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Posts tagged ‘NREM’

Why Do People Sleepwalk?

Watching a person sleepwalk must be one of the most eerie events you could ever experience.  Until I witnessed it myself, I thought sleepwalking was just something that happened on Saturday morning cartoons.  My perception of the phenomenon was changed forever when I was just a kid, and I was woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of our doorbell ringing. I cautiously opened my bedroom door and peered down both ends of our hallway, scared that it could be someone dangerous. My mom and dad followed soon after, wondering what on earth I was up to.  “Nothing,” I remember saying. “I think someone’s at the door.”  We crept together in alarm toward the front door, and then we suddenly heard a loud knock– which really scared me half to death.  Angered, my dad quickly swung open the door… only to find my kid sister standing there in her pajamas. “ASHLEY! What are you doing??” came my father’s booming voice.  My poor sister just stood there, looking terribly confused.  “I don’t know, I don’t know,” she insisted, and started to cry.  My Dad was shocked to find his baby girl outside so late at night. He was really starting to get upset when my mom finally suggested that Ashley had perhaps been sleepwalking. Apparently, my little sister had wandered outside while she was asleep, and had ended up locking herself out of the house.  She finally woke up only because it was so cold!

This story presents an accurate description of what usually happens when a sleep walker is awakened, as feelings of disorientation and utter confusion are typical after-effects from this sort of incidents.  But what happens during the rest of the process? What could make certain people suddenly arise and take a midnight stroll– all while fast asleep?  Researchers everywhere are fascinated by this question, and are at last beginning to make some headway in the research of the underlying causes.

Sleepwalking is a particular disorder that occurs when the normal physiological functions of the body are active at what would normally be considered “inappropriate” times1. In fact, people who sleep walk have been found performing an intriguingly wide range of activities, from simply raising upright in bed to attempting to cook a complete meal in the kitchen.  The unusual occurrence originates during the sleep cycle period known as Non-Rapid Eye Movement, or NREM.  This is the deepest portion of sleep that people experience every night, and is the period that proceeds dreaming.  Because NREM activity occurs more frequently early in life, children are often much more susceptible to sleepwalking events.  Though the reason this is true is still unknown, one thing that’s quite clear is that the condition is genetically passed along from one generation to the next.

Although the mysteries behind sleepwalking are as yet unsolved, there are some interesting theories that are worth talking about.  Some research, for example, suggests that fatigue contributes to the level of frequency at which sleepwalking occurs.  Other researchers have suggested that particular chemicals are released during NREM which tell your brain to perform normal daytime functions.  In a recent study at the University of Montreal, 40 participants were chosen to be observed during two periods of sleep. The first period was referred to as “baseline” sleep which consisted of a normal, healthy night’s rest.  The next period, however, was observed after those in the study were kept awake and monitored for 25 hours.  Out of said 40 participants, fully 32 showed such signs of abnormal activity from playing with the bed sheets to actually attempting to jump over the rails of the bed.  If you’re someone, therefore, who is known to sleepwalk, do make sure you are getting plenty of rest, and this may go a long way to alleviate the condition.

Oftentimes, this “mixed state” of being exists when someone is simply aroused during their sleep mode.  And, to contribute to the idea that fatigue leads to sleepwalking, those that suffer from sleep deprivation disorders [such as insomnia and sleep apnea] are also known to sleepwalk.  A few simple solutions that are worth a try should you find yourself or someone you love having difficulty keeping from nighttime wanderings include getting to bed earlier, watching what you consume in the evening, and avoiding disturbances that could arouse consciousness during the restful state.

Finally, be aware that the conventional wisdom suggesting that awakening a sleepwalker has permanent effects which can be harmful to one’s well being is only a myth.  The worst it could do, in fact, is embarrass the one who’s doing it… and waking them up may help save you from disturbing late-night doorbell rings.

1. Navarro, Carlos. Scientific American Mind. Why Do Some People Sleepwalk?.http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-do-some-people-sleepwalk. Retrieved on June 10, 2009.

What is sleep?

We spend fully‭ one-third ‬of our lives asleep and it’s a vital part of every person’s life,‭ ‬but it’s an activity that most people know very little about— and we oftentimes even take this important need for granted. If you’ve ever been out of your usual sleeping schedule or have suffered from a lack of sleep,‭ ‬you know how critical a good night’s sleep is.‭ ‬In order to improve the quality of your sleep it’s important to understand what happens while we rest.

So, what exactly is sleep? Sleep as defined by dictionary.com is “to take the rest afforded by a suspension of voluntary bodily functions and the natural suspension, complete or partial, of consciousness; cease being awake.”1 We do know sleep is so vital to our survival that it’s a matter of life and death. Laboratory rats that were deprived of sleep only lived two to three weeks.1 A basic sleep tip, therefore, would simply be: don’t underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep.

The National Institute of Health acknowledges that even though we don’t know the exact reason we sleep, it is something our bodies and mind must have. You might think that while we sleep so does our body and mind, yet even though we aren’t aware of what’s going on while we sleep, our bodies and minds remain busy.2

Sleep is regulated by a pair of systems in our body: the sleep-wake process and our circadian/internal rhythmic biological clock. These systems work in tandem both to make us feel tired, [preparing our bodies to sleep], and to help us feel awake during the day— acting as a mechanism to drive our activity and rest. Changes in our daily routines, as well as any kind of stress [in addition to myriad other factors], can alter these sensitive systems and cause people to feel tired in the morning as well as unable to sleep at night. An important sleep tip to remember is that even something so small as missing an hour of sleep for a couple days can throw our internal systems entirely off-balance.

There are two types of sleep: non-rapid eye movement [NREM] and rapid eye movement‭ [‬REM].‭ ‬As we rest,‭ ‬we cycle between NREM and REM around every hour and a half.‭ ‬It’s during REM sleep that dreaming, a vital part of sleep, occurs most often. Though we have barely begun‭  ‬to‭ ‬understand their importance and the reasons for them, they are surrounded by folklore— such as the idea that eating spicy foods just before bed will give you strange dreams. ‭ In fact, a‬ great tip to help you sleep better is to avoid eating or drinking anything at all for at least‭ ‬2-3‭ ‬hours before going to bed‭ so that you‬ fall asleep faster.3

If you feel tired throughout the day, if you can’t fall asleep at night, or if you have some other problem affecting your sleep, “rest assured” that you’re not alone: one out of nearly every four people in the United States suffers from some form of  sleep disorder.3 Sleep problems can be caused by just one or a cavalcade of events and can occur at any age. The most common sleep disorders are:

  • Insomnia‭ ‬– inability or difficulty getting to sleep and staying in a resting state.
  • Sleep Apnea‭ ‬– sufferers will snore loudly while sleeping,‭ ‬stop breathing for a short time,‭ ‬then gasp for breath.
  • Narcolepsy‭ ‬– prevents people from entering a regular sleep/wake cycle,‭ ‬causing them to fall asleep uncontrollably.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome‭ ‬– causes a person’s legs to have a sensation of tingling,‭ ‬only alleviated by moving,‭ ‬which interferes with sleep.4

Sleep is both an important and vital part of a healthy, happy life. We have put a great deal of research and development into our  memory foam mattress line, but getting quality rest is affected by many things in your life. The more you understand about sleep and what factors can effect it, the better your overall well-being may become.

Bibliography

  1. Sleep. (n.d.) On Dictionary.com— Retrieved May 11, 2009, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sleep
  2. United States Department of Health & Human Services. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Your Guide To Healthy Sleep. Nov. 2005. Jan. 2012. <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep/healthy_sleep.pdf>.
  3. Sleep and Aging (Published March 16, 2005)— Retrieved May 11, 2009, from http://nihseniorhealth.gov/sleepandaging/aboutsleep/01.html
  4. Can’t Sleep? Science Is Seeking New Answers; CAM at the NIH Focus on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Volume XVII, Number 3: Summer 2005—Retrieved Jan 10, 2012, from http://nccam.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/090106.htm