What exactly is Sleep?
Sleep can be explained as amnesia with bouts of hallucinations. Your body collapses and your brain tunes out most sights and sounds. Your larger muscles are paralyzed off and on. Sleep is a strange and distinct state, different from wakefulness and unconsciousness. The optic nerve sends impulses to a tiny region called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. The cells of the suprachiasmatic nucleus in the brain control waking, sleeping, body temperature, blood pressure, alertness and intestinal activity.
When you are sleeping, the suprachiasmatic nucleus signals other parts of the brain such as the pineal gland and the hypothalamus to begin regulating sleep. Melatonin, the hormone that tells us to wind down when it gets dark is stimulated in the pineal gland. Orexin, a chemical that wakes us up is suppressed by the hypothalamus. The thalamus is the gatekeeper, passing signals between the body and the brain’s cortex. When you begin to sleep, the thalamus shuts the gate or door to stop the signals. The body is at rest. However, the brain is far from resting. It begins going through the four stages of sleep and at times, is quite busy and active. An electroencephalograph (EEG) has given us more knowledge on this topic. The EEG was invented by Hans Berger in 1929.
Getting Enough Sleep: How much do you need?
It depends on your age as to what is adequate. Babies do not have a circadian rhythm developed yet. They typically sleep 16 hours a day at birth to 12 hours per day at one year. Circadian rhythm begins to develop in 3-5 months of age. Up to 50% of newborn sleep is REM sleep. Deep sleep increases with age. It is always fascinating to see a baby fast asleep in a stroller in a noisy mall.
School-age children often need 10-11 hours of sleep. REM sleep is still very high so sleepwalking and night terrors can develop and resolve with age.
In the teenage years this changes dramatically. Deep, slow wave sleep increases and circadian rhythm shifts. It becomes natural for teens to stay up later and rise later in the morning. Adolescents still need 8-10 hours of sleep. A teenager waking at 6 AM is equivalent to asking an adult to get up at 4 AM!
Adults need 7 ½ to 8 ½ hours sleep each night. Their circadian rhythm comes earlier in the evening than a teenager and they tend to rise earlier.
Deep sleep declines with age. A 70 year-old gets a smaller amount of deep sleep. Insomnia in older people can possibly be a sign of dementia. To help improve an older person’s quality of sleep, and to help anyone who may be suffering from dementia, sixty minutes of bright light in the morning and dimming the lights at night can help.
This chart from the CDC breaks this down by age.
We Can Help
If you have been experiencing problems with getting good sleep and have not resolved them, a functional medicine approach may help. Our providers can help you get to the bottom of what is causing your sleep troubles and resolve these. Good sleep makes a huge difference in your health and well being and addressing this can improve your quality of life. For more information about us or how we can help, Contact Us.