the pineal gland senses this lack of melatonin and triggers the sleep-wake cycle. This sleep-wake cycle is initiated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN, which is located in the middle brain and is activated by light.

Insufficient sleep can affect the body’s performance, mood and health. A number of studies have shown that poor sleep habits can have serious consequences on health, including more serious conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression. There are a number of treatments to help you fall asleep faster. If you’re getting enough sleep, you generally won’t suffer from insomnia, which is a common symptom of not getting enough sleep.

There are several ways to fall asleep faster. One way is by taking short naps during the day. For example, if you work in an office all day and don’t get out for a walk around the block in the evening, try to get up and walk around at least a few blocks from your desk. If you feel you need to take longer walks in the evening, set a timer or try to go for a run before bedtime. Doing any of these things can help you fall asleep faster.

Another way to fall asleep faster is by engaging your brain in mentally stimulating activities during the course of the day. If you spend the majority of your time sitting behind a computer screen, try reading a chapter of a book or practicing basic mental arithmetic, or playing a game on the computer. Exercising regularly also helps to promote deep sleep. In other words, engaging your brain in mentally stimulating activities during the course of the day will allow your brain to transition from dreaming or deep sleep into the realm of consciousness. Engaging your brain will increase the chances of transitioning to the next stage, which is unconsciousness.

You’ve probably heard that you need to spend at least ninety minutes in a light sleep cycle to be able to wake up rested. Unfortunately, this ninety minutes is not enough time for your brain to engage in any meaningful brain wave activity. This short amount of time is not enough time for your brain to either fall asleep or wake up refreshed. The ninety-minute sleep cycle is actually a number of stages: REM sleep, Naps, Stage I (light sleep), Stage II (light sleep again), Stage III (REM sleep), and Stage IV (REM sleep once again). Your average wakefulness is somewhere between Stage I and Stage IV.