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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sleep But Were Too Tired to Ask

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“The beginning of health is sleep.” So says an old Irish proverb. Yet according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, over 40 million Americans suffer from a chronic sleep disorder and another 20 million experience occasional sleeping problems.

If sleep truly is the beginning of health, is it any wonder we have a healthcare crisis? This vast number of sleep disorders costs the U.S. an estimated $16 billion a year in medical costs alone. When lost productivity, accidents, etc. are figured in, the cost rises to about $100 billion annually.

Sleep dysfunction is common in many disorders including fibromyalgia, ME/CFS, Lyme disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, cancer and mental illness. An interesting question to consider is which came first – did the illness cause the sleep problem, or did the sleep dysfunction cause the illness? Regardless, improving sleep quality is a key factor in treating these disorders. Without adequate sleep, there is little hope for significant and lasting improvement.

We know that a lack of sleep impacts our quality of life, but there is evidence that it may affect the length of our life as well. This was demonstrated by a 1998 study of rats, who normally live for two to three years. The rats who were deprived of REM sleep survived only about five weeks and those deprived of all sleep stages only lived for about three weeks. Interestingly, the sleep-deprived rats also developed abnormally low body temperatures and sores on their tails and paws. The researchers theorized that the sores may have developed because their immune systems were impaired from lack of sleep.(1)

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

Sleep is an essential component of life. We know that inadequate sleep can have severe detrimental effects on both physical and mental health. The exact amount of sleep each person needs may vary, but for most adults, somewhere between 7 and 8 hours appears to be best – although some may need as few as 5 hours or as many as 10 hours.

Fun Fact:  We should spend about one third of each day sleeping. That means by the time you’re 75 years old, you will have spent 25 years of your life sleeping!

The amount of sleep we need increases if we have been deprived of sleep in previous days. Getting too little sleep builds up a “sleep debt,” much like being overdrawn at the bank. Eventually, our body will demand that the debt be repaid. We don’t seem to be able to adapt to getting less sleep than we need. We may think we’ve gotten used to living with a sleep-deprived schedule, but our judgment, reaction time, and other functions are actually impaired, even though we might not be aware of it.

What Happens When We Sleep?

We think of sleep as the time when our body rests. However, it is while we are sleeping that our body is actually doing some of its most important work, such as repairing cells, secreting certain hormones into the blood, and consolidating memories. It is also thought that the immune system turns on during deep sleep to combat illness.

When we sleep, our body cycles through five stages: 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM (rapid eye movement). This chart shows what occurs during each of the five stages of sleep:

Sleep StageDescription
1Light sleep – the time between being fully awake and entering sleep
  • Easily awakened
  • Eyes move slowly
  • Muscle activity slows
2Onset of sleep
  • Eye movements stop
  • Brain waves become slower
  • Body temperature drops
3 & 4Deepest, most restorative sleep
  • Brain waves become extremely slow
  • Blood pressure drops
  • Breathing slows
  • Muscles relax
  • Blood supply to muscles increases
  • Tissue growth and repair occurs
  • Energy is restored
  • Hormones are released
REMBrain is active and dreams occur
  • Eyes dart back and forth
  • Breathing becomes more rapid, irregular and shallow
  • Limb muscles become temporarily paralyzed
  • Heart rate increases
  • Blood pressure rises
  • Some ability to regulate body temperature is lost
  • Energy is provided to brain and body
  • Daytime performance is supported
  • May contribute to memory consolidation

A complete sleep cycle takes about 90 to 110 minutes and is repeated four to six times per night, with the initial REM period occurring about 70 to 90 minutes after falling asleep.

The first sleep cycles each night consist of relatively short REM periods and long periods of deep sleep. As the night progresses, REM sleep periods increase in length while deep sleep decreases. By morning, we spend nearly all of our sleep time in stages 1, 2, and REM.(2)

Common Sleep Disorders

Researchers have identified more than 70 different sleep disorders, which generally fall into one of three categories:

1.  Lack of sleep – The inability to fall asleep is called insomnia.  Many people experience occasional insomnia, but when it becomes chronic, it can lead to other serious health problems. Insomnia is often the major disabling symptom of an underlying medical disorder.

2.  Disturbed sleep – Disorders classified as disturbed sleep include:

Sleep Apnea – interrupted breathing during sleep usually caused by a mechanical problem in the windpipe. Sleep is disturbed with sleep apnea because when the windpipe closes, the person has to wake up enough to contract the muscles involved and begin breathing again.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) – a disorder causing unpleasant crawling, prickling, or tingling sensations in the legs and feet and an urge to move them for relief. Many RLS patients also have periodic limb movement disorder or PLMD, which causes repetitive jerking movements of the limbs, especially the legs. These movements occur every 20 to 40 seconds and cause repeated awakening and severely fragmented sleep.

Alpha EEG Anomaly – the interruption of deep sleep by sudden bursts of awake-like brain activity. These periods of intense activity are measured as alpha waves on an EEG monitor. Alpha EEG Anomaly is prevalent in fibromyalgia patients and prevents them from getting necessary deep sleep.

3.  Excessive sleep – The most common excessive sleep disorder is narcolepsy. People with narcolepsy have frequent “sleep attacks” throughout the day, even if they have had a normal amount of night-time sleep. These attacks may last from several seconds to more than 30 minutes.

If you are having difficulty getting the quantity and quality of sleep you need and want, here are a few products that may help.

Goodnighties® – Recovery Sleepwear

Goodnighties® is a unique new type of sleepwear for women that promotes restorative sleep. The secret to Goodnighties lies in the special IonX® fabric from which they’re made. IonX is a patented process that infuses negative ions into the structure of the fabric.

When a Negative is Positive

What’s so special about negative ions? Plenty. In our modern world, we are bombarded daily with positive ions from things like pollution, computers and TV – and they make us feel tired, depressed and irritable. However, negative ions, found in nature in places like beaches, waterfalls, forests and mountain tops, give us increased levels of energy and a sense of well-being.

Scientists have studied the positive effects of negative ions for many years. Some of the beneficial effects that may aid in improving sleep quality include:

• Increasing the flow of oxygen to the brain, which can have profound effects on sleep patterns.

• Producing biochemical reactions that increase serotonin levels.

• Increasing melatonin, which helps to synchronize our biological clocks

• Helping us reach the REM stage of sleep more quickly.

• Increasing blood flow to the muscles and joints, which promotes pain relief.

• Protecting against germs and boosting the immune system. (Positively charged germs are neutralized by negative ions.)

Through years of research, scientists have discovered that exposing soft skin tissue to negative ions helps balance and counteract the not-so-positive effects of positive ions. When it comes to ions, a positive is negative and a negative is positive.

The negative ions blended into Goodnighties’ IonX fabric naturally create the balance you need to get a good night’s sleep and wake up rested, restored and rejuvenated.

Another property of the IonX-treated fabric that can be beneficial for improving sleep is its ability to wick moisture away from the body. Women who suffer from hot flashes and night sweats often wake up in the middle of the night feeling wet and “clammy” from perspiration trapped against the skin. Goodnighties’ IonX fabric transports moisture away from the body via the capillary action of its treated fibers and allows women to sleep through the night and awaken feeling fresher.

Putting Goodnighties to the Test

I can personally attest to the benefits of Goodnighties because I’ve been wearing them for about five months now. Since the first night I put them on, I’ve found that I consistently sleep for longer periods of time and wake up feeling refreshed – something I hadn’t experienced since developing fibromyalgia and ME/CFS more than 20 years ago. And I no longer wake up throughout the night feeling hot and sweaty. As an added plus, I’ve also had noticeably less pain since wearing Goodnighties.

I’ve recently heard from several other people with FM, ME/CFS and other sleep disorders who also put Goodnighties to the test, and every one of them reported significantly improved sleep as well as reduced pain and fatigue.

FibroSleep Provides 4-Way Sleep Support

FibroSleep™ is a powerful combo made of pure, natural ingredients that support deep, restorative sleep. Although originally developed for people with fibromyaligia, FibroSleep provides sleep support for anyone with a sleep disorder. It works in four important and synergistic ways:

1.  Herbal Sleep Support – FibroSleep contains Sedapine™, a proprietary blend of Ziziphus spinosa, Corydalus, Valerian and passion flower – herbs that have been used for thousands of years to provide effective support for sleep, relaxation, and general health.

2.  Digestive Support – Calming and supporting the digestive tract is an important first step in attaining restful, restorative sleep. FibroSleep promotes deep sleep and digestive healing by addressing antioxidant and natural anti-inflammatory needs with lemon balm, ginger, peppermint and hops.

3.  Muscle and Nerve Support – Supporting muscle and nerve health is important for proper sleep. FibroSleep contains ZMA™ – a great source of extremely bioavailable magnesium and zinc that supports sleep and healing by aiding in the transport of oxygen to nerve and muscle cells – and magnesium taurinate – a bioavailable yet gentle source of magnesium along with the nervous system calming amino acid L-taurine.

4.  Amino Acid Support – Amino acids are the building blocks of life and are critically important for nerve cell health as well as neurotransmitter and hormone production and balance. FibroSleep supports amino acids with GABA, melatonin, 5-HTP and L-theanine.

Valerian Extract with Lemon Balm Promotes a Deep and Restful Sleep

A natural choice for promoting sleep and relaxation, Valerian Extract with Lemon Balm  supports a restful night’s sleep without the fear of over-sedation.  The valerian helps induce deep sleep while the  lemon balm promotes a calm and collected nervous system.

Valerian – Countless studies, in U.S. and in Europe confirm the effectiveness of valerian for enhancing sleep quality.  In one study, sleep scores improved dramatically for those taking Valerian, with the biggest improvements being seen in those who considered themselves poor or irregular sleepers.

In addition to its sleep-enhancing benefits, Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of the bestselling book From Fatigued to Fantastic, recommends valerian for its ‘adaptogenic’ properties, meaning it adapts to what the body needs. He writes, “Valerian is a mild sleep aid that has the interesting effect of calming people when they are anxious while at the same time acting as a stimulant when people are fatigued.”

Lemon Balm – Lemon balm has been used for centuries to promote sleep and ease nervousness naturally. The herb also has other properties, including nutritional support of the nervous and digestive systems. The addition of lemon balm to a base of valerian makes a versatile combination – one that can be taken at night for sleep and in lighter doses during the day for relaxation and mood and muscle comfort.

Equally important, no major side-effects have been associated with the use of valerian and lemon balm. In fact, the safety of this combo is its hallmark. In study after study it has been found to exert powerful relief without negative effects. One study published in a German medical journal found that none of the participants taking valerian suffered from “residual hangover.” In fact, most participants felt more active and alert the next day.

Melatonin Sublingual Tablets Help Reset Your Internal Clock

Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the body that helps regulate other hormones and maintains the body’s circadian rhythm. It is produced by the pineal gland, located in the middle of the brain, and plays a critical role in maintaining normal sleep/wake rhythms.

More and more doctors are recommending melatonin as a safe and natural sleep enhancer. When the normal sleep/wake cycle has gone awry, taking melatonin can help restore optimal sleep patterns.

This small sublingual tablet comes in a tasty lemon flavor and quickly delivers melatonin into your system to help you achieve more restful sleep.

Cuddle Ewe™ Underquilt Cradles You in Comfort

The Cuddle Ewe™ Underquilt was originally developed to help improve sleep for fibromyalgia patients but is equally as effective for anyone who needs a better night’s sleep. It is a mattress topper that, when placed between your mattress and bottom sheet, transforms your ordinary bed into something extraordinary.

The 100% pure, all natural & dust mite-free wool batting that goes into these mattress toppers promotes a better night’s sleep by:

• Supporting and distributing your body weight more evenly.

• Allowing pressure points and tender points to be relieved.

• Managing body temperatures and moisture.

As a result, the Cuddle Ewe™ Underquilt can allow deep restorative sleep, let you sleep through the night, relieve morning stiffness, reduce fatigue, soothe muscle tender points, and relieve soft tissue muscle pain.

In Summary

Sleep disorders can affect every aspect of your physical and mental health. When sleep is a problem, a number of natural solutions are worth considering – from sleepwear to supplements to bedding.

* Karen Lee Richards is Lead Expert specializing in Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS, for HealthCentral’s ChronicPainConnection (www.chronicpainconnection.com ).  Karen is co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) and was Executive Editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE magazine for four years.


1.  Rechtschaffen, A. 1998. Current perspectives on the function of sleep. Perspectives in Biological Medicine, 41: 359–390.

2.  Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.  National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. May 21, 2007.


Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is general and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any illness, condition, or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.

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One thought on “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sleep But Were Too Tired to Ask”

  1. shafm says:

    Having read your article which is very basic, I wondered why you did not include GABA which adjoins to MELATONIN, (supplementally available as ‘Gabatropin’, 600mgs), advised to be self test-tried at 6pm only. To begin with, halve the capsule, use a half cap sublingually for 3 nights, then still at 6pm add a full capsule with water for a week, taking half x 1 3mg Melatonin tablet half hr before sleeep for 5 nights when you begin with Gabatropin, adding another half 5 nights later of the Melatonin 3mg tablet (swollowed or sublingually)=1 tablet and 1 capsule at diff times. 2 weeks late add another if nec Melatonin 3mgs, half hr always before sleep (10pm recommended time), and push up the Gabatropin to 8pm, adding if nec another capsule of Gabatropin. The optimal dosages are 3x3mg Melatonin and up to 4 max Gabatropin 600mg caps (although 2 with Valariana, Vit B6, Passiflora et al and Bach Flower Remedies as tablets not liquid, Rescue Remedy, Ignatia C6, Sepia C6, before sleep sublingually,as well as repeating Cap of Valarian/Passiflora etc and ADDING IN THE CORTISOL ANTAGONIST PREGNENALONE 2 FROM 1-4AM WHEN CORTISOL RISES will reduce that effect, all owing for more regulated Alpha B – D sleep from Alpha A without any help ie. Diaphragmatic breathing is essential to learn to allow the flow of breathe to neurotransmit instead of tensing up when aggitating to sleep!!! Deep breathing needs to be practices 24/7, 3 times a day, so that REGULAR breathing pattern obviates UPPER RESPIRATORY BREATHING, thus blocking off pathway to lungs, brains, blood flow, 02, ENERGY and RELAXATION. Sharon Levin http://www.fibromyalgiasa.co.za.

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