Sleep Problems: The Dangers of Being Awake All Night

Us humans need to sleep to lead a healthy, balanced, and normal life. While the body rests, the brain is actually working hard and goes through numerous cycles of activity. In the United States alone, millions of people are struggling with chronic long-term sleeping disorders every year. And that doesn’t even include the countless others who are suffering from occasional sleep problems.

What are sleep problems?

The current list of sleep disorders includes over 70 different sleeping disorders, that are grouped into one of three different classifications.
· lack of sleep — insomnia
· disturbed sleep — obstructive sleep
· excessive sleep — narcolepsy

Most sleep problems, when correctly identified, can be taken care of and solved pretty quickly.  If you have the occasional sleepless night a week, you might not actually be suffering from a sleeping disorder. Maybe you just need to change the time you go to sleep or get rid of that TV above your bed. If you are unsure about your sleeping pattern, keep a sleep diary to understand if and where you might have sleep problems.

Sleep disorders are defined by problems with the quality, timing and amount of sleep you get, which cause problems with going about your life during the day. There are about 70 different types of sleep disorders, of which insomnia is the most prevalent. Other sleep disorders are narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome.

How much sleep is enough?

The answer to this question depends on a variety of factors. Age is probably one of the main elements when trying to establish how much sleep a person should get per night. Infants, for example, spend the majority of their day asleep, while teenagers typically need about nine hours of sleep a day. A typical healthy adult needs about seven to eights hours of sleep a day, but this can be more or less, depending on your metabolism and genetics. Elderly people need the smallest amount of sleep and also spend the least time in the deep stages of the sleep cycle.

Around 50 percent of adults over the age of 65 are dealing with some sort of sleep problem. Until today, it is still unclear whether this is a normal part of aging or a result of drugs that older people generally use that are messing with their circadian rhythm.

Sleep Recommendations

AgeHours of Sleep
Infant (4-11 months) 12-15 hours
Toddler (1-2 years) 11-14 hours
Preschooler (3-5 years) 10-13 hours
School-age child (6-13 years) 9-11 hours
Teen (14-17 years) 8-10 hours
Young adult (18-25 years) 7-9 hours
Adult (26-64 years) 7-9 hours
Older adult (65+ years) 7-9 hours
Source: National Sleep Foundation

The mechanisms that control falling asleep and waking up again, are affected by a number of chemicals in the brain and blood. Certain foods and medications can have an effect and the balance of these chemicals and negatively impact our sleep patterns and sleep quality. The best example of this is probably caffeine. This daily helper can disrupt your sleep patterns, while antidepressants have been tied to rem sleep behavior disorder. Additionally, tobacco and alcohol can also be at fault for your chronic insomnia.

If you do decide to take sleep medicine to help you get restful sleep, never mix alcohol and sleeping pills. Alcohol can enhance the sedative effects of the pills even in small doses, causing lightheadedness, and confusion. In extreme cases, the mix can also cause breathing problems and even stop your heart. Also, don’t forget that alcohol itself is often a source of sleeping problems. Especially people suffering from sleep disorders that involve obstructive sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome rls, should refrain from mixing alcohol and sleep medicine.

What are the different sleep stages?

There are 5 phases of the sleep wake cycle that repeat over and over during a single night: phases 1, 2, 3, 4 as well as the REM phase (rapid eye movement). Stages 1 through 4 are also called the non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM).

There are four stages of non-REM sleep. Each phase lasts around 5 to 15 minutes. Before reaching REM sleep, you will go through all four non-REM phases.

Stage 1: Your eyes are already closed, but it would be fairly easy to wake you up. Your eyes are moving slowly and muscle activity in your body slows down. In this stage, the eyes move slowly and muscle activity slows. If you have ever experienced sudden muscle contractions and a sensation of falling, that’s during this stage.

Stage 2: You are now in light sleep. Your heart rate slows down and your body temperature drops. Your eyes stop moving and brain waves are becoming measurably slower with an occasional burst of rapid brain waves. Your body is now getting ready to enter deep sleep.

Stage 3: This is the deep sleep stage. Slow brain waves, called delta waves, are now interspersed with smaller, faster waves. During this stage people might sleepwalk, experience night terrors, talking in their sleep, or wet the bed.

Stage 4: The deep sleep stage continues and the brain now produces almost only delta waves. Waking you up now would be a lot harder and if someone would wake you, you’d feel confused and disoriented for a little while.

REM Sleep: In the REM sleep phase, brain waves look almost as they do when the brain is awake. Your eyes are closed but move quickly from side-to-side. This is thought to be connected to the dream and brain activity that happens in this stage.

During the deep stages of non-REM sleep, the body repairs and regrows tissues builds bone and muscle and strengthens the immune system.

How long is a sleep cycle?

The length of sleep cycles varies throughout the night. The first sleep cycle is about 90 minutes long. After that, they usually average between 100 to 120 minutes. During a normal night, you will go through four to five sleep cycles.

The sleep cycle is important to help the brain achieve REM sleep. Instead of going straight from deep sleep to REM sleep, a sleep cycle goes through the stages of non-REM sleep from light to deep sleep, and then back from deep sleep to light sleep. The end of the cycle is always REM sleep before starting a new cycle in light sleep again.

About 50 percent of your time in bed is spent in Phase 2. Another 20 percent is spent in the REM phase, which is when you dream. All REM phases combined will usually come out to around two hours for most adults.

Why is deep sleep important?

During the deep stages of non-REM sleep, the body works hard to repair and regrow damaged tissue, rebuild bones and muscle, and strengthen the immune system. repairs and regrows tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system.

Deep sleep also reduces your sleep drive and offers the most restful sleep of all the sleep stages. This is the reason why you can still fall asleep at night after taking a short nap during the day. If you nap for longer periods of time, however, and enter deep sleep, you reduce your need for sleep and will have a harder time to sleep at night.

Getting good sleep is incredibly important for a healthy body. Sleep problems and sleep deprivation can have serious destructive effects on your health. Good sleep likewise is important for your nervous system to function properly and might help lighten the effects of a neurological disorder.

Sleeping well has also been tied to your ability to concentrate better and be happier. On top of that, sleep is extremely helpful in promoting a relaxed mindset.

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