Monday, January 10, 2011

Sleep Tight, Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite

"Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite, and if they do, then take your shoe and knock them ‘til they’re black and blue! "


This over a century old nursery rhyme has quite a debated origin; some people would like us to believe that it refers to the old rope-frame beds that you had to tighten before crawling into if you wished to have a good night sleep. However, etymologists claim that the expression “sleep tight” has only been around since 1866 and therefore its origin is too modern to be linked to this specific kind of bed. They believe it to mean something more on the lines of sleep soundly or sleep well as they have defined it in the Oxford dictionary.  The bedbug side of this story is a more sarcastic take on a frequently occurring phenomenon at that time. Bedbugs are very similar to fleas and ticks as they are tiny flat shaped blood suckers that generally don’t come alone; not a great thing to have in one’s bed. In a time when cleanliness wasn’t so thorough, they lived a great life feeding of the blood of the unsuspecting sleepers. Thankfully for most us this is not our main concern when we peel back the covers to climb into our Spring Fresh smelling sheets.

Sleep is a mysterious thing, generally associated with a happy feeling of warmth, snugness, and no more responsibilities. Although for most, sleep seems to come instantaneously, it’s actually a process that takes all day to build up to the culminating point of peaceful unconsciousness. The basic principal is quite simple; it all starts with our inner or circadian clock acting in accordance with the levels of adenosine in our body to send out a message of sleepiness to our brain. Adenosine is a by-product of cellular activity; it is created as our cells produce the energy we need to get through the day. When the quantity of adenosine reaches a certain point, you start feeling sleepy; if this coincides with your circadian clock, you know its time for bed. Generally speaking, once you have finally decided to listen to your screaming body and call it a night, you don’t fall asleep immediately. If this isn’t the case and the minute your head touches the pillow you are instantly transported into dreamland, you should either review your sleeping habits or thank your genetic lucky star or your parents. For the rest of us, the period before we fall asleep, is called “relaxed wakefulness”. This state generally lasts for less than ten minutes, if you’re up tossing and turning all night, you haven’t even gotten to this stage. At times like these, when sleep will not come, it is suggested to get up and do something, read a book, knit, watch television, drink some tisane, anything, then try again. By remaining in bed, you increase your stress level because you know you should be sleeping which stimulates the production of adrenaline which counteracts the effects of adenosine and stops you from getting your well deserved rest.

Sleep is defined in medical dictionaries as a “periodic state of rest during which consciousness of the world is interrupted” and is generally characterized by decreased movement, a relaxed posture, reduced sensitivity to touch and sound, reduced metabolic rate, and complex brain activity. There are five stages to a good nights sleep and generally you go through multiple cycles during one night. The first stage is drowsiness or relaxed wakefulness; if sitting, this is where the head bobbing action comes into play. Then, you enter light sleep where eye movements stop, heart rate, and body temperature decreases. The next two stages are periods of deep sleep; these are the most vital stages as they allow your body to recover from the days activities. Lack of deep sleep causes the strongest effects of sleep deprivation. If awakened during this stage, a person will feel disorientated and groggy for several minutes making getting out of bed a challenge but conversations hilarious. The last stage generally happens at about seventy to ninety minutes into your sleep cycle, this is your dream or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. It holds its name because of the intensive jerky eye movement that occurs during this time probably linked to dreams. In an average nights sleep, you should experience three to five REM episodes; they are shorter at the beginning of the night and gradually increase whilst deep sleep decreases. As morning approaches, your cycle is mostly stage 1, 2 and REM; this is why you shouldn’t go to bed too late, after a certain time, you don’t get as much revitalizing deep sleep. 

Sleep is important for multiple reasons: it helps you organize memories, ensures a good mood for the following day, neuron repair occurs allowing for optimal performance when awake, it boosts your immune system, and is vital for mental and physical development as growth hormones are released during sleep.

The amount of sleep needed depends on the person and many factors come into play: your genetics, the amount of exercise, daily activities, age, and sleep quality. It is not true that we all need eight hours of sleep a night; some need more and some need less. Generally speaking, if you wake up feeling fresh as a daisy, you’re getting enough sleep; if you’re having a hard time getting up in the morning, experiencing mood-swings, loss of appetite, and difficulties falling asleep, you are more than likely suffering from sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation is quite a serious condition, the effects can be felt both physically and mentally. Symptoms include chronic difficulty to wake up in the morning, falling asleep at random times during the day, and a general decrease in your performances and decisions. Long term sleep deprivation, of even just a few hours a night, can lead to sleep debt. Similarly to the credit card debt on your account, holding on to a sleep debt can have serious long-term effects on your immune system and your metabolism which may lead to obesity and hyperactivity. Make up for your debt by including one hour of extra sleep per night and scheduling in some days where you don’t set an alarm clock and you let your body sleep as long as it needs. 

Sleep is not a luxury, it is as important as exercise and healthy eating habits for our health. So put on your favorite pajamas and grab your faithful teddy, the world will keep on turning even when you are sleeping. Tomorrow is an other day in which you can express your full potential only if you get a good nights sleep. 

Good night, sleep tight; don’t let the bed bugs bite.

Take Care!
    

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