Surprising Facts that Help Us Understand Sleep
by Sandy Schroeder
If you are like me, sleep is a bit of a mystery. Some nights I drop right off and sleep like a rock. Other nights I fall asleep, and pop awake at 3 a.m, struggling for hours to fall back asleep. Sleep is still a mystery for researchers, too, but livescience.com has come up with some surprising findings that may help us cope with sleep as we understand it better.
Sleep Interruptions Are the Worst
If you have ever struggled through the night with a cranky baby, you know how sleep interruptions can dismantle your whole world. Just when you think the baby is asleep and you are drifting off, a piercing cry can jolt you awake and spell exhaustion for the next day. After my son was born with colic, I spent three long months in a zombie state that finally ended when he started sleeping through the night. Prayers were answered!
Researchers say the loss of really deep sleep may be the reason interruptions become so devastating. Losing sleep when you stay up late may make you crabby, but sustained interruptions can change everything leading to an overall sluggish, irritable state. This may occur because interruptions cause a loss of the deep sleep that serves as a restorative phase for the body and the brain. If interruptions continue, it can be critical to find a way to change the situation. Do whatever you have must to create a more normal sleep routine. Long-term sleep interruptions can affect health and create unsafe situations for driving or carrying out other normal daytime activities.
Sometimes We Sleep with One Eye Open
One of the reasons we don’t sleep as well when we have ongoing problems, or we are away from home, is because the brain sometimes stays on semi-alert. Like dolphins, who only shut down one half of their brain when they sleep, we may sometimes remain vigilant when sleeping with one hemisphere of the brain showing more activity. This half-alert way of sleeping may be a survival strategy that we adopt whenever there are problems or strange surroundings. It’s our “night watchman.” I think parents of teens often develop this technique too, to keep track of their kids. No matter how quiet kids are when they come in, parents often hear them.
Weather Does Make a Difference
Researchers found people in states with heavier winter weather tended to sleep longer than ones in warmer states. It might just be harder to spring out of that warm bed, or there may be less daylight hours in the colder states, which can affect internal body clocks. Wherever you live, you may want to figure the weather in when you evaluate your sleep patterns.
Overall, we are told to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, and to make our bedroom a sleep haven that is conducive to sleep. Most of us will agree, a good night’s rest is well worth the effort to make it happen.
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