Carl Bourhenne's Fitness and Long Life Manual
Youthful and Attractive
Even in today's world of modern research with its abundant fruit of explanations and answers, there is as yet no agreement on why we sleep, or even what triggers sleep. As one researcher, W.C. Dement stated: "Never in the history of biological research has so much been known about something from a descriptive point of view with so little known at the same time about its function". Even so, research on Long Life clearly demonstrates that getting enough sleep is necessary for living a long, healthy life.
It is possible though, that no damage occurs from losing sleep - even large amounts - and then making it up. Our friend Dement watched while 17 year old Randy Gardner surpassed the Guinness world record for staying awake in 1965, by remaining awake for 11 consecutive days. Although there was increasing sleepiness, there were no signs of psychotic behavior, paranoia, or personality change. It took him only 14 hours and 40 minutes of sleep to awaken fully refreshed, and his second night's sleep was only 8 hours. Follow-up studies on Randy Gardner showed no long-term problems in sleep, no emotional upsets, and no personality changes.
Even though we would assume that without sleep the body would deteriorate in some important physical or biochemical way, research shows otherwise. After 2 days you might feel fatigued, depressed, lethargic, hostile, and less happy; experience a decline in the ability to concentrate or do motor, visual, or perceptual tasks; and may experience a ravenous appetite. After 5 days there might be hallucinations such as seeing a gorilla. Even after these prolonged periods of sleeplessness, though, there may be no remarkable changes in heart rate, blood pressure, perspiration, or body temperature. In certain individuals psychotic behavior may occur; but this is related to personality.
Interestingly, Dement concluded after his observations of Gardner: "The crucial factor in surmounting the effects of prolonged sleep loss is probably physical fitness. There is almost no degree of sleepiness that cannot be overcome if the subject engages in vigorous exercise. As the vigil wears on, almost continuous muscular activity is necessary to forestall overwhelming sleepiness. Many individuals simply would not be able to maintain this amount of activity, and would therefore appear to succumb to the debilitating effects of sleep loss."
So, while losing sleep and then making it up does not appear to cause physical, psychological, or biochemical damage, getting enough sleep generally, does appear to be a major factor in promoting Long Life.
How much sleep do we need, though? Why do you need 8 hours every night, and our neighbor only 6 hours; or vice versa? Vast amounts of research have been performed attempting to determine the ideal amount of sleep. The answer is that each person has their own ideal amount of sleep; and that it is probably inherited, at least partly. The research shows that 92% of people need between 6 1/2 and 9 1/2 hours of sleep per night (24 hour period); with the other 8% requiring either more, or less in varying amounts. There are records of people who functioned normally on 3 hours sleep per night, and it is not known if their brain chemistry was different from others'.
There are no observable personality differences among people based on their sleep requirement. There are no differences in intelligence; nor is there a difference in the amounts of sleep needed between men and women, generally. Those who sleep erratically and often miss the greater part of a night's sleep have the shortest life spans; and those who habitually sleep more than nine hours per night have the second-shortest life span.
The sleep requirement for an individual may be altered slightly, but only with great effort. After reducing sleep time from 8 to 5 hours by going to bed later and getting up at the same time, some subjects experienced extreme difficulty in getting up in the morning, fatigue, less vigor, difficulty in concentrating, and felt less friendly and happy. Unwanted mood changes discouraged them from going below 5 hours; but, when these subjects went back to a schedule of their choosing, most of them were found to sleep 1 to 2 hours less than before the study began. So, if you sleep 8 hours, you might, with great effort and probably much discomfort, be able to reduce your sleeping time to 7, or possibly 6 hours; but probably not less.
Does it make a difference what time of the day we sleep? What is this "jet-lag" business? Biological responses that have a 24 hour cycle are called circadian rhythms. Circadian means "about a day". Although you probably inherited your own circadian rhythm, you may be able to modify your sleep rhythm somewhat. Your circadian rhythms are probably controlled by chemical secretions from various areas in the brain. You would probably function on this cycle and sleep the same number of hours whether you were living in a cave, in an area of constant light, or in a hospital bed. Disabled people who lie in bed all day sleep about the same as active persons. Although most people are awake for about 16 hours each day and sleep for about 8 hours, there is no one answer to why you go to sleep or stay awake. The specific trigger is thought to be one of the chemicals involved in sleep; but if your circadian rhythm is interrupted you may be unable to go to sleep even though very fatigued. Most of us have experienced feeling too fatigued to sleep; but it is usually the deviation from our cycle that inhibits sleep.
Past research concentrated on 5 stages of sleep; but many theories regarding the various stages were disproved, and one recent scientist, Laverne Johnson, concluded that you can function normally after missing some of the stages.
Johnson suggested lumping the five sleep stages into two sleep states:
1. Quiet Sleep (QS) - also referred to as Non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep (NREM).
2. Active Sleep (AS) - also referred to as Rapid Eye Movement sleep (REM).
Let's use the newer terms QS (Quiet Sleep), and AS (Active Sleep) to denote these two sleep states.
The first sleep state, Quiet Sleep (QS), usually begins just after falling asleep, and lasts for 40 to 80 minutes. It is generally assumed, though not proven, that one function of QS is to help us recover from the fatigue of the day. So QS helps us to restore our energy for the coming day. We do dream during QS, but these dreams are usually fragmentary - one image or scene.
After 40 to 80 minutes of sleep, you enter the second sleep state, Active Sleep (AS). During AS your brain waves speed up, the muscle tension at your chin decreases, you have body twitches, your breathing becomes shallow, your heart rate speeds up, your blood pressure varies, men may have penile erection, your thoughts become dream-like and dramatic, and you commence Rapid Eye Movements (REM's) - that is, your eyes begin to dart around under your closed eyelids at a rapid pace 3 to 5 times a night in 20 minute segments. Our dreams during AS are detailed action sequences. In general, AS segments increase in duration as the night progresses.
Contrary to popular opinion, most of our dreams are not bizarre or unusual; but are very commonplace experiences. They include another person; but seldom an animal. Most are active but not strenuous, such as talking or walking. The length of a dream is about the same as the time it would take to imagine it awake - for seconds or minutes.
There is no reliable explanation for the meaning of dreams; but they are believed to represent a broad range of concerns rather than one, such as sexuality.
We do not know why we dream, or what dreams mean; but we do know that people deprived of AS and the accompanying dreams suffer no behavioral problems.
Two needs served by AS dreaming though are the consolidation of memories, and the assimilation of traumatic experiences. If there is no AS dreaming, there is no long term memory. That is why cramming before an exam without sleeping does not work.
Much research has been done on the subject of learning during sleep, and the research clearly shows that it is not possible to learn complicated material during sleep. However, we do respond to signals that our brain considers important or novel, so we can process information and perform simple discriminations.
Although total time spent asleep is the same in various age groups, some changes do occur in sleep patterns as we age:
The most beneficial sleep habit is to sleep at the same time every day, in the same place, wearing the same clothing if any, and in the same company. The more regular the schedule, and familiar the surroundings, the more relaxed will be the sleep; and therefore the more restful.
It is also easiest to fall asleep at the same time each day, and in familiar surroundings. If one does have difficulty falling asleep, it helps to think of relaxing each part of the body, beginning with the toes and moving up the body until finally the mind is cleared and made to try to think of nothing at all.
If sleep still does not come, it may help to get up and do something for a short time (nothing strenuous or stimulating); perhaps have a glass of warm milk (it contains the amino acid Tryptophane, which promotes sleep) or other non-caffeine beverage, then try again. A glass of wine with dinner sometimes relaxes one enough to prepare them for sleep later, as does a sexual release. Silence and darkness are both helpful in falling asleep.
All responsible research reported to date regarding sleep aids (drugs) points ever more dramatically in the same direction: sleeping pills and other forms of drugs used to induce sleep deteriorate the system dramatically. The conclusion is clear: don't use them unless prescribed by your doctor; and then we recommend getting a second opinion. Sleep-inducing drugs are prescribed much too often by doctors, according to recent studies. Habitual users of sleeping pills could add at least five more healthy years to their lives by discontinuing the use of such pills and drugs.
People who now have irregular sleeping habits could add at least another five healthy years to their lives by getting at least seven hours of sleep every night, at about the same time each night. Those who already get a full night's sleep every night could add at least five more healthy years of life by making it a practice of napping for at least half an hour each noon.
Be aware that, no matter what you may have heard or read, we still do not know the exact nature of sleep, or exactly what goes on during this physical and mental process. That is the reason that dreams still cannot be interpreted with any certainty of accuracy. There are people who speak convincingly about what a particular dream might mean, but their speculations are not likely to be any more accurate than yours.
Carl Bourhenne, MA
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