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Is Sleep a Dormant State of Mind?

by G Ravishankar(more info)

listed in sleep and insomnia, originally published in issue 123 - May 2006

Sleeplessness is the major cause of several diseases. People may be proud to say, "I didn't sleep for the whole night due to large volume of work" but in practice, those who skip sleep in the night may have health problems.

Sleep ranks at the top of the list of human necessities – right along with air, water and food. It's more than a timeout from daily life or passive retreat. A good night's sleep leaves you feeling refreshed, alert and ready to tackle the day's tasks.

Sleep, like diet and exercise, is an essential ingredient of good health. Research findings suggest that sleep can affect memory and learning as well. If your brain is tired, there's a chance that you will lose concentration on the work that you need to perform during the day.

When you don't get enough sleep, you may feel less alert and less vigorous and, perhaps more confused, irritable and fatigued. Lack of sleep affects not only your energy level but also your mental and social functioning. You may find it more difficult to concentrate. You may find that you lose patience quickly, that you become less interactive in your relationship and that you become less productive at work.

George works for a reputed company as Sales Manager. He was proud to say "I sleep only for four to five hours a day." Years passed and he was affected by diseases like heart problem, diabetes and finally jaundice. At the age of 50, he had to retire from work.

External and internal environments play a key role to help a person to get into deep sleep. For example, there may be lots of noise in the surrounding areas. So, you have been disturbed by outside environment. There's also the possibility of your internal worries. For example, you might have fought with somebody. While sleeping, you start recalling good as well as bad happenings during the day.

However, since you want to have 'good' sleep, start forgetting bad things and remember good things while going to bed. This will assemble into your brain and consequently you will have a 'Good Morning'. From the above example, it's clear that we need to have a good sleep with a positive frame of mind. People with negative feelings may sleep for eight – 11 hours; however, the benefits of sleep can't be derided.

The Various Stages of Sleep:

Awake. It's normal to be awake for short periods during the night. Expect 3 to 120 brief arousals, though you probably won't remember each one. It's likely part of your body's defence mechanism to keep you aware of what's going on around you;
Stage one. During stage one, you sleep lightly and drift in and out of sleep. During this stage you're easily awakened. Your muscles begin to slow down and your eyes move very slowly;
Stage two. In stage two, your muscles relax. Your brain waves slow down, though occasionally you have bursts of brain activity. You spend about half of your sleep in this stage;
Stages three and four. Deep sleep sets in. Your brain waves become large and slow. Your breathing becomes rhythmic, and your muscles remain relaxed. At this point your body begins releasing reparative hormones. Stages one through four are referred to as non-rapid eye movement (NREM);
Rapid eye movement (REM). During REM sleep your muscles stop moving completely. Your breathing and heart rate become rapid and irregular, your blood pressure is more variable, and your eyes move rapidly in bursts of activity. Your brain waves show a pattern similar to wakefulness. Scientists believe this indicates that your brain is using this time to sort and organize your memories. Dreaming takes places during this stage. If you're awakened during REM sleep, you may recall vivid dreams.

Throughout the night, you continually move from one stage or type of sleep to another in cycles that last from 70 to 90 minutes each. Early REM periods are very short; however, usually five to ten minutes long. You may experience several longer REM periods as the night progresses.

We need to examine what happens when we can't catch up 'sleep'. The natural pattern of waking and sleeping that occurs within a 24-hour day is part of your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is regulated by a biological clock in your brain that usually makes you sleepy at night and ready to wake up in the morning. Your surroundings, including your exposure to sunlight, help synchronize your biological clock. Most people's clocks run on a cycle of about 24-hours, but individual clocks vary. When your natural circadian rhythm is upset – for example by spending too long in bed, travelling across time zones or experiencing a few nights of insomnia – sleep can be very difficult. For most people, a night or two of poor sleep or even a night of no sleep isn't bad. As long as you get back to a normal sleep schedule within a few days, you experience no lasting consequences.

Tips for Sleep

When should we go to sleep? What's the ideal time to sleep? How many hours should one have of 'sleep'? What are the characteristics of a 'sound sleep'? These are the basic questions one may find difficult to answer.

Extensive studies show that a good night's sleep freshens up the brain and nervous system. During sleep, our body engages itself in various kinds of reconstructive activities. As we need to breathe in and breathe out deeply during sleep, blood circulation gets regulated. A good sleep with positive thinking can help to revitalize the brain.

Long-term sleep deprivation can affect your physical and mental health. After a few nights of absolutely no sleep, some people begin hallucinating.

Sleep helps bolster your immune system so that you can fight off viruses and bacteria. Thus, sleep is the basic requirement for both physical and mental health. Moreover, sleep is the time when the body can undergo repair and detoxify bad elements in the body.

Sleep may seem to be passive state, but even though activity in the brain drops by 40% while in first phase of sleep, the brain remains active. Interestingly, memories acquired minutes before falling asleep do not get consolidated! Even a few minutes of sleep leave a short window of waking time with a complete memory erasure. Luckily, we rarely learn mission-critical information shortly before dozing off.

Counter-recommendation for learning during sleep does not imply that falling asleep with TV or radio turned on should be discouraged. If you would like to get a dose of education before falling asleep, be sure your tapes, TV or radio meet these conditions:

TV, radio or tapes in the morning are OK too, on condition you turn them on manually (i.e. they should not work as an alarm clock substitute). If you wake up slightly ahead of your expected waking time, turn on the news and stay in bed. Test your brain for signs of sleepiness. Occasionally, you may still be able to fall asleep and go through one cycle of sleep that will be beneficial to your intellectual performance.

Alcohol is a major enemy of a creative individual! In excess it is highly toxic to the brain! Even small doses can reduce the quality and the total length of your REM sleep. Alcohol also suppresses deep sleep, produces sleep fragmentation, and relaxes the upper airway muscles, which worsens snoring and severity of obstructive sleep apnoea.

Apart from its negative impact on sleep, alcohol reduces your intellectual performance, and should be avoided at times of highly creative effort!

On the other hand, lots of research indicates that small doses of alcohol may benefit your health. A drink a day may be the simplest known method of preventing arteriosclerosis, heart attack and cerebrovascular disease. There are reports that moderate beer drinking may reduce the incidence of Alzheimer's. Some physicians recommend daily alcohol in very small quantities (not more than a drink per day).

To a highly creative individual, alcohol poses a major health-vs-brain dilemma. Certainly it should be avoided three to five hours before sleep and should be avoided before intellectual work. This would leave place only for very moderate drinking at siesta time (assuming that this is the time you take a break from intellectual effort or take a nap).

Assuming that a nap taken at siesta time does not play any significant physiological function, and only serves you as a springboard to higher evening alertness, a small drink before a nap may actually appear beneficial by producing the rebound effect at the time when you get up from the nap.

In a nutshell, we have analyzed the following:

  • The advantages of good sleep;
  • Health problems associated with sleeplessness;
  • Avoiding negative thoughts before going to bed;
  • Disturbances during sleep;
  • Getting up early in the morning with fresh and energetic body and mind.

Thus sleep is not a dormant state of mind but the functions of our body and mind remain quite active.

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About G Ravishankar

G Ravishankar was associated with a company manufacturing herbal medicines for 11 years, where he gained experience on the invaluable contents of herbal medicines. He and his family members use herbal medicines in their day-to-day life with positive response. Ravishankar may be contacted via Mob: 0091 22 93242 99938; iyer_ravishankar@rediffmail.com

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