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How much sleep do you really need?

By Dr. Jay Puangco

Categories: Neurosciences

You’ve heard the expression, “It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality?” Well, when it comes to sleep, it’s about both.

A lot of us know that we need about eight hours of sleep to function properly. What you might not know is that taking sleeping pills to achieve those necessary hours doesn’t do you much good.
Sleep is a function of the brain, and our brains don’t get “tricked” easily. When we take sleeping pills or medications that interfere with our sleep cycles, our brains are denied the natural stages of sleep. As a result we wake up groggy and unrested.

There are two basic states of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – where intense dreaming occurs – and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which consists of four stages. The first stage of NREM sleep is often called “light sleep,” while the last two stages are “deep sleep,” during which the body repairs and regenerates tissue, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system.

Our brains typically cycle between non-REM and REM sleep several times a night. People who rely on sleeping pills, alcohol or drugs as a crutch to fall asleep rarely feel well-rested – and that is because they’re not.

Sleeping pills and other medications that affect your sleep cycle, create an imbalance in your sleep. If your brain does not get certain amounts of sleep, let’s say it gets stuck in stages 1 or 2, it’s not going to hit the dreaming stage of sleep. You’re missing important transition states that can help with restoration and cognitive function.

Only natural sleep gives you the quality of sleep you need.

By now you might be saying, “That’s great, but how do I fall asleep without my sleeping pill?”

When we were children, we didn’t ask this question. Now, we have forgotten how to sleep.

At the Judy & Richard Voltmer Sleep Center, we use cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback and relaxation techniques to re-train people to do what used to come so naturally. But even without professional help, there are some very simple things you can do at home to get you back to into the rhythm of natural sleep:

- Turn off all electronics an hour before bedtime. Light from TVs and computers can suppress melatonin and affect the quality of your sleep.

- Reserve your bed for romance and sleep only. Don’t check your email, watch TV or even read in bed.

- Keep your room cool at night; a lower temperature helps induce sleep.

When you get a good night’s sleep, you know it. You can think clearly, function well and feel good. That is because your brain was allowed to do what it wanted to do naturally. So if you think getting to sleep requires pills, alcohol or other drugs, think again.

It’s all in your mind.

Jay Puangco, M.D., is Service Chief of the Judy & Richard Voltmer Sleep Center.