Sleep is an integral part of human existence and we spend around one third of our total lives doing it! However, in today’s fast paced lifestyle, many people are sleep deprived and suffer from insomnia. Insomnia is a common sleep disorder and can be either short term or chronic.
Insomnia can be caused by stress, depression, anxiety, illness, pain, travelling in different time zones, shift work, poor bedtime rituals or an altered sleep schedule. Some of the warning signs of sleep deprivation include: fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, confusion and depression.
Other sleep disorders which require medical attention include: sleep apnoea, snoring, Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), Periodic Limb Movements in Sleep (PLMS), narcolepsy and the parasomnias.
Sleep Disorders have been connected to attentional and cognitive deficits, which are most commonly observed in the areas of attention and tasks that require high levels of integration such as solving arithmetic problems.
Sleep is not just a matter of simply switching off the brain, it is a complex process involving several stages of deep and light sleep that occur over a full sleep cycle of around eight hours for most adults. Most people need about 7 to 8 hours sleep per night to stay alert through the day. The actual range of needed sleep varies considerably between individuals, and sleeping patterns appear to differ across cultures.
As we grow older, from about middle age (35) onwards, our sleep tends to become less and less deep, and this factor appears to be directly related to reduction in melatonin production. Deep sleep is the stage when our body healing, repair and regeneration occurs. These latter stages of the sleep cycle are crucial times for physical recovery and psychological well being. It is also when the body secretes the most growth hormone, amongst other chemicals.
An interrupted sleep cycle with insufficient Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Periods of sleep can be at root of many physical and psychological effects such as fatigue, inability to concentrate, dizziness, perceptual changes and mood changes. Many sleep disorders cause an increase in daytime sleepiness and there is a direct correlation to an increase in motor vehicle accidents.
Regardless of the cause of insomnia, help is available. While there are some sleeping disorders that require medical treatment others can be assisted through natural interventions. The following techniques will not only help you to feel better but will improve the quality of your sleep: managing stress and learning to relax, meditating, being mindful of your sleep habits (improving sleep hygiene), cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), neurofeedback, heart rate variability (HRV) training, hypnosis, improving diet and nutrition and getting regular exercise. Studies have shown that improved sleeping patterns lead to improvements in mood and cognition function.
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