Category Archives: Sleep Facts

Benefits of Napping

Benefits of nappingIf you’re like most Americans, you probably haven’t spent much time thinking about the benefits of napping lately. In fact, the last time most of us took a nap regularly was in kindergarten.

There’s a persistent idea that napping makes you lazy or unproductive, and that it’s only for small children and people too old to work. People even pride themselves on how little sleep they get.

Science, however, shows that the stigma against napping is misplaced and inaccurate. Carefully used, naps are a great way to boost your intelligence and productivity, ensure better health, and even work toward self improvement.

The Unnatural Full Night’s Sleep

Modern humans are among the few creatures that sleep all at once. Almost every other type of animal, from cats to canaries, gets polyphasic sleep. This consists of a series of sleeping and waking cycles during every 24 hour time period.

Even ancient humans tended to break up sleep. In ancient Rome, sexta or noon was considered the best time for a mid-day nap. The same practice was traditional in Spain, Mexico and many other countries, but it’s dying off due to the increasing use of American and Northern European business hours.

Since most people have extreme difficulty getting enough hours of sleep every night, the resulting sleep deprivation causes many health problem. Loss of sleep makes us less accurate, more irritable and more susceptible to disease. We have trouble feeling happy and healthy and our work often suffers significantly.

Advantages of Napping

  • Greater alertness – If you feel like you’re about to nod off at any moment, you’re not doing good work. Making time to get a nap could improve things significantly. According to one study performed by NASA, a 40 minute nap provides an alertness increase of up to 100 percent. Just 20 minutes produces greater improvement than either exercise or taking 200 milligrams of caffeine.
  • Better memory and learning capacity – Naps also help to boost your working memory, which is required for managing complex tasks. Sleeping for short periods is also good for longer-term memory, since you transfer information out of your short term memory and into permanent storage in the neocortex while you’re asleep.
  • Increased creativity and sensitivity – By taking a nap, you can boost your sensory perception abilities significantly. Being tired reduces your ability to taste food, enjoy beautiful things and process other sensations. It also cuts into your creativity; if you’re having trouble on a project, just take a nap and it may all come together.
  • Better health – When you deprive yourself of sleep, you boost your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. An increase in cortisol makes you feel anxious and irritable. It also increases your risk of abdominal fat gain and glucose intolerance, reduces your ability to learn, creates hormone imbalances and causes a wide range of other problems that can damage your health. Sleep provides an antidote to this stress hormone, giving your body a chance to heal and rebuild.
  • Better mood – Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating appetite, sleep and mood. It helps us feel contented and happy. Unfortunately, high levels of stress hormones result in lower levels of serotonin. Sleeping regularly helps us rebuild levels of this important neurotransmitter and feel happier overall.
  • Monetary savings – One of the lesser known advantages of napping is saving money. Think of what you spend on coffee and energy boosters every week. By getting just a few minutes of sleep, you could cut out all those stimulants and enjoy the natural boost that comes with napping.

The benefits of napping may not be well known, but they’re definitely worth investigating. Read The Basic Sleep Stages: Non-REM and REM Sleep Cycles for related information.

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Understanding Sleep Debt and Sleep Deprivation

sleep debtMillions of people in the U.S. suffer from sleep debt or sleep deficit, which is the result of sleep deprivation or insufficient amount of sleep over a period of days, weeks or longer.

Sleep debt happens when the amount of sleep you are actually getting is less than the amount of sleep you should be getting. It’s a deficit that increases every time you short-change yourself from obtaining those essential minutes of nightly slumber.

It makes no difference if you are sleep deprived through personal choice or if you suffer from a sleep disorder such as insomnia or circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Failing to get the right amount of sleep results in sleep debt.

In advanced cases, a sleep deficit can cause physical and mental health problems.

Is Sleep Deprivation Serious?

Studies show that severe sleep deprivation can lead to:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Lack of performance ability

A recent study at the University of Chicago restricted a group of healthy young men to only 4 hours of sleep for six nights in a row. Afterwards, their blood tests showed results that nearly match individuals who have diabetes.

A tremendous drop in insulin due to a reduced ability to process blood sugar, elevated levels of cortisol. High levels of this stress hormone can lead to hypertension and impaired memory.

The research leader, Dr. Eve Van Cauter reported that habitual short sleepers have difficulty maintaining stable blood sugar levels, which makes them susceptible to obesity and diabetes. Experts are starting to speculate that sleep deprivation could be a leading cause of the obesity epidemic in the U.S.

Van Cauter said that getting the proper amount of sleep is not only vital for physical health, but also for performance levels and emotional well-being.

What If Sleep Deprivation Is Unavoidable?

For many people sleep deprivation is something that they have to deal with on a fairly regular basis, such as those that have to work odd shifts, or students preparing for exams.

In situations such as these, making up for that lost sleep will take more than merely getting a couple nights of good sleep. First of all, it has been determined that you cannot easily recoup lost slumber unless the sleep you have missed out on is recent.

This means that if you have been going without the right amount of shut-eye for a few months or even longer, you can’t settle that debt by just getting a couple nights of good sleep.

On the other hand, if the sleep deprivation spans only a short period of time, it is possible to regain that rest fairly quickly.

What Can Be Done?

The effects of sleep debt can be hidden, albeit only on a temporary basis, in order to allow for performance to be restored.

There is a catch, though. While a good night’s sleep might remedy the effects of the lack of sleep for a limited time, the person will likely experience a worsening in their performance ability the longer they remain awake thereafter.

They might also experience a range of other fatigue-related problems, like diminished memory, reduced vision and impaired driving.

So, although you may think you can compensate for your sleep deprivation over the weekends, the fact of the matter is that all you are really doing is accumulating your sleep deficit over and over.

There is good news, however. With conscious effort and discipline, sleep debt can be repaid— just don’t expect it to happen in one extended snooze session.

Adding an additional hour or two of sleep a night is a good way to get back on track. For people who have been chronically sleep deprived, it may take a number of months to return to a normal sleep pattern.

So, make the time to erase that sleep debt and you’ll find it’s the best investment you’ve ever made.

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The Basic Sleep Stages: Non-REM and REM Sleep Cycles

Understanding sleep stages can be very important for people whose sleep cycles feel incomplete or interrupted. Anyone who has ever slept for hours on end, but still awakened feeling tired knows that not all sleep is the same.

sleep cycles and sleep stages

Sleep is divided into two major types :

  1. NREM – The first is non-rapid eye movement sleep, or non-REM. This is divided into four sleep stages, each one a little deeper than the previous one.
  2. REM – After the non-REM stages are completed, people move into the second type of sleep, rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep.

During this REM sleep, most dreaming occurs and the eyes move quickly back and forth. People who don’t experience all these stages during a given sleep cycle can awaken tired and disoriented.

Early Sleep

The earliest phases of sleep can be hard to detect, since the sleeper still feels relatively awake. The brain, however, has already begun to stop producing as many tiny, fast beta waves and has increased its production of the slower alpha waves.

During this period, most people don’t quite feel asleep and may have thoughts that feel dreamlike.

Some sleepers even experience very vivid sensations and images while in this state. These are called hypnagogic hallucinations and may suddenly cause you to wake up. Some people hear voices, feel as though they are falling, or are struck by the sudden sensation that a person or animal is in the room with them.

  • Stage One SleepSleep cycles begin with stage one sleep, which is fairly light and acts as a transitional phase between being awake and being asleep. The brain starts producing very slow waves during this sleep stage. This type of brain wave is known as a theta wave.
  • Stage Two Sleep – This part of most people’s sleep cycles is much longer than stage one and lasts for about 20 minutes. The brain’s wave pattern begins to become rhythmic and repetitive, producing a signature known as a sleep spindle. This encourages the heart rate to slow down and the body temperature to drop.
  • Stage Three Sleep – Delta waves, extremely slow and deep brain waves, are produced during stage three. This phase is usually fairly short and acts as the transition between lighter sleep and deep sleep stages.
  • Stage Four Sleep – Often referred to as delta sleep, stage four is characterized by large numbers of delta waves. This stage lasts for about half an hour in most people. It is the phase in which people who suffer from bed-wetting or sleepwalking are most likely to have problems.
  • Stage Five Sleep – By stage five, the body is ready to enter the REM phase, during which breathing and brain activity speed up. Muscles relax more and sleep paralysis sets in. Most people enter this stage about an hour and a half after beginning sleep, with progressive REM sleep stages lasting longer as the sleep cycles continue.

It’s important to pass through all these phases for healthy sleep. Non-REM sleep stages allow people to build and repair tissues and develop a healthier immune system, while REM stages are important for mental health.

When people get older, their sleep becomes lighter and less deep. Aging is also linked to shorter durations of sleep, although, contrary to public opinion, studies have shown that the necessary amount of sleep remains the same with the increase of age.

Presumably, this would account for the increasing frequency of napping throughout the day with seniors. The body is just trying to compensate for the diminished quality of sleep during the night.

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