The modern world strives to make laborsaving devices, to provide recreation and entertainment, and to increase speed and efficiency at home and work. So why are we not rested? Why are we weary and stressed? Back in the eras we consider primitive, people had no such resources. Folks worked very hard and when the light of day waned-they went to bed. Today the activities often start before the sky brightens and continues long after the last ray has disappeared.
Our minds and bodies operate on a fairly constant 24-hour rhythm called the circadian rhythm, with alternating periods of arousal and sleep. Much is known regarding sleep cycles and the factors, including natural body chemistry, that regulate sleep. We know that sleep is necessary, but still do not know exactly why. Yes, it allows the body time and quiet to repair itself, but there is much more to it than that. Humans and animals with more complex brains, like cats, sleep more than small animals with smaller cortexes.1 Dreams occur during REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep, and during REM a person goes into complete muscle relaxation which may lead to increased restoration of muscle tissues.2 Blood flow and temperature of the brain increase during the REM cycle of sleep.
Sleep deprivation causes memory loss, emotional instability, and affects one’s analytical abilities, perception, motivation and motor control. Lack of sleep also impairs our immune systems and our ability to learn as well as our creativity and productivity.3
Resting is also important. Your normal waking, thinking wave is the beta wave which looks short and spiky. During rest, when a person lies still, closes their eyes, and stills their mind, EEG (electroencephalogram) testing indicates that their brains go into an alpha wave pattern. Alpha waves are flowing and synchronous.4 Rest appears to invigorate the body and make the brain more able to function optimally.
What are some ways you can get better sleep? No late suppers, for one thing. Since our metabolisms slow at night, food tends to digest very slowly and one gets the sensation of food "just sitting there," which is exactly what it is doing. The body must send blood to the stomach to facilitate digestion, pulling blood away from the brain which vitally needs it for sleep processing. The evening meal should be light and eaten several hours before bedtime.
Try to get eight hours of sleep each night and exercise regularly. Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol because although they can sometimes make you drowsy, they actually reduce or eliminate important REM sleep. Keep your bedroom dark and free from stimuli. Absolutely no television watching in bed. Practice breathing deeply and taper to smooth regular respirations. Eliminate caffeine from your diet and keep to a regular bedtime. Exposing yourself to sunlight will help keep your circadian rhythm on track.
Many of us are not getting enough sleep even though it is as necessary to health as is nutrition and water. Many disorders, both physical and mental, can be attributed to sleep deprivation. Even with all our technology and laborsaving devices, all we have accomplished is making more time available for even more activities. We must re-learn to give our bodies and minds the rest needed for healing.
1 Everyday Science Explained, Curt Suplee, National Geographic Society, 1996, 264
2 Simple Remedies for the Home, Clarence W. Dail, MD and Charles S. Thomas, PhD, MMI Press, Harrisville, New Hampshire, 1985, 80
3 The Promise of Sleep, William C. Dement, MD, PhD, and Christopher Vaughn, Dell Publishing, New York, 1999
4 Biology, Neil A. Campbell, PhD, The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Redwood City, California, 1990, 1003