Researchers are discovering some interesting facts about what makes us fall asleep, what
happens when we sleep, and what interrupts a good night's sleep.
And it's a good thing
because trouble sleeping is a very common health complaint of not only young women but
of all groups. Learning about sleep can help you enhance the quality of your rest,
which in turn will increase your resistance to health problems and help you feel
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep has long been known to affect our mental and physical health. Individuals who are
consistently deprived of adequate sleep are more prone to illness, become less alert,
don't test as well and are subject to more emotional upsets. Sometimes, insomnia or
the inability to sleep, can be a medical problem which needs to be addressed
professionally by your doctor or health care provider.
What happens when I sleep?
Have you ever heard the term circadian rhythm? Circadian is a Latin term meaning
"about a day." Hence, circadian rhythm is your body's biological rhythm that repeats itself
each day. If you are awake when your rhythms are most active and asleep when your rhythms
are inactive, you'll be able to maximize your physical, emotional and mental health.
Sleep itself involves a series of cycles. During each cycle a person progresses through
stages of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) followed by a period of REM (rapid eye movement)
sleep. Most sleep during a night is progressively deep non-REM which is restful. REM
sleep follows when the brain is highly active. Most dreams that are remembered occur
during this time. Each cycle occurs about every hour and a half in young adults. As
your body becomes more rested, your non-REM sleep decreases and your REM sleep increases.
Interruptions in your sleep require that the cycles begin back at step one. Your
non-REM sleep cycles need to begin anew and it may take quite a bit longer to achieve the
deep, restful stages that give you the relaxation that you need, even if you spent eight
hours in bed.
Theories state that non-REM provides the body restoration and renewal. REM appears to be
important for cognitive restoration as memory storage and learning. Dreams during this time
may contribute to consolidating long-term memory.
It is interesting to note the implications of the importance of sleep for students.
**Also, remember that alcohol prior to sleep interrupts REM stages, and often accounts for
waking suddenly after about three hours of sleep.
Written 9/01. Revised 11/02