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Background Information on Sleep Physiology

Importance of good sleep

Good sleep is essential for our core physical and mental well-being while poor sleep affects just about every aspect of our life. Those who have sleep issues in the past know this all too well.

What causes sleep problems?

Lifestyle (eating late, jet lag, hunger, alcohol, caffeine, stimulant drugs), environment (noise, uncomfortable bed or bedroom), physical health problems (sleep apnea, asthma, tinnitus, pain, prostate problem, indigestion), psychological (stress, grief), mental health problem (depression, anxiety) and medications can all contribute to sleep problems.

There are so many variables that it's hard to pinpoint just one cause. If you're experiencing temporary sleeping problems, then it's should be easily treatable. However, persistent and chronic sleep issues have a core underlying cause that must be addressed first. Sleep aids only alleviate the symptoms temporarily but don't "heal" the problem.

If you occasionally or frequently struggle to fall asleep, wake up throughout the night, or wake too early in the morning, you are not alone. In fact a recent survey indicates as many as 80 million Americans fall into that category and is considered the second biggest health issue in the US.

The cycles of sleep

We normally go through 4 stages of sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Each stage of sleep can last anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes, depending on the individual. The following 4 stages are:

Stage 1: Light Sleep transition between wakefulness and sleep, characterized by slow rolling eye movements. We can be easily wakened during this stage.

Stage 2: Decreased Sensory Awareness - slower brain waves interspersed with rapid waves.

Stage 3 & 4: Slow Wave Sleep or Deep Sleep - extremely slow brain waves. No eye movements or muscle activity. Heart and respiratory rates are very slow. Time spent in these stages of deep sleep decreases with age.

REM sleep: Raid Eye Movement heart and respiratory rates increase, muscle twitches. This is when most vivid dreams occur.

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