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SLEEP ! The most natural thing in the world but complicated also.

Updated on January 30, 2014

What Sleep Means To Us.

"TO SLEEP, PERCHANCE TO DREAM" wrote Shakespeare all those moons ago. Now in the modern world this most natural of things in human life is ,like many things, put under the microscope to reveal previously hidden aspects.

It is no suprise to find that humans are not alone in the need to sleep. The evidence is clear that every thing in the animal kingdom with a working pulse feels the need to become somnambulent. Patterns and amounts of time spent in sleep vary. Animals like Bears and Squirrels hunker down in winter, the latter surrounded by collected nuts which every so often it rouses enough to eat enough to sustain the metabolism before drifting back to a dormant state. In such a way it survives the harshest of times when the ouside world is cold, damp and without natural sustenance readily at hand. Warm in the dray, the squirrel has built the rquired home comforts around it and sleep envelops it like a warm blanket.

Humans, like other members of the animal kingdom follow a different pattern but still spend a third of life asleep. Research into sleep patterns and problems related to it have revealed that the need for sleep covers not only the need to recharge energy batteries but also to stabilise psychological aspects important, even vital, to balanced living.

We can recognise signs of lack of sleep in ourselves, and others to boot quite easily. Lack of sleep leads to mood swings and general morose attitudes. It can also provoke poor memory , lower the ability to make sound decisions and in very bad cases ,hallucinations and paranoid behaviour.

Recent revelalations link lack of sleep to long term damage to the humankind and even alterations to the actual DNA . This comes to the fore as a result of studies of those on long term night shift work. As a result, the importance of the "nocturnal" brain is understood as having great influence in the awakened hours and affects learning, general health ability to create and also to recall. Teachers have been long aware that children not getting enough sleep lack concentration and are sluggish learners.


Up With The Lark, To Bed With The Wren

In wartime, where sleep has to take second place to events, there was both an understanding of the difficulties presented by sleep loss and also the benefits, whenever possible of getting a "good night"s sleep". To transmit this to rank and file, humour became associated as the message.

In the war, UK Navy, as now, had female members of staff who became known as "WRENS" To encourage male members to get regular sleep when ossible, an old phrase was remodelled to urge the benefits of rising early like the Lark and substituting "Wren" for "Owl". Although this became stadard it is a bit strange for the owl is a bird of the night and "nightowls" was a term for those who were active in the hours of darkness.

Even so and with the licence granted the image of the chap rising early as the bird that eventually gets the worm was sown, though one feels that there would have been more sleep when less wrens were about !

Now we can advise that studies confirm that those, now classified as "Morning People" are different in DNA terms to those who like to stay up late and are "Evening People".Going to bed too late, or rising too early regardless affects sleep benefits detrimentally.Strange as it may seem it is claimed on good authority, that reducing the amount of sleep within reasonable confines ,can actually reduce a feeling of tiredness and lethargy in daytime.

I think, I agree with this, as I classify myself as a "Morning Person" but notice that rising earlier DOES make me feel less tired after noon.

Sleep Comes In Different Guises.

As a natural thing to do, we tend to take sleep for granted until things go wrong with what we have come to expect.The worst thing for humans is to go to bed but not to sleep. I think most of us have times in our lives when we spend dark hours tossing and turning to search in vain for the commodity that previously searched us out naturally..

We call this INSOMNIA of course, Howver, whilst that is a correct definition of not getting enough sleep, there are 2 different types or layers to this. Type1 is called "RAPID EYE MOVEMENT SLEEP {REM} Type 2 is NON-RAPID EYE MOVEMENT SLEEP {NREM}. This type subdivides into 2 seperate stages of which, stage 2 is termed SLOW WAVE SLEEP {SWS}. These were identified in research in which volunteers were observed in a "Sleep Laboratory"

It is asserted that every 90 minutes of sleep is a repetitive cycle between these two types of sleep. As a result it has been identified also that there is also, NON RESTORATIVE SLEEP{NRS} in which the subject has no problems sleeping but does not get enough Slow Wave Sleep and as a result wakes up not feeling rested.

Personally, I make no claim to understanding this fully but accept now that there are different levels of sleep which provide differing benefits, or even lack of them.


So Simple Yet So Complex.

The work done in identifying sleep in the different guises it exists, helps provide not only academic knowledge but practical information and advice that can be of real benefit to us all.

Taking a nap, for example, gives Rapid Eye Movement Sleep if taken in the morning but Slow Wave Sleep if in the afternoon. Thus, if it is help to strengthen emotional memories then nap in the morning but if you want to strengthen specific knowledge, then nap in the afternoon. As someone who rarely, if ever naps normally, I am not sure where I stand on this.

I do know,, as does every long distance lorry driver these days, that sleep, or the lack of it severly affects the ability to drive safely. In fact the studies show that loss of sleep in this context equates to the same results as consuming alcohol. A driver who has no sleep for 20 hours is, in performance terms, just like a driver who is beyond the legal alcohol limit and is a danger to himself and everyone one else. As with alcohol, sleep deprived people behave differently to the norm, often becoming frustrated, aggressive and intolerant than their normal self.

Age is also a factor it seems. Old codgers like me apparently have little or no Soft Wave Sleep and there could be a link between this and the onset of Dementia apparently. Over 60"s it seems need no more than 5 hours sleep whilst the young still need the full 8 hours nightly.

I have no sleep problems to date, but for those who have, 2 bits of practical advice flow from the study:

1. If you have difficulty in nodding off after going to bed, try having a warm bath around 90 minutes before turning in and also take a hot water bottle with you to cuddle on the chest or tummy to hold back the cooling that takes place it is said, on going to sleep.

2. To assist your mind to stop turning over matters currently important to you, like ,for example, "What questions will they ask me at my interview in the morning------?" and which stop you falling asleep, it is advised to leave the bed, read a bit, or write down your thoughts on the burning topic. However, to my suprise it is not recommended ,as I originally thought it would be, to go and make a cup of tea etc. Apparently such drinks do not give rise to restful sleep ,basically at anytime. My Doctor, incidently, recommends drinking only water within 1 hour of going to bed.

In conclusion, I believe, as at the outset, that sleep IS the most natural thing in the world for us all. However, following the studies, I can see that what at face value is a very simple aspect of life, is much more detailed and complex than I thought before. The biggest danger I see for us individuals is to become too deeply involved in the complexities and end up chasing the shadow and missing the substance. For sure when my head hits the pillow tonight there will be no thoughts in my head of REM, NREM OR SWS etc and hopefully, as last night, I will just drift off naturally to wake up refreshed in the morning. I hope you do also..

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