Let’s Talk about Sleep – Written by: Grace Hutchinson, PsyD
There seems to be so much in the news about the importance of sleep. One third of our life on average is spent sleeping. Have you ever wondered why we sleep? Surely it must be to help replenish our tired body and mind from the busy activities of our day. But why can’t we just simply close our eyes and relax our body instead of going into a state of sleep? Why do we need sleep?
For many of us we prepare to go to sleep after a day of activity. We tend to follow pretty predictable patterns. We prepare for sleep at a particular time and wake up at a particular time. Sleep, when thought about like this, can be described as a behavior. Sleep is often misunderstood as a time frame in which our body and mind shut down. However, during sleep study experiments EEG patterns show changes in brain wave activity, heart rate, and perspiration.
Throughout the night we experience different sleep cycles; each one lasting approximately 90 minutes. During different stages of sleep we may move around. During REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep stage, when dreaming takes place, our eyes are closed but there is eye movement which can be observed by the small flicker like movements of our eyelids. At this REM stage our body is somewhat paralyzed, except for occasional twitching. REM sleep lasts for about twenty minutes and repeats again every 90 minutes. If people are woken up during REM sleep stage they will report that they were dreaming.
REM sleep stage is frantic with lots of electrical activity in our brain. It appears to be a stage of sleep in which we can process experiences. Our dreams indicate this type of free flowing patterns. We are literally processing and working through experiences that have meaning in our life. REM sleep is important in memory consolidation and facilitates learning. Some studies have shown that REM sleep deprivation resulted in emotional and behavioral difficulties.
People suffering from depression or anxiety experience disrupted sleep patterns. This is also true for people that have inconsistent work schedules. People with untreated sleep apnea may stop breathing, wake up and breathe, and fall back to sleep again. This pattern leaves a person feeling extremely exhausted during the day. If sleep apnea is left untreated it can cause heart problems, high blood pressure, metabolic problems, headaches, and memory problems.
So to sum it all up, sleep is a behavior that it vitally important for our well-being. It helps us conserve energy. It restores and replenishes our body and mind. It helps us organize our memories. Sleep permits our brain to rest. When we are sleep deprived we can’t concentrate on mental tasks. Our body is sluggish. We feel emotionally drained. A few good sleep habits in our very fast paced world can include developing a habit of preparing for sleep by: limiting caffeinated or sugar drinks and food after dinner, not watching disturbing images such as the nightly news before bed, turning off lights and all of our gadgets such as cell phones, tablets, and computers, and try to and sleep in a room that is dark and cool.
Carlson, N. (2010). Physiology of Behavior, 3rd ed., Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon
Kolb, B. & Whishaw, I. (2014). Brain and Behavior, 4th ed., New York: Worth Publishers
Ullman, M. (2006). Appreciating Dreams: a group approach. New York: Cosmo
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