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The Importance of Sleep

  [ 107 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
By Tamara Schuit • • June 28, 2000

Why do we need to sleep, and why does it have such a profound impact on our physical well being?

Although many people feel that they only need 3-4 hours of sleep, evidence supports that while sleep requirements are highly individualized, most people require seven of eight hours to function optimally.

Although the quality of sleep diminishes with age, the need for sleep does not. The National Sleep Foundation’s (NFS) 2000 Omnibus Sleep in America Poll found that, on average, adults sleep just under 7 hours during the work week. In fact, one third (33%) of adults sleep only 6-1/2 hours or less nightly.

Scientists say that the body is as active during sleep as it is when we're awake. Using devices like the electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures brain waves, researchers have shown that while we sleep we're cycling through different states of consciousness, moving in and out of dream states and actively restoring vital chemical balances – all in preparation for a new day.

We all go through 4 stages of sleep – ranging from light to deep, where alpha, beta, gamma, and delta brain waves are present. Persistent alpha wave intrusion into slow delta wave sleep results in feeling sore all over and sometimes feeling more tired than when going to bed.

It is documented that over 70 percent of fibromyalgia patients have alpha waves intruding into the delta wave sleep hundreds of times during the night, compared to only 10-15 percent of those without this disorder. This intrusion can startle a person awake, cause constant tossing and turning, muscle spasms, or opening of the eyes. After time, it keeps a person from falling into a deep sleep, or REM.

It is believed that REM, or deep sleep, is needed for processing and efficient storage of information that is acquired while we are awake.

Research suggests that it’s during REM sleep that the body is able to: restore organs, bones, and tissue; replenish immune cells; and circulate a rejuvenating supply of growth hormone. Studies also suggest that REM sleep is crucial for proper functioning of the brain and psyche.

As we age, we actually spend more time asleep. But we also take more time to fall asleep. One study reported that once we turn 65, it takes more than 30 minutes to fall asleep.

Research suggests that this is because the elderly secrete fewer amounts of certain chemicals that regulate the sleep/wake cycle – such as melatonin. As we age, other factors may play a roll in our ability to fall asleep – changes in body temperature, decrease in exposure to natural light, change in diet, and lack of exercise.

Here are some other facts reported in the NFS poll:

* 58% of those polled reported having regular insomnia symptoms, but only 5%
had been diagnosed by a physician.

* Almost one out of five of adults are most likely to use herbal remedies
(18%) or over-the-counter medications (17%), while 7% are most likely to use
prescription medication when experiencing difficulty sleeping.

* About one out of seven (15%) reported feelings of creeping, crawling or
tingling in the legs, a symptom of restless legs syndrome, a few nights per
week or more within the past year. Groups that report higher rates of these
symptoms include:

- Women (18% vs. 11% of men); and

- Older individuals (27% of those 65 years and older vs. 15% of 30-64
year-olds and 10% of 18-29 year-olds).

* 20% reported that pain disrupted their sleep a few nights a week or more
(25% of women vs. 13% of men).


America Exhausted – Breakthrough Treatments of Fatigue and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, by Dr. Edward J. Conley.

Making Sense of Fibromyalgia, by Daniel J. Wallace, M.D.

National Sleep Foundation’s (NFS) 2000 Omnibus Sleep in America Poll/The National Sleep Foundation.

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