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March 29, 2016
Sleep problems in adult life
March 29, 2016
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Are you sleeping properly?

Introduction

We don’t usually need to think very much about sleep. It’s routine. Even so, most of us sometimes just can’t sleep properly. We call it insomnia. It’s usually just for a short time, perhaps when we’re worried or excited. When things settle down, we start sleeping properly again. If you can’t sleep properly, it can be a real problem because we all need sleep to keep healthy.

What happens during sleep?

When you sleep, you become unconscious and unaware of what’s going on around you. As you sleep, you pass through different stages – and there are two main types:

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep

This comes and goes throughout the night, and makes up about one fifth of your sleep. The brain is very active, eyes move quickly from side to side and you dream. Although your brain is active, your muscles are very relaxed.

Non-REM sleep

Your brain is quiet, but your body moves around while you sleep. Hormones are released into the bloodstream and your body repairs itself after the wear and tear of the day. There are 3 stages of non-REM sleep:

  • ‘Pre-sleep’ – your muscles relax, your heart beats slower and your body temperature falls.
  • ‘Light sleep’ – you can wake up easily without feeling confused.
  • ‘Slow wave’ sleep – your blood pressure falls, you may talk or sleep walk and it’s hard to wake up. If somebody does wake you, you feel confused.

You move between REM and non-REM sleep about 5 times during the night, dreaming more towards the morning.
On a normal night, most people wake up for one or two minutes every 2 hours or so. You aren’t usually aware of these ‘mini wakes’, but may remember them if you feel anxious or there is something else going on – noises outside, a partner snoring etc.

How much sleep do we need?

This mainly depends on your age.

  • Babies sleep for about 17 hours each day.
  • Older children only need 9 or 10 hours each night.
  • Most adults need around 8 hours sleep each night.
  • Older people need the same amount of sleep, but will often only have one period of deep sleep during the night, usually in the first 3 or 4 hours. After that, they wake more easily. We tend to dream less as we get older.

There are differences between people of the same age. Most will need 8 hours a night, but some (a few) people can get by with only 3 hours a night.

The short periods of being awake can feel much longer than they really are. So you can feel that you are not sleeping as much as you really are.

What happens if I don’t sleep?

An occasional night without sleep will make you feel tired the next day, but it won’t affect your health.

However, after several sleepless nights, you will start to find that you:

  • feel tired all the time
  • drop off during the day
  • find it difficult to concentrate
  • find it hard to make decisions
  • start to feel depressed
  • start to worry about not being able to sleep.

This can be very dangerous if you are driving or operating heavy machinery. Many deaths are caused each year by people falling asleep at the wheel while driving.

If it continues, lack of sleep can make you more likely to get:

  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • Overweight.
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