By Dr. Scott Colasanti
Approximately one third of our time is spent sleeping.
What exactly is sleep and why is it so important to us?
Basically there are two types of sleep: non-rapid eye-movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye-movement (REM) sleep.
NREM sleep is further divided into 4 stages each having unique brain wave patterns and other variations. Over the course of a period of sleep we ‘cycle’ between the stages of NREM and REM sleep. NREM sleep constitutes about 75 to 80 percent of total time spent in sleep, and REM sleep constitutes the remaining 20 to 25 percent. The average length of the first NREM-REM sleep cycle is 70 to 100 minutes. The second, and later, cycles are longer lasting—approximately 90 to 120 minutes. As we get older NREM sleep changes whereas REM sleep remains fairly constant. (Are you asleep yet?)
Getting a good night’s sleep and progressing through these sleep cycles is crucial to our overall health. If we don’t sleep enough we may not spend enough time in the various stages of sleep.
Interruptions to our sleep can occur if we are suffering from emotional stress, painful conditions, hormonal issues or obstructive sleep disorders – just to name a few. Disrupted sleep patterns can lead to numerous health problems from cardiovascular dysfunction, lowered immune system response, glucose and insulin abnormalities, dysregulation of hormones that control appetite, and impaired cognitive function.
The number of hours of sleep you need to stay healthy and alert differs according to your age. Infants require the most sleep at around 14 to 15 hours per day, children between 10 and 12 hours and adults between 7 and 8.
If you are having difficulties sleeping it is important identify and address the core issues that may be causing the problem. For example, if pain is the problem, then perhaps a different mattress may resolve the issue. Medication is not always the best answer as they may create undesirable side effects. Natural remedies such as valerian root, passiflora, chamomile, melatonin, and tryptophan to name a few, may also help improve the quality of you sleep. Consult your health care provider to see if these are appropriate for you.