“Tired of Turning each night, I can’t sleep easily even I have to closed my eyes, so many things were playing on my mind that make me conscious all along. Sometimes, I have to fake sleep to satisfy my mind that I am sleeping, but that does not solve my problem instead making it worse. As a result, I have poor concentration during daytime, irritated, tired, tension headache and very sleepy which give some problems to my relationship to colleague and my family.” Says Maria, not her true name, one of my trainees. Before we can find solution to her problem we should know first the Anatomy and Physiology of sleep and why it is important to our physical, mental and emotional health.
The Anatomy and Physiology of Sleep
According to National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there are several structures of brain that were involved during sleep:
The first structure is the Hypothalamus a peanut size, which is found at the Diencephalon section of the brain between the cerebrum and midbrain. It contains a group of nerve cells found in SCN ( suprachiasmatic nucleus) which acts as a control center affecting sleep and waking up. These cells receive messages information about light and dark exposure directly from the eyes and control our behavioral sleep- wake rhythm called a circadian rhythm that follows a 24- hour cycle.
The brain stem which is composed of pons, medulla and midbrain helps the hypothalamus in releasing (GABA) Gamma aminobutyric acid, a chemical neurotransmitter which helps the body and mind relax and fall asleep. It also communicates the hypothalamus in the transition between wake and sleep.
The thalamus function as the sensory relay center which acts as an insulator which sends spindle activity to stop some areas of the brain to receive and respond to sounds while in non- REM stage of sleep and its more active in REM stage which is thought to be responsible in the formation of our dreams. Sleep researcher from the Newscientist says we should thank our thalamus if we can sleep through noise while others awake at the faintest disruption.
The pineal gland located in the brain’s two hemispheres, receives messages from hypothalamus to increase production of melatonin, a hormone receptor which helps induce sleep when the lights go down from the environment and reducing during the daylight hours. This chemical hormone is important in regulating the sleep-wake cycle or our circadian rhythm.
The basal forebrain which is located in the forebrain to the front and below the striatum, releases adenosine which is a key mediator of sleep homeostasis link between humoral and neural sleep-wake regulation. Adenosine receptor agonist enhance sleep while adenosine receptor antagonist such as theophylline and caffeine are stimulants that prevent sleep, researcher from journals. plos. org. Says.
What happened during Sleep?
1. NREM Sleep or the Non – Rapid Eye Movement Sleep which has 3 stages:
STAGE 1 NREM begins right after falling asleep occurs in several minutes, your brains waves begin to slow, your muscles relaxes, heart beat, breathing and eye movement are slow. This is the transition from wakefulness to sleep.
STAGE 2 NREM transition from light sleep to deep sleep. Your body temperature drops, heart beat and breathing are slow, muscle relaxes and eye moment stops. The brain produces sleep spindles which insulates you from hearing sounds and becomes on aware of the environment. It allows your body to prepare for the NON-REM stage 3 which is the deep sleep. The more repeated cycle than other stages.
STAGE 3 NREM this is a period of deep sleep in which noises and disruption from the surroundings may fail to wake the sleeping person. Your muscles are completely relaxed, breathing and heart beats are slow. This is also called delta sleep as the brain waves activity begin to slow and emerge during the NON -REM stage 3. Your brain also consolidates knowledge, memories, experiences and your body starts its cell restoration and repair on this stage. The reason why you feel refresh and energetic once you wake up in the morning.
2. REM Sleep
This stage begins approximately 90 minutes when you can not move your voluntary muscles on the arms and legs, this prevents you acting out during dreams. Most of the dreams occurs on this stage but some occurs on the NON- REM. During this stage your eyes moves rapidly from side to side behind closed eyelids, your brain activity is closely seen to that during waking hours, breathing, heart beats and blood pressure increases. Memory consolidation is processed and stored on this stage.
Cycles of Sleep
- Sleep begins at NREM stage 1
- NREM stage 1 progresses to NREM stage 2
- NREM stage 2 followed by NREM stage 3
- Repeated NREM stage 2 And NREM stage 3
- REM sleep
- Once REM sleep is over, the body, usually returns to NON- REM stage 2 before beginning the cycle all over again.
How much sleep you Actually Need?
The sleep researcher says poor quality and lack of sleep causes less attention, poor concentration and judgment. It also increases the risk of chronic diseases like hypertension, heart diseases, diabetes and depression. As we age, needs and sleeping pattern change. Quality of sleep is more important than total hours of sleep you get every day. Most adults need 7 hours or more, good quality sleep on a regular schedule, while teens between 8-10 hours, school age 9-12 hours. Pre- school 10-13 hours, toddlers 11-14 hours, babies 12-16 hours including naps respectively and newborns 14-17 hours a day.
Generally, people now days are not getting enough sleep because of social media entertainments at 24/7 available on the internet, assignments, presentations, schools and other work related issues. Some of them thinking catching up sleep on some other days, but depending on how deprived they are, some sleep catch up are not enough.
Circadian derived from a Latin word circa – which means around or about and Diem which means day. Circadian Rhythm are physical and mental behavioral changes that follows a 24-hour cycle which influenced by internal and external environment. It is also called our internal body clock which responded to light and darkness in a person’s environment, a wake-sleep cycle. This is controlled by a group of cell receptors from the hypothalamus (SCN) which transmit the information based on how much light was being received by the eye which is being recognized by the retina to the pineal gland which correspond to the lens of the night and day cycle. When its dark the hypothalamus send messages to pineal gland to secret melatonin, a hormone which helps induce sleep and makes you drowsy.The production of adenosine by the basal forebrain regualte sleep homeostasis, enhacing a good sleep.
Three factors that influences circadian rhythm are production of melatonin which is increased during night and lesser during day time, temperature which synchronizes with the light signals received by the retina and controlled by the SCN, and cortisol production which is secreted by the adrenal glands increases in the morning which helps our body fight stress, gives us energy to perform everyday activities and maintain wakefulness during the day. Melatonin increases during night-time and cortisol is low, while Cortisol is higher on day time and lower at night.
Factors that may disrupt your biological clock includes illness, stress, certain medications, sleep environment, work shift schedules, traveling to other time zone and the food you eat and drink. Recent studies revealed that chronic disruption of our circadian rhythm can cause health problems, fatigue, insomnia which linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Your biological clock can be reset by:
- Exposure to light as seen on the phenomenon when we travel across time zone and get a jet lag as we slowly adapt to the new local time.
- Create consistent sleep and wake time, which means going to bed and wake up the same time or near same time each day.
- Reduce blue light exposure approximately two-three hours before bed such as turning off your TV screen, and other gadgets, some wear blue eyes glasses if it is impossible for them to turn off those screens. Use red incandescent light bulbs during sleep which does not block melatonin production.
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants like dark chocolate, alcohol and nicotine later on the day.
Effective Tips to a Good Night Sleep for Adults
- Set a schedule for sleeping and waking up same time every day including week ends.
- Expose yourself to natural outside light every morning.
- Limit your naps, around 20 minutes between 1pm and 3 pm
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants later on the day.
- Exercise in the morning. Avoid doing exercise 2-3 hours before bed time.
- Make your bedroom comfortable, lower the temperature, use red incandescent light, turn on TV, and other gadgets
- Relax before bed time, take a warm shower, and other relaxing routine
Consult and see a doctor if you have problem sleeping or you are experiencing unusual tiredness or erratically sleepy during the day. Most sleeping dis orders can be treated effectively by a specialized doctor for sleep or neurologist.
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