To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
Poor Hamlet, in the midst of his "To be or not to be" soliloquy he utters the words "To sleep, perchance to dream." Were they the musings of a psychotic or possibly a cause of the psychosis itself? People who are consistently denied their dream sleep are known to become depressed and anxious. Sleep is a bodily function that many of us take for granted until it is disrupted or we are deprived of it. For millions of Americans getting enough restful sleep is an ongoing battle.
It is easy to mistake sleep as a simple on off process, in fact sleep is dynamic, involving active movement, and more varied brain states than when awake. Sleep and wakefulness are the most important functions of the biological clock which is controlled by the hypothalamus, our master hormone producing gland. Light and darkness ‘set’ the biological clock by stimulating the pineal gland to produce the hormone melatonin in response to darkness. This is what causes ‘jet lag’ our biological clock needs to adjust to the rapid change in daylight length.
Sleep occurs in stages with a transitional wakeful state acting as the gateway to sleep. This transitional state is known as an alpha state and is familiar to many as the result of meditation or prayer; you are still awake but relaxed with slower more rhythmic brain waves. We descend through the sleep stages from one to four with a release of serotonin from the brain stem. In the first two stages a sleeper who is awakened may deny being asleep. Stage four is the deepest and most restful, it is also where most of our repair and fat burning take place. We cycle back up through the stages with stage one being replaced by REM (rapid eye movement sleep) which is where dreaming occurs. This stage is controlled by noradrenaline which is also released by the brain stem. These cycles take about ninety minutes and repeat through the night with stage four sleep diminishing and REM sleep increasing.
There are many factors that can prevent individuals from getting the seven to nine hours of sleep that we typically need. As we can see there are many hormones that have to work together. We know that melatonin decreases as we age and may help explain why many elderly people have trouble sleeping. Noradrenaline is also produced by the adrenals as a stress response and can interfere with the serotonin needed to for the initial stages of sleep. Mineral imbalances can also be sources of interference that keep nerves and muscles from responding properly. All these conditions can be successfully addressed through natural means such as dietary supplements, breathing exercises and bodywork such as Body Restoration Technique®.
Dr Sonja Mountain D.C. and Noel Mountain L.M.T. own Well Within, Natural Health Restoration Center at 302 E Strawbridge Avenue in Melbourne. For more information call 321-724-1212.