Neurotransmitters operate like on-off switches in our brain and when they signal to turn the switch off then the body can sleep.  When the switch is turned on the body wakes up.

There is evidence that the levels of adenosine (a part of DNA) dictate when we sleep and when we are awake.

FIVE STAGES OF SLEEP

Stage One
In the first stage, there is slow movement of the eyes and muscle activity decreases.

Stage Two
In the second stage, eye movements stop and electrical activity in the brain slows. Most people are in this stage for about 50% of the time that they are asleep.

Stage Three
In the third stage, slow brain waves alternate with faster brain waves.

Stage Four
In the fourth stage, the slow brain waves are predominate and this is called deep sleep where there is almost no muscle activity or eye movement.

Stage Five
Generally, people move to the fifth stage called REM (rapid eye movement)  sleep after between one hour to two hours of entering stage one sleep.  This stage of sleep is characterized by increases in breathing rate, heart rate and blood pressure along with jerking eye movements and in this stage of sleep dreams are experienced.  Generally people spend about 20% of their sleep time in this stage of sleep.
These stages of sleep are repeated over and over while we sleep.  It is during the third through the fifth stages of sleep that gives people the refreshed and refreshed feeling when they wake up.

FACTORS THAT CAN INFLUENCE SLEEP

There are a number of factors that affect our ability to reach the last stages of sleep but their effects vary because of our DNA and tolerance.  Some of these are:
•    Coffee and colas containing caffeine
•    Antidepressants
•    Antipsychotics
•    Smoking often restricts the ability to get into REM sleep
•    Prostate problems in men
•    Alcohol often prevents getting into the last stages of sleep
•    Room temperature variations (in REM sleep the body’s ability to regulate the body temperature is reduced

CONSEQUENCES OF NOT ENOUGH SLEEP

Failure to get sufficient sleep (sleep deprivation) occurs when people cannot reach the last stages of sleep.  If the problem continues, people can experience serious hand-eye coordination problems which are estimated to cause thousands of driving accidents.  Another consequence of sleep deprivation can lead to a greater susceptibility to disease.

Another fact that points to the value of sleep are experiments done on lab animals.  Lab rats normally live for two to three years.  When these rats were not allowed to get into REM sleep, they only survived an average of five weeks. If the rats were not allowed to sleep at all, they died in an average of three weeks.
Scientists speculate that the drastically shortened lives of these rats who were denied sleep may be attributed to the rebuilding of needed proteins during deep sleep and REM sleep.

According to the National Institute of Health. sleep problems affect at least 60 million Americans each year.  Some of the conditions are:

•    Insomnia
•    Sleep Apnea (interrupted breathing waking a person up)
•    Narcolepsy (falling asleep often and not when planned)

SOLUTIONS TO SLEEPING PROBLEMS

Many sleeping problems can be traced to hydration or endocrine problems or to vitamin and mineral deficiency.  This is why it is very important that anyone having sleeping problems insist that they first obtain a range of medical tests which will show if the sleep problems are linked to a physical problem.  If it is a physical problem that can be treated, the sleep problem will likely go away.
If it is a physical problem then taking a drug that does not treat the problem will not be a solution but create additional problems.

DRUG SOLUTIONS

Sedative/Hypnotics

Three of the most prescribed drugs for sleep disorders are Ambien ®, Lunesta ® and Sonata ®.  The drug manufacturers admit that they don’t know how their drugs actually work.  These drugs are intended to be used for seven to ten days but are often prescribed over and over again even though most people don’t experience real relief.

SEDATIVE/ HYPNOTIC SIDE EFFECTS

Some of the side effects are:
•    Sleep-driving (driving while not fully awake)
•    Preparing and eating food and making phone calls with no recall in the morning
•    Agitation
•    Depression
•    Amnesia
•    Drowsiness
•    Dizziness
•    Difficulty with coordination
•    Confusion
•    Hallucinations
•    Suicidal thoughts
•    Decreased inhibition (e.g., aggressiveness and extroversion that seem out of character)

SEDATIVE/HYPNOTIC WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS

If a person stops taking the sedative/hypnotic drugs, they can experience:
•    Unpleasant feelings
•    Abdominal and muscle cramps
•    Vomiting
•    Sweating
•    Shakiness
•    Seizures

NON-PRESCRIPTION DRUG SLEEPING AIDS

MELATONIN
Melatonin is a hormone derived from tryptophan (an amino acid).  Melatonin has been studied extensively and has helped many people.

MAGNESIUM
Magnesium is a mineral that has been successful in treating and relieving sleep problems.  In addition to treating sleeping problems, many health practitioners use magnesium to treat constipation, muscle cramps and anxiety.

EXERCISE
In the October, 2010, issue of Sleep Medicine, a study at Northwestern University reached some interesting conclusions.  Lead author Kathryn Reid, PhD, said that exercise had a dramatic effect on people having insomnia and other sleep disorders.

SLEEP TIPS

Here are some tips from sleep specialists:
•    Find a way to relax before going to bed,
•    If you can’t sleep get up–don’t just lie there but get up and do something until you become tired and then go back to bed.
•    Ensure that the bedroom has a comfortable room temperature because in the later stages of sleep the body cannot regulate body temperature well and temperature changes will interrupt sleep.
•    Ensure that you are hydrated.