The ABCs of ZZZs
Do you remember a wonderful nightly activity that involves closing your eyes and remaining horizontal for eight hours until sunrise? If you have a baby, probably not. A poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that 76 percent of parents have frequent sleep problems. Of course, none of this is news -- especially if you have an infant.
Clearly, sleep deprivation, whether it's due to the arrival of a baby, a bout of insomnia, or other problems is nothing to yawn at. The good news is that there are strategies you can use to get the rest you need.
We often think of sleep as one solid, unchanging state of unconsciousness. But there are actually two different types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM), known as dream sleep, and non-REM. Non-REM is made up of four stages. Stage one is a drowsy state when the body begins to relax and you have a semi-awareness of your surroundings. In stage two, body and eye movements cease and brain waves slow down. This is the stage we call "falling asleep." Stages three and four are deep sleep; breathing is regular and you show no response to what's going on around you. These are the most restorative stages of sleep.
Moving through these four stages takes about 90 minutes, after which the body shifts into REM, the period in which most dreams occur. Your closed eyes begin to dart back and forth, as if you're watching a movie, and brain waves speed up. The entire cycle of four stages and a period of REM sleep is completed about four to six times a night, says Amy Wolfson, PhD, author of The Woman's Book of Sleep (New Harbinger, 2001). REM segments last about 10 minutes at first and increase in length as the night wears on. Most of our deep, restorative sleep normally takes place during the first third of the night, while dream sleep tends to be concentrated toward morning.