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Lack of sleep is a problem not only for me, but for many teenagers.

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That means that about 20% of adults in the United States have trouble going to sleep at night.

Also, an article of Hackethal (2013) has shown that sleep deprivation might affect the frontal lobes of the brain which controls decision-making functions....

Lack of sleep can affect many thing in a negative way.

Unfortunately, those few hours could have prevented sleep deprivation.

Social factors such as less exercise, alcohol, caffeine interfere
with the sleep pattern.

Apparently hormone levels start to decrease (all downhill from here on in). The tendency is to go to bed earlier but quality of sleep begins to deteriorate. Total sleep time drops to around 7 hours but with little or no stage 4 sleep. REM however, remains at about 2 hours per night.

Following retirement when we have more time to sleep, the overall quality of sleep deteriorates significantly. Dement estimates that in a typical night’s sleep at this age there could be up to 1000 brief awakenings per night each lasting just a few seconds. Although we are unaware of these ‘micro-arousals’ they do leave us tired the following day.

In the first few months of life there is little in the way of a discernable sleep pattern. This doesn’t emerge until about 20 weeks when the NREM/REM cycle appears. In the first few months the infant often goes straight into REM from the outset and this REM is often restless with lots of facial movements and unlike in later life arms and legs may move too.

Total sleep time drops to about 13 to 14 hours a day and the ultradian sleep cycle takes about one hour (compared to the 90 minutes later in life). The developing child remains awake most of the day (from 10am
until 8pm) perhaps with one nap during that time.

Total sleep time is now 9 to 10 hours with an adult pattern of 75% NREM and 25% REM sleep. The bulk of NREM occurs in the first half of the night. The ultradian cycle is now extended to 70 minutes. Dement (1999) describes the sleep pattern at this age as ‘ideal.’ The child typically has plenty of energy during the day and can nod off quickly into deep, uninterrupted sleep waking the following morning totally refreshed!

Ideally the child should still be spending 9 to 10 hours asleep but for the first time the pattern is frequently disrupted due o late nights, schooling etc. Sex and growth hormones are released for the first time and the
increasingly sexual nature of dreams can result in wet dreams.

Again the body still requires as much sleep as early teens but this is rare at this age. Most people this age are permanently sleep deprived.

Environmental factors such as babies, snoring, work patterns and anxieties keep us awake.

Sleep time continues to decrease and people in this age group experience more tiredness. Amount of deep sleep, especially stage 4 sleep decreases.

I’ve read two articles that deal with the issue of sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation affects one’s school performance and one’s health too.

failed to reset the endogenous clock and the man relied on stimulants and sedatives to maintain a 24 hour sleep/wake cycle. However, the question remains, how do the majority of blind people still manage to maintain a 24 hour cycle?

Campbell & Murphy (1998), in a bizarre experiment, shone bright lights onto the back of participants’ knees and were able to alter their circadian rhythms in line with the light exposure. The exact mechanism for this is unclear, but it seems possible that the blood chemistry was altered and this was detected by the SCN.

The above study suggests that light detection in the body may be more complex than we might believe. The fact that most blind people seem to be detecting light to reset their body clock also suggests cells other than rods and cones may be responsible.

The rods and cones both contain light sensitive opsin molecules. However, a mutant strain of mice that have retinal degeneration lose their rods and cones but retain their biological rhythms. Severing the optic nerve in mice however, does destroy the rhythm. This appears contradictory, unless we assume that there are receptors in the eye other than rods and cones!

There are a number of possible candidates. Initially Sancar and others suggested that cryptochromes (which detect blue light) might be passing on the information to the body clock. These are particularly interesting since they are also present in plants. Later research has implicated another chemical melanopsin. Eckler et al (2008) found that killing these cells in mice made entrainment impossible. The mice could not adapt to changing light conditions suggesting these cells are the detecting mechanism. This would explain Mile’s blind man study. Although the blind man has lost the ability to detect light using rods and cones (so is unable to consciously perceive light) other cells like those containing melanopsin are still detecting light at an unconscious level and passing on this information to the body clock.

Severing the optic nerve however, would prevent all information from the eyes, be it conscious perception or unconscious reaching the brain. Presumably the case that Miles studied had damage to his optic nerve.

We shall consider the stages of sleep. As you should be aware, a typical night’s sleep takes you from stage 1 to 4 then back to 2 and finally into REM. This whole cycle then repeats itself three or four more times during the night, each cycle lasting about 90 minutes. There are a number of similar cycles during the daytime too. Sometimes these are referred to as diurnal. Examples include eating (approximately every four hours), smoking and drinking caffeine (in those addicted), and urination.

Stages of sleep
This section fits logically into both the ‘biorhythms’ and the ‘sleep’ sections of this particular topic area. We shall cover it as an example of a rhythm but some of the information is also relevant to the section on sleep, particularly a question covering the physiology of sleep.

Sleep deprivation also takes a toll on physical and mental health along with other health problems.
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Chronic sleep deprivation is less than five hours nightly.

Unfortunately relatively little research is carried out into the sleep of elderly people so it isn’t clear what constitutes a normal or healthy sleep pattern for this age group.

Medical conditions
Allergies such as hay fever, asthma, heart disease, and conditions resulting in pain can all disrupt a night’s sleep.

Many drugs, prescription and recreational can interfere with the ultradian rhythm. Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants so create increased activity in the nervous system. We often take caffeine to keep ourselves awake or to help wake us up in a morning. Alcohol seems to help us nod off but it disrupts the pattern of sleep, reducing stages three and four and suppressing REM. As already mentioned some prescription drugs such as the analgesic codeine and opioids also disrupt sleep.

A word of warning here. Remember the AO1/AO2 balance. Most of what has just been mentioned is AO1. Lots of description of possible causes of insomnia. The text books, particularly the big red one focusses excessively on describing causes. Ensure you focus on research evidence wherever possible. Stress is a good secondary factor to discuss because of the Morin study. There is little, if any AO2 to be had from a discussion of age, environment, medication etc. The rest of this discussion of insomnia will be AO2 heavy.

Perceived insomnia (sleep-state misperception)
There is a tendency for many of us, insomniacs or not, to underestimate the amount of sleep we get. Often when patients claiming to be severe insomniacs are tested in sleep laboratories they are found to be having near-normal nights of sleep.

Typically patients are wired to EEGs and left in labs overnight. They may also be asked to press switch every 20 minutes (perhaps in response to a quiet tone). The following morning they report having little or no sleep, but their EEG patterns suggest otherwise, as does the fact that they haven’t responded to the tone!

Dement (1999) reported the case of a supposed insomniac male.

How Much Sleep Do I Need? Why Do We Sleep?

They also reported their lives as being more stressful and were more likely to using emotion-focused coping mechanisms.

The researchers concluded that actual stressors were not the cause of the insomnia, rather the insomniacs’ perception of the stress that they were under. Although they were not suffering significantly more stress in their lives it was creating much higher levels of anxiety. The researchers therefore recommended that the best course of treatment would be better coping strategies, preferably problem-focused techniques.

A major weakness of studies like this is their reliance on self-report of sleep quality. This is a notoriously inaccurate measure so dramatically reduces the internal validity of this study. For a variety of reasons people, particularly insomniacs seem to underestimate their quality as well as quantity of sleep. More on this when we look at sleep-state misperception.

As we saw with lifespan changes in sleep patterns, as we get older we tend to sleep less and by the age of sixty the body is producing very little melatonin. As a result, pensioners get little if any deep sleep and often complain of insomnia and tiredness. However, the effects may be more indirect.

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