|A normal sleep pattern varies form person to person with a normal sleep period ranging from 4 to 10 hours with an average of 7.5 hours. Infants sleep the longest and from childhood on sleep time decreases. It levels out during adulthood and decreases with old age.|
For sleep to be normal there should be few if any arousal’s and you should wake feeling refreshed ready to work and shouldn’t feel sleepy during the day.
There are two types of sleep, rapid eye movement or REM sleep (REM = Rapid Eye Movement, or Dream Sleep) and non- REM sleep, which takes up most of our sleeping time.
There are cycles during the night in the normal sleep pattern. First you drift down through stages of non REM sleep into a deep and sound sleep. Next you drift back to a lighter level of sleep which is followed by a period of REM sleep which is often associated perhaps with dreams.
Each complete cycle lasts about 90 to 100 minutes and is repeated about 4 to 5 times during the night with a drifting into and out of deep sleep.
REM sleep with its rapid eye movement and dream like state is probably nature’s way of keeping alert during the night for any sign of the slightest danger which could have occurred when you roamed the world thousands of years ago fighting and hunting to survive. If you are disturbed during the day with a variety of problems then REM sleep will be very light and your sleep will be disturbed.
Non REM sleep with its depth serves a recuperative role. It refreshes and restores the function of the brain and body. It is associated with a lowering of blood pressure, heart and breathing rates and is the sleep we all need at night. Normally it should involve 80% of our sleep time.
Sleep disorders are common and can occur at any period of life. Insomnia is the commonest and is a failure either to go to sleep or a failure to maintain this deep refreshing non REM sleep, or finally it can involve early awakening.
The cause of insomnia can be due to situational problems such as stress, job pressures and domestic discord. Medical conditions which include heart and lung conditions, the restless leg syndrome and rheumatic and joint disorders can cause insomnia when they are associated with pain and discomfort.
Drug related episodes including withdrawal from drugs and alcohol and psychiatric conditions such as depression and manic depressive disorders can all produce insomnia as can certain prescribed drugs.
Stimulants such as caffeine and tobacco can make it very difficult to go to sleep particularly if used just before retiring.
Sleeping during the day makes it difficult to get to sleep at night. Drugs, alcohol and uncomfortable medical conditions can cause awakening 2 to 3 hours after sleep onset. Individuals with anxiety or depression and older people suffer from early final awakening and cannot get back to sleep once awake.
Your doctor should be consulted if insomnia becomes a problem in your life. Treatment includes diagnostic procedures to determine the presence of medical or psychiatric problems, counselling which may have to include a change in lifestyle, a removal of any influence which may be associated with the cause of your insomnia.
Simple measures may include regular exercise in keeping with your age and medical conditions, performed in the early part of the day, relaxation exercises and a hot milk drink before retiring.
In recent years a lot of research has gone into the problem of sleep difficulties. Your doctor is aware of the problems and the answers that can be found in individual cases of insomnia.
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