Sleep is a source of strength and the best of medicines, it helps to relieve severe anxiety or mental fatigue. Happy are those to whom sleep invariably appears at a certain time, for a certain period, and leaves as quietly and imperceptibly as it came.

The world of wakefulness and the world of sleep are so different from each other that it can be said of every person that he lives as if in two worlds.

Sleep is the source of our strength, a balm for our sick soul, the best of all medicines. Everyone knows from his own experience that often the best and only way to get rid of severe anxiety or mental fatigue is to sleep them off. Happy is the one to whom sleep invariably appears at a certain time, for a certain period, and leaves as quietly and imperceptibly as it came.

According to Greek mythology, the god of sleep is Hypnos.

Sleep and insomnia

The duration and depth of sleep varies in healthy people. The average sleep norm for an adult - seven to eight hours - has only a tentative value. Some people need nine or even ten hours of sleep, while others need five or six hours. Both are considered quite normal. Children and young people have been known to sleep longer than adults, and older people the least. Working people sleep better than housewives and pensioners. Of the young, school and university students are the worst sleepers. Men are less likely to complain of insomnia than women, although in general women sleep more than men.

People who are active and energetic tend to sleep less than average. People with reduced intelligence sleep longer than others. It is widely believed that it is harmful to sleep too much. Not without reason, the proverb says: "Who sleeps a lot, he lives a little. Sleepiness is associated with laziness: "If you are sleepy, you are lazy".

Vain and ambitious people consider sleep a waste of time. The cowardly likes to linger in bed in the morning, with a tendency to pull the blanket over their ears.

In many ways, sleep is a mood regulator. In some cases, it reduces excessive stress, and we wake up in a good mood. Other times, on the contrary, we get out of bed with a headache and a bad mood.

Sleep disturbance is more common in the case of people of mental work, in the case of information overload, in the case of prolonged emotional overload.

Alcohol, nicotine and drugs have a negative effect on the quality of sleep. A persistent sleep disturbance due to late bedtime is very dangerous. The temperature of the air is of great importance for sleep. Sleeping in a hot, unventilated room or after a hot bath shortly before going to sleep is not good. Even air pressure affects sleep: people sleep longer in the mountains than in flat areas.

It is considered advisable to sleep with the head facing north.

The nature of sleep is still poorly understood. There are a few opinions on the subject. According to one of them, sleep is interpreted as a physiological process aimed at preventing the body from self-expulsion of harmful acids and other waste products accumulated while awake. According to another version, sleep is explained by the action of adrenaline, which has the property of severely constricting the arteries. In high doses adrenaline acts as a poison, but in low doses it produces anaemia of the organs and has a special effect on the nerve centres. Since sleep is accompanied by a low blood circulation of the brain, it is logical to believe that this state of the brain is due to the effects of adrenaline.

Sleep is a cyclical physiological process. An adult repeats the cycle every 90 minutes. During the night, 4 to 6 cycles occur, depending on how long a person sleeps. Each cycle has two phases, a slow deep sleep phase and a paradoxical sleep phase.

Sleep begins with drowsiness: the pupils become narrower, consciousness becomes cloudy and hallucinations arise. After about five minutes, a slow deep sleep sets in. While falling asleep, many of the body's processes come to a standstill:

  • body temperature drops.
  • respiratory rate and pulse rate slow down
  • blood pressure falls
  • the amount of the stress hormone cortisol, which is secreted by the cortical adrenal glands, decreases.

By contrast, growth hormone reaches exceptionally high levels. These hormonal shifts activate metabolic processes. In this phase of sleep there are slow, rotating movements of the eyes under the closed eyelids. The awakened person cannot understand where he/she is and does not remember the contents of what he/she saw in the dream.

In the paradoxical phase of sleep, there is an increase in the activity of various organs and systems. In particular, rapid eye movements occur, breathing becomes irregular, pulse and blood pressure also fluctuate. The process of restoration of lost strength and "healing" of various ailments is intensified, the brain remembers, fixes all that it has learned or learned during the day. An erection of the penis occurs in men, not only in adults, but also in children and even infants. In the case of impotence, this is used to determine whether it is of an organic or psychological nature. Psychological impotence does not exclude the occurrence of erections in dreams.

In the paradoxical phase of sleep, a person has the most vivid, emotionally coloured dreams. This is evidenced by the fact that, when awakened at this time, a person can tell what he or she has seen in the dream.

A child in a paradoxical dream is much more disturbed than an adult. Their arms, legs and facial muscles are constantly twitching. Premature infants are so active that it is difficult to tell whether they are in a state of paradoxical sleep or wakefulness.

The cycle of deep slow and paradoxical sleep is already evident at an early age, but then the duration of the cycle is shorter: in one-year-old infants it is 45-50 minutes, and by the age of five it rises to 60-70 minutes. Older children gradually develop a 90-minute cycle, typical of adults.

In older people, the reduction in sleep time is mainly due to slow deep sleep. The percentage of paradoxical sleep remains fairly stable.

With each new 90-minute sleep cycle, the process of regaining lost energy decreases, while the process of remembering, on the contrary, increases. Thus, somewhere around two hours before awakening, the "remembering" function is particularly intense.

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There are no people who don't dream, only people who don't remember them. In most cases, dreams are trivial and uninteresting. Only a small percentage of them contain strange and fantastic elements. It is noteworthy that daily routine activities are rarely recorded in dreams. Rational and realistic elements, similar to thinking while awake, prevail in the deep slow phase of sleep. In the paradoxical phase, more complex, vivid, fantastical dreams dominate. It is not uncommon for a person to find the right way out of a previously unresolved problem in a dream, as if continuing the creative process. In a dream may overcome conflict situations of a psychological nature.

The content of dreams is more often negative than positive: defeats and failures, encounters with cruelty and aggression. More than a third of dream reports contain the emotions of fear and anxiety. But even with very disturbing events in dreams, the accompanying emotions are strongly muted. It is not uncommon for the sleeper to shriek and awaken in terror, covered in clammy sweat. Children also often wake up from nightmares and have difficulty falling asleep afterwards, with unpleasant themes and conflicts occurring more frequently in boys.

An important feature of dreams is the ability to hold attention. The latter is captured by certain events or objects from which it is impossible to free oneself: we cannot force our attention to switch to something else. This is due to the fact that dreams lack the elements of imagination: the consciousness does not wander as in waking life, but is focused on one thing.

A very common phenomenon accompanying sleep is snoring. It occurs when the muscles in the pharynx relax, and the tongue and lower jaw slowly slide back, blocking the air path through the nose, which is already blocked, forcing us to breathe through our mouth.

Statistics show that about 30 per cent of men and 20 per cent of women snore in their sleep every night. The tendency to snore increases with age. Intense snoring occurs during the deep slow sleep phase and weakens or disappears during the paradoxical sleep phase. As snoring occurs when the person lies on his/her back, obese people must be particularly prone to it: their build makes them sleep on their back more, and excess fatty tissue in the throat increases the vibrations.

Snoring can be caused by upper respiratory diseases such as allergies, sinusitis or even a runny nose. In children, extensive tonsillitis may cause the same effect. Sometimes snoring is the cause of intermittent sleep apnea. The corresponding disorder is called "sleep apnoea". Up to several hundred breath-holds occur during the night. Each one lasts a few seconds, exceptionally up to two minutes. During these moments, the person begins to twist and beat restlessly, as in convulsions, but usually does not wake up. On resumption, breathing is accompanied by a loud, explosive snoring. Apnoea is more common in men after the age of forty.

The disease has two consequences. Firstly, sufferers experience severe drowsiness during the day due to sleep deprivation caused by frequent respiratory pauses. Secondly, during respiratory pauses, blood oxygen levels drop, causing oxygen deficiency in the body. This in turn causes an increase in pressure in the small (pulmonary) circulatory system and an abnormal heart rhythm. Both sleeping pills and alcohol, which suppress breathing, exacerbate sleep apnoea. Sudden death in obese elderly people can occur due to this condition.

Breathing pauses in sleep also occur in young children. They are probably the cause of sudden death in the cot of young children (SIDS). Possible victims of this syndrome are children who have great difficulty waking up from a slow deep sleep. It has been suggested that the condition is hereditary, so that siblings of SIDS victims are more likely to be at risk of sudden death.

Unfortunately, there are no effective methods to fight snoring. The likelihood of snoring is considerably reduced by sleeping on your side, not on your back. A large pillow should preferably be placed high under the snorer's head. To strengthen the muscles of the soft palate snorers useful to pronounce the sound "and" with the simultaneous tension of the neck muscles. This exercise should be repeated up to 30 times in the morning and evening. Improvement usually occurs after a month. The following exercise also helps: Press your chin to your chest with your mouth wide open and stick your tongue out and down as much as possible. This exercise should be performed twice a day for five minutes. The most effective way to get rid of snoring in obese people is to lose weight. In particularly severe cases, a rigid ball is sewn into the back of the snorer's sleepwear so that the person cannot lie on his or her back. According to some experts, dreaming in the paradoxical phase helps to eliminate unnecessary information in the brain that forms during waking hours. Therefore, sleep deprivation should cause a person to fall into unconsciousness after a while, as a mass of fragmented thoughts and superficial impressions will accumulate in the brain and suppress those thoughts that should be retained in their entirety. Artificially depriving a person of sleep for several days confirms this view. The first night passes relatively easily, but on the second night the urge to sleep becomes overwhelming. Perceptual disturbances and hallucinations may occur. The person complains, for example, that they cannot walk because the floor seems to be covered with a layer of sticky moving particles, or that the air is filled with coloured specks. With longer periods of sleep deprivation, people become suspicious: they think something is going on behind them, something is being hidden from them, etc. All these apparent mental disturbances are not accompanied by any organic symptoms, apart from burning and pain in the eyelids and eyes.

Sleep is one of the greatest creators of strong nerves. When one goes to bed with a pleasantly tired body, a calm mind and an empty stomach, one should sleep like a healthy child. If you are overcome by fears and old anxieties in your dreams, it is not a healthy dream. Nightmares are usually caused by poisoning of the blood. In a person who is constantly too tired and nervous, stimulated by tobacco, coffee, tea, alcohol, sleeping pills, even 8-10 hours of sleep does not relieve stress.

Even a short afternoon nap should be considered a great boon to human health. Our stomach requires a pause after a meal for good digestion. This impulse should not be resisted: if possible, you should put aside all your work and rest instead of fighting drowsiness.

The causes of sleep disorders are manifold, the most common being unpleasant feelings, stress, mental or emotional overload, internal diseases and alcohol intoxication. Among the various manifestations of sleep disorders, insomnia is the most difficult to endure.

The word "insomnia" should not be taken literally, as complete sleep deprivation. Even with its severe forms a person sleeps, albeit little, intermittently, but sleeps for sure. In this sense, as a rule, we cannot believe the person's claims that he has not slept all night. Nevertheless, prolonged insomnia can wear a person out completely and completely destroy his health.

Insomnia is more common in women than in men, and it progresses with age. Three forms of insomnia are known. The most common is difficulty falling asleep. People spend hours turning around, hearing the clock chime and cannot fall asleep until 2-3 hours in the morning. The reasons for difficulty falling asleep are usually due to a state of agitation before going to bed and are caused by intrusive thoughts: discussing conflict situations at work and at home, financial problems, the health of loved ones or one's own, and thinking about plans for the future. Often sleep does not come because of joyful anticipation. Coughs and shortness of breath, street noise and fluctuating weather conditions may be the cause.

Sleep and insomnia

Psychological problems may underlie complaints of serious sleep disorders of an unclear nature. Insomnia is a frequent first sign of endogenous depression, which along with schizophrenia is the most common form of serious mental disorder. Feelings of hopelessness, sadness and guilt are prevalent in these patients. The desire and ability to take initiative disappear: everything seems equally pointless and overwhelmingly difficult. In severe depression, suicide seems to be the only way to end all suffering.

The most common form of sleep disorder in depression is morning insomnia. Paradoxically, nevertheless, deprivation of this already disturbed sleep leads to a marked improvement in almost half of depressed patients, especially those suffering from the illness for a long time. Sleep deprivation therapy is very simple - the patient is kept awake all night, encouraged to play games, read, knit, take walks. The next day, he improves: his mood improves, he becomes more sociable and active. Although the effect of this therapy is only temporary, it is useful as a means of giving the patient an important push in the right direction.

Insomnia in the morning is also common in elderly people, who wake up at three or four in the morning and are unable to go back to sleep.

Another form of sleep disturbance is frequent waking up at night. In these people, sleep is too shallow. Waking up and falling asleep again can occur up to several times during the night.

Some people are very sensitive to changes in daily biorhythms and are virtually unable to perform responsible tasks at inappropriate times of the day. Adapting to changing biorhythms becomes increasingly difficult as we age. For this reason, it is not surprising that shift workers often suffer from sleep disorders and their work performance fluctuates considerably at different times of the day.

After a long flight from east to west, a person can't adjust to his new surroundings for several days: he wakes up unusually early, and by midday he feels deadly tired. Travelling from the west to the east cannot fall asleep in the evening. The reason for these phenomena is that our circadian rhythms require a certain amount of time, about two weeks, to fully adjust to the new daily rhythm.

Adaptation to a new circadian rhythm occurs more easily when the phase shift in the wakefulness-sleep cycle takes place in the direction of lag time: the person goes to bed at a later time. This explains why jet lag is much easier to cope with than jet lag in the opposite direction. The same principle also underpins the treatment of some patients who have a so-called phase delay in their sleep due to a disruption of their biorhythms. Shifting the sleep-wake cycle forward by several hours in these patients leads to an improvement in sleep.

In order to regulate sleep, it is useful to follow some recommendations.

It is not necessary to have exciting conversations in the evenings or read stimulating literature. A light, non-tiring walk is useful. Go to bed preferably at the same time. Before going to bed it is useful to drink half a glass of sweet warm water or take a tablespoon of honey, drink a soothing tea containing valerian or motherwort.

Keep your head open when sleeping, and cover your feet with a warmer coat: this helps you fall asleep. Focusing on falling asleep as quickly as possible interferes with falling asleep: trying to fall asleep by force is not a good idea. Sleep is a disconnection from the mind, so the mind cannot catch the moment of falling asleep, and waiting for that moment is only detrimental.

It is not advisable to set yourself up for complete silence in the room.

It is useful to lie quietly with your eyes open for 20-30 minutes before going to sleep. Then, imbued with a sense of calmness, take the most comfortable position in bed: lie on your back, put your hands along your torso with palms down and slightly bent at the elbows - in this position your muscles are as relaxed as possible. Legs slightly apart.

Or lie on your stomach with your hands under the pillow and your face turned to the left. Relaxation in this position is often very effective, apparently because it is a natural position in which children sleep, and subconscious associations create relaxation. A similarly natural position is on the right side with the right leg slightly tucked in and the left leg extended. The spine is well relaxed.

Before going to bed it is a good idea to lie down with a book. It is often enough to read a few pages for the moment to come when you feel the need to gently turn off the light. Ten long, deep breaths, and sleep has come.

Warmth is known to have a sedative effect. Everyone knows from experience how quickly one can fall into an unnoticeable sleep by breathing a little warm air warmed by one's own breath. However, one should be aware that not every area of the face or head is equally capable of inducing sleep inhibition under the influence of heat. The most active hypnogenic area is the median, perinasal, part of the face.

Warming the nose and cheeks at a temperature of no more than 45 degrees is able to immerse a person quickly enough into a dreamlike world of peace and dreams. It has been found that in a large percentage of patients with cerebral vascular sclerosis, even a brief exposure to heat on the naso-cheek area enhances inhibition. For better sleep, it is advisable to be placed on a wide bed so that you can roll over to a cooler, unheated place with your body more often.

If you soak two cotton swabs in cologne (borax, perfume) and place them in your ears when you go to bed, you will fall asleep very quickly.

A gauze bag filled with dried hops and placed on the pillow before going to sleep helps sleep: it gives off a pleasant soothing and soporific fragrance. Store hops in a cellophane container so that they are less likely to dry out.

If sleep does not come, you can induce it by imitating the rhythm of sleep. Lie down quietly, relax and with your eyes closed, breathe as you would in a very deep sleep.

On a high pillow, your chin is pressed against your chest: this makes it difficult to breathe. On a very low pillow, the head is tilted back, straining the front muscles of the neck.

It is better to sleep on a firm bed: this makes the muscles more elastic. It only takes a few nights to get used to a hard bed.

As sleep is the most important link in building a strong nervous system, you should sleep on the bed alone. Sleeping two people in one bed is uncomfortable. In any case, it should be at least 180 centimetres wide. We spend a third of our lives in bed, so we should get a very comfortable bed. The price is determined not by the amount you pay, but by the quality of your sleep.

You should sleep in comfortable night clothes, or not wear anything at all. It's deliciously freeing and refreshing to sleep naked, especially in the summer.

A night of sound, relaxing, refreshing, restorative sleep is your best health insurance. Work continuously to achieve a good night's sleep. It can be helpful to remember the sleeping person's face in order to fall asleep. It helps to imagine how your face should be too: calm, relaxed, impassive, eyelids heavy, lips and teeth slightly unclenched.

To fall asleep, it's important to change your body position or parts of your body as little as possible.

Never drink coffee or strong tea before going to bed.

You should accustom yourself to enjoying the peace, physical relaxation and drowsiness, and not strive to achieve a deep sleep at all costs. A deep sleep will come unnoticed.

One effective treatment for insomnia is a diet of raw vegetables, fruits and their juices. Onions, consumed in fairly large quantities before going to bed, also create a good sound and healthy sleep. A three- to four-minute cold water bath is a good prerequisite for restful sleep.

If insomnia is caused by a rush of blood to the head, applying mustard cakes or grated horseradish to the calves is very helpful. At the same time it is recommended to drink pickle brine with honey, which is a good laxative.

Long-term insomnia can be treated with sleeping pills if other means do not help. In certain doses, they do not do much harm to the body. Even when sleep has been restored, it is possible to place an 'emergency' dose of sleeping pills beside yourself at night. The knowledge that the medication is nearby and can be used if necessary creates a psychological prerequisite for falling asleep. If sleeping pills are used incorrectly, they themselves may cause insomnia.

If possible, green salad should be eaten before going to bed - it acts as a mild sleeping aid. Do not turn off the light in the room until you feel like your eyes are actually closing. Don't be fooled by the sedative effects of alcohol. It may help you fall asleep quickly, but it can cause restlessness and insomnia in the second half of the night.

The use of hypnosis and autogenic training often has a good effect on insomnia.

In many cases, anxiety about insomnia is more harmful than the insomnia itself. If you cannot sleep, get up, work or read until you feel sleepy.

During periods of insomnia, try to give yourself such physical activity that you feel tired to the point where it becomes impossible not to fall asleep.

In addition to insomnia, sleepwalking (somnambulism), a peculiar disorder of the mind characterised by automatic, complex movements during sleep, is a common sleep disorder. Some sleepwalkers just get up, mutter something incomprehensible and go back under the covers. Others get up and walk around. Their eyes are open, though their gaze is fixed: they notice practically nothing. More often than not, sleepwalkers repeat the normal activities of their craft and daily life. People of intellectual labour indulge in the mental work to which they are most accustomed.

However, it is paradoxical that in the somnambulistic state a person turns out to be able to make movements and other actions with such amazing dexterity and accuracy, which he is not able to do in the ordinary state and which he has never done before. The latter suggests that a person's aroused memory can recreate in his brain such deep, long-forgotten instincts, which, in all probability, were characteristic of our very ancient ancestors.

There is a perception that sleepwalkers are supposedly programmed to be safe during their nocturnal journeys. This is not true. They suffer accidents just like everyone else. Sleepwalkers have been known to fall out of windows after mistaking them for doors.

A pronounced manifestation of sleepwalking is most common in hysterical people, epileptics, alcoholics, and young people during puberty.

To prevent the symptoms of sleepwalking, it is advisable to place a wet rug near the sleepwalker's bed at night. As soon as he steps on the rug with bare feet, he immediately wakes up, goes back to bed and falls asleep.

Sleep-talking is a form of sleepwalking. It usually occurs in children between the ages of 4 and 16. In most cases, sleepwalking is not a disease, but is due to a delay in the formation of the sleep mechanism and passes with age. In this case, the phrases spoken in dreams are usually related to the exciting events of the day or to the content of the dream.

However, sleepwalking can be one of the signs of epilepsy. In this case, the child regularly utters the same phrases unrelated to the day's experiences. It is not uncommon to have involuntary urination. An examination of the brain's bio-potentials (electroencephalogram) is important in establishing the correct diagnosis and can confirm the epileptic nature of the dreaming. The latter does not go away with age, it may become more frequent, and convulsive seizures may be added to it.

By: Dr. Chloe Mura

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