While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Children and teens need even more. And, despite the notion that sleep needs decrease with age, older people still need at least 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep. Since older adults often have trouble sleeping this long at night, daytime naps can help fill in the gap.
There are five phases of sleep: stages 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM (rapid eye movement). Usually when you are sleeping, you begin at stage 1 and go through each stage until reaching REM sleep, and then you begin the cycle again. Each complete sleep cycle takes from 90 to 110 minutes. Your brain acts differently in each stage of sleep. In some of the stages, your body may make movements, but in others your arms and legs will be immobile.
Stage 1 sleep is light sleep. You experience a drifting in and out of sleep. You can be easily woken up. Your eye movement and body movements slow down. You may experience sudden jerky movement of your legs or other muscles. These are known as hypnic myoclonia or myoclonic jerks. These sleep starts can give a sensation of falling. They are caused by the motor areas of the brain being spontaneously stimulated.
Around 50 percent of your time sleeping is spent in stage 2 sleep. During this stage, eye movement stops and your brain waves (a measure of the activity level of the brain) become slower. There will also be brief bursts of rapid brain activity called sleep spindles.
Stage 3 is the first stage of deep sleep. The brain waves are a combination of slow waves, known as delta waves, combined with faster waves. During stage 3 sleep it can be very difficult to wake someone up. If you are woken up during this stage, you may feel groggy and disoriented for several minutes.
Stage 4 sleep is the second stage of deep sleep. In this stage the brain is making the slow delta waves almost exclusively. In this stage it is also very difficult to wake someone up. Both stages of deep sleep are important for feeling refreshed in the morning. If these stages are too short, sleep will not feel satisfying.
REM sleep is also the phase of sleep in which you dream. This sleep phase begins about 70 to 90 minutes after you fall asleep. The first sleep cycle has a shorter phase of REM sleep. Toward morning, the time spent in REM sleep increases and the deep sleep stages decrease.
Researchers do not fully understand REM sleep and dreaming. They know it is important in the creation of long-term memories. If a persons REM sleep is disrupted, the next sleep cycle does not follow the normal order, but often goes directly to REM sleep until the previous nights lost REM time is made up. 1
Types and Causes of Insomnia
Sleep restores and refreshes your body and mind. Even minimal sleep loss takes a toll on your mood, energy, efficiency, and ability to handle stress. If you want to feel your best, stay healthy, and perform up to your potential, sleep is a necessity, not a luxury.
There are three general classifications of insomnia:
- Transient: lasting less than one week.
- Chronic: lasting longer than three weeks.
Other causes of transient or short-term insomnia include:
- Jet lag
- Environmental factors: noise, room temperature, light
- Medications or withdrawal from medications
Causes of chronic insomnia include anxiety, depression, chronic stress or mental disorders such as schizophrenia and/or manias such as bipolar disorder. Physiological causes of chronic insomnia include alcoholism, chronic pain/fatigue syndromes, cardiac disorders, acid reflux (GERD) and breathing disorders such as COPD, asthma and sleep apnea.
When talking about transient or short-term insomnia, there are at least ten easily implemented lifestyle changes you can make to help you get a better night’s sleep.
1. Get some fresh air during the day. Something as simple as a 20-minute walk in the outdoors can give your mind the distraction it needs and your body the fresh air it craves. Any light exercise you can get during the day will help you sleep at night.
2. Go for an evening walk once you’ve let your supper settle. This takes your mind off the day’s concerns and allows it to begin to settle before you head off to bed.
3. Make sure your room is dark room, cool and free from noise.
4. Cotton sheets and pajamas make all the difference. They feel soft against your skin and allow it to breathe as you sleep.
5. No electronics (that includes laptops) in the bedroom! The electronic frequencies they emit can interfere with your sleep cycles. If you can’t stand the ticking of a clock, place your electric clock as far away from you as possible. If the display on the clock is bright, turn the clock away from you so that the light doesn’t disturb the darkness. The psychological benefit of not being able to see the clock is if you wake during the night and can’t see the clock, you won’t fuss about how little sleep you’ve had and how little time you’ve got to get more!
6. Stop activities one hour before bed. Turn off the TV, make sure the dishes have been done, don’t start the laundry just before bed and resist the temptation to check your email just once more. This gives your body and mind time to relax and signals to your body that it’s time to get some rest. Establishing a pattern or bedtime routine is about developing good habits that your body recognizes.
7. Stop all liquids or heavy eating at least three hours before bedtime.
8. Engage in a little light reading to distract your thoughts.
9. Add some soothing background music as you read.
10. Learn how to use visualization CD’s that take your mind away from the day’s concerns.
11. Stay away from caffeine and alcohol before bed. The old adage about having a glass of warm milk is scientifically sound. Milk contains relaxing minerals that help calm your body’s muscles. Try having a warm bath before your glass of milk; it will soothe your muscles even more.
What is a Sleep Journal?
A sleep journal, or diary, is a record of when you went to bed, when you woke up and related activities and stressors that happen between those two times. Sometimes a journal will even include what you’ve had to eat. It’s usually kept over a period of three to four weeks to get an accurate picture of what’s happening in your life. This journal is meant to be used as a guideline for your primary health practitioner so they can best decide how to help you with your insomnia.
Even if you’re not seeing your health care provider about insomnia, a sleep journal can give you great insights as to why you’re not sleeping properly.
Natural Health Solutions
Maintaining a balanced diet and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, processed foods, sugars and the “bad” fats helps your body perform to peak capacity. Foods like whole grains contain large amounts of B vitamins which help maintain the health of your gastrointestinal tract, nerves and muscles and are involved with energy production.
Eating a wide variety of foods gives your body all the vitamins and minerals it needs. But none of us eats properly every day so supplementing with a great quality multi-vitamin is your best “plan B”.
A deficiency in magnesium can result in insomnia. Foods rich in magnesium include apples, bananas, brown rice and peaches. For a complete listing of foods containing magnesium, CLICK HERE.
Nutter’s Can Suggest…
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.