Sleep is a cyclic, complex and a vital active process interacting with different hormonal and nervous systems of the organism. The well-known sleep-wake cycle is a circadian cycle (approximate duration of 24 hours) regulated by the biological clock. How to know if you suffer from insomnia? In tis article, we are going to show you all the points about this topic.
What is a biological clock?
It is a neuronal center located in the hypothalamus and whose function is to give the order to rest the brain’s organisms to initiate, maintain and end sleep. It is this biological clock that is going to mark the slots in which there is more or less probability to fall asleep.
Sleep cycle and phases
Sleep is composed by the periodic succession of the different phases that constitute it. These phases form a ultradian cycle (duration less than 20h):
- NREM phase: characterized by the presence of electrical brain activity with a synchronized and slow-wave encephalogram, moderate muscle tone, slow or absent eye movements, absence of genital activity, vague thoughts, slow breathing, lower brain temperature, decrease of blood flow and high secretion of growth hormone.
- REM phase: in contrast, this phase is characterized by an electrical brain activity with a desynchronized encephalogram with irregular and rapid waves, absence of muscle tone, rapid eye movements, genital activity, dreams of narrative structure, irregular breathing, higher brain temperature, high blood flow and low secretion of growth hormone. During this phase, significant stimuli are required to provoke the individual’s awakening.
Why do we need to sleep?
There are different theories related to the functions of the dream and its necessity. Sleeping allows us to:
- Restore and conserve the body’s energy
- Help eliminate free radicals accumulated during the day
- Regulate and restores cortical electrical activity
- Contribute to synaptic homeostasis
- Activate the immune system
- Consolidate memory
- Contribute to thermal, metabolic and endocrine regulation
These functions are associated, predominantly, with one of the two great phases that constitute sleep.
The NREM phase helps to:
- Restore body tissues
- Represent a role in the growth process
- Conserve energy for the waking phase (low body temperature)
The REM phase helps to:
- Process information
- Stimulate development and preservation of nerve pathways
It is very important to be aware that, although we may sleep eight hours, we get up tired, with muscle pain and without enough energy to face the day. This happens because we do not have our sleep-wake cycle well regulated and, of course, we should do everything possible to prevent it.
The sleep-wake cycle
For the body to be healthy, its functions must vary rhythmically and in relation to each other. As we said in another article, the sleep cycle is regulated by the biological clock, which marks the slots in which there is more or less chance of falling asleep.
We all know about insomnia, but we must bear in mind that there are different types of insomnia and it is important to detect which one we suffer, if we want to prevent it.
By way of informative data, about 10% of the population suffers chronically and almost 50% suffer it at some point in their life, according to data from the General Council of Official Associations of Pharmacists.
There are different types of insomnia, and each one of them presents a different treatment, so it is necessary to know which one you suffer in order to opt for an individualized treatment. According to the duration we can classify it in:
- Transitory: only lasts a few days and then disappears. It occurs in individuals who have never had insomnia problems but who are excited by specific and transitory situations. A very clear example could be stress for work, for exams, on special dates such as the days before a surgical intervention, etc.
- Short duration: lasts a maximum of 4 weeks and is usually caused by stressful situations more serious than those mentioned above, such as insomnia that occurs in the event of the death of a family member, economic problems, etc.
- Long-term: stays for a period exceeding one month. Its causes can be multiple and often are not clear. In this case, a treatment with pharmaceutical medication can be established.
The symptoms can manifest during the day, suffering, for example, fatigue, anxiety, lack of energy and decrease in the level of alertness. In addition it can suppose a great personal, social and economic burden.
How to know if I suffer from insomnia?
This type of pathology is characterized by at least one of the following symptoms:
- Unable to fall asleep
- Increase in the number of night awakenings
- Decreased sleep time, waking up too early
- Feeling that sleep has been insufficient
How to solve it?
In order to correctly solve a pathology of this type, it is necessary to carefully analyze several factors, but in a generalized way, melatonin is very useful to restore sleep disturbances. Its beneficial effects for rebalancing the sleep-wake cycle are well known and very useful, however, it is always best to consult a healthcare professional to tell us what treatment is best for us