Home guest articles Demystifying Sleep to Get Better Zzzs

Demystifying Sleep to Get Better Zzzs

written by Guest Blogger August 27, 2012

What happens to us between the time we close our eyes at night and open them again in the morning? What are the purpose of dreams? Knowing how important high quality sleep is to a healthy lifestyle, here’s guest blogger and sleep expert, Dr. Mitchell Proffman with some answers!   

Treating nearly 10,000 patients in my Chiropractor practice, I’ve been hearing more patients in the last few years complain about sleep issues. I’ve discovered that if a person has a better understanding of what’s going on when they sleep, they typically see improvement!

Many of my patients seem to think sleeping is just a matter of turning off the light and closing the curtains. There’s a lot more to it. Sleep is an active state which affects you both physically and mentally.

Recently, information has been published about Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT) and sleep, as more people are recognizing the importance of sleep. However, many are still running to their doctor for help. Unfortunately, doctors don’t offer much help.

Dealing with sleep issues isn’t always easy, as there are 80+ different types of sleep disorders and you can have more than one; and what works for one, might not work for another. When a patient comes into my office and has a sleep problem, I discuss aspects of CBT with them.

There are no easy, quick answers, though. In my book I discuss and provide information about the natural solutions and ways to deal with sleep problems. Let’s see if we can help you today with any of your sleep issues by understanding what happens to us during our shut-eye time:

Understanding Sleep

Sleep is mysterious and can be confusing. If you are sleeping okay throughout the night, you are moving up and down through deep and shallow sleep. There are basically two stages of sleep: non-Rapid Eye Movement (non-REM) and REM sleep.

Before you experience REM sleep, you first have to experience non-REM sleep. The actual time it takes to fall asleep varies from individual to individual. If you are falling asleep the minute you put your head on your pillow, you’re over-tired as it should take you about ten to fifteen minutes to drift off and enter stage 1.

The Stages of Sleep

When you climb into bed you should feel relaxed and aware of your surroundings. If you are coming to bed with your problems from the day, agitated and haven’t surrendered to the night, you aren’t going to get much sleep. (We talk about relaxation techniques in my book.)

Stage 1 is the shortest of the stages and very close to waking. As you enter this stage you can still hear sounds and can be easily be awakened. It is during stage 1 that the alpha brain waves of drowsiness yield to theta brain waves. It is, if you will, like a curtain dropping, separating you from the outside world.

The quality of sleep changes as you move from one stage into the next stage, as each stage is independent and characterized by subtle changes in bodily function. This is the general progression from stage 1 to stage 2:

  • you’re still conscious and can perceive things in a rational, logical way
  • your muscles should continue to relax
  • your brain starts behaving differently
  • your eyes move slowly under the eyelids
  • your heart rate should start to slow down and your body temperature drops

If you should wake up during stage 2, stay in bed and you’ll continue to drift off. As sleep gets deeper and deeper, it becomes harder to wake up. Stage 2 is preparing you for deep sleep which consists of stage 3 and 4. It’s estimated that these two deep sleep stages make up about a quarter of the night in adults.

Stage 3 is characterized by delta waves and some faster waves. In stage 4 the brain is only putting forth the slow delta waves. Both of these stages are important, and if either is too short, you won’t feel refreshed in the morning.

In stage 4, you are no longer conscious. It’s very difficult to wake someone up in this stage – it’s during the deep stages of non-REM sleep that our bodies start the process of repairing tissue and strengthening the immune system. The brain also releases hormones and chemical messengers at this time that work to stimulate cellular activity throughout the body.

The Normal Sleep Cycle

In general Stages 1–4 usually lasts from 90 to 120 minutes. Stages 2 and 3 repeat before Stage 5 (or REM sleep). So, a normal sleep cycle has this pattern: waking, stage 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, REM.

Usually, the first REM sleep stage occurs 90 minutes after sleep onset. Upon entering REM sleep all voluntary muscles become completely paralyzed and brain activity increases. Non-REM and REM sleep alternate in a cyclical manner, approximately 4 to 6 cycles throughout the night and are interspersed with brief periods of wakefulness.

To be continued… Stay tuned for my next blog post. We’re going to be talking more about the REM (rapid Eye movement) stage of sleep along with some other goodies. Good night!

About the Author

Dr. Mitchell Proffman is a holistic chiropractor who has been interested in natural ways to cure insomnia and sleep issues for the past ten years. He has co-authored an eBook: The Deep Sleep Diet with an English Professor, James A. Voketaitis. Visit Dr. Proffman’s website to find out more about his work. 

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Karen Boyarsky September 10, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Great article. I read everything and anything about getting more and better quality sleep. It has totally eluded me for about 10 years now.

Dr. Mitch Proffman September 15, 2012 at 10:28 am

Hi Karen,
Thanks for your kind words!!
This is why sleep has become my hobby!!!! First I was having problems with insomnia, and through my research and many years of holistic clinical work I have found many, solutions, and sleep very well now. Take a look at the links above on my name and you will see a great deal of things to help you on the road to great sleep!!!


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