Sleep better, feel better

Updated on 3rd June 2020

There are now substantial extracts from the first four chapters of this book on this page; which you may read for free.

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Adequate sleep, of good quality, is essential for good physical and mental health, and for happiness and success in life, at home and in work…

Safeguard Your Sleep and Reap the Rewards:

Better health, happiness and resilience

This book contains a detailed review of the science of sleep, and it explores what this tells us about the importance of sleep for a happy, healthy, successful life. It also contains a range of solutions to common sleep problems.

By Renata Taylor-Byrne, August 2019 – June 2020

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Full cover for publicity, jpeg
Cover design by Charles Saul

Renata Taylor-Byrne has summarized more than twenty years of sleep science, and offers a broad range of solutions to all our sleep problems (apart from medical conditions like sleep apnoea, which require specialist medical interventions!)

This book will definitely help you if you want to understand your body’s need for sleep; how much to get; how to plan and manage your sleep cycle; how to get to sleep when it’s not easy; and how to protect your sleep boundaries from those people and organizations who disregard your health and happiness, (those who want to keep you awake to suit their own interests).

The author spent more than two years synthesizing the results of more than twenty years of scientific research on sleep, which involved digesting 108 books and articles, in order to produce this helpful guide to better sleep and a happier life for you.

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Chapter 1: Introduction

“When forced to choose, I will not trade even one night’s sleep for the chance of extra profit.

Warren Buffet. (Cited in Huffington, 2017).

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Author: Renata Taylor-Byrne. Cover design by Charles Saul

This book consists of six parts, plus three appendices.

Part 1 looks at the basic sleep science research: which includes the relationship between our innate biological clock and the rising and setting of the sun; plus our innate sleep pattern, which has five minor variations. Also the importance of deep and shallow sleep; dreams; and the importance for our health of the brain-cleansing process that occurs at night, if we get the right kind and amount of sleep.  Plus three theories of dreams, which show that sleep is essential for emotional well-being. It is also important to understand how sleep changes as we age, from birth to old age. And, of course, sleep quality is related to physical and mental health and physical and mental illness.

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In Part 2, we take a look at the major sleep destroyers, which cause insomnia, and a range of related problems. It is important to understand what they are, if you are to protect your physical and mental health by getting the right quantity and quality of sleep.

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Part 3 is where we explore the negative effect of insufficient sleep upon our bodies and our emotional lives, including physical and mental health problems; reduced emotional intelligence; damaged immune system; cancer; arterial disease; infertility; weight gain; impaired memory and learning; and falling asleep at the wheel of motor vehicles or dangerous machinery. We then look at how you can build up a sleep debt, which has to be paid back; and the negative effects of night shift work, and jet lag, upon your ability to get sleep of sufficient quality and quantity.

Then, in the emotional area, we identify five negative effects of sleep deprivation or disruption, as follows:

  1. Your emotional intelligence will be reduced.
  2. Your concentration will be negatively affected
  3. Lack of sleep can lead to depression
  4. Sleep loss can lead to anxiety
  5. Anger problems can also be linked to inadequate sleep

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Back cover, for websiteNext, in Part 4, we examine the top solutions for improving your sleep. These come in two broad categories: physical solutions and mental solutions – (although there is an inevitable overlap between the two, because the body and mind are actually one, and not two!)

The physical solutions consist of: regular physical exercise; meditation; regular afternoon naps; physical relaxation techniques; hot baths before bed, and sleeping in a cool, darkened room.

The mental solutions for improving sleep are all about learning to manage your mind.  Some of these approaches involve writing out your worries; writing tomorrow’s to-do list tonight; writing a Gratitude List. But also, the effects on the mind of exercising, eating the right foods (which are listed) and avoiding the wrong foods (which are also listed). And relaxation and meditation make a reappearance in this part. Finally we look at how to re-frame your problems; and or to talk them out with a friend or a professional counsellor.

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Part 5 looks at how to improve your sleep in the real world. This includes a list of the 13 main pieces of advice that we give to our counselling/coaching clients who suffer from insomnia. And we present evidence that sleeping tablets cannot realistically be part of your insomnia cure.

Next we look in detail at how to change any habit that you need to change that relates to getting a good night’s sleep.  We have studied the most effective methods of behaviour change, and present the one that seems to us to be most effective.  It is also widely used by respectable organizations that help people to change their destructive habits.

And then we have an in-depth study of how our diet affects our sleep, and the nutrients that help you to sleep, and the foods that contain them; plus advice on using nutritional supplements.

However, your sleeping environment is also important, so we present some guidelines for how to set up your sleeping environment to support your need for sleep.

Of course, you also have to have strong boundaries in place to protect your sleep from those people who would keep you out of bed for their own purposes; including friends, associates, partners, TV and Internet marketeers, and employers.

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And finally, we come to Part 6, which contains two chapters.  Chapter 17 is a concluding summary, which presents a concise overview of the content of the whole book.  And Chapter 18 presents fourteen key learning points about managing your own sleep needs, which are made up of:

– Eight key learning points about the ways in which lack of sleep can harm you, and

– Six key strategies for protecting your sleep.

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The three appendices are as follows:

Appendix A: Glossary of terms

Appendix B: Learn and practice a relaxation system

Appendix C: The CBT-I approach to insomnia

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This book describes some of the most recent research findings about sleep, which makes it clear that sleep is much more important for us than most people realize.

It is an essential ingredient for our mental, physical and psychological health.

Some of the information presented here will be disturbing, and at times shocking, but we need to know it.

Why?

Because in the UK and US, (and throughout the world), there are businesses intent on selling the myth of the ‘24 hour society’.

Here are two examples:

  • There are estate agents in America where the employees have to be available for customers 24 hours a day, and they consider that any business that fails to provide this kind of service is inefficient!
  • There are thousands of people working night shifts – in factories; driving lorries and delivery vans; working in hospitals; and in the emergency services throughout the UK – who receive the same hourly rate of pay as if they were working during the day – with no financial acknowledgement by their employers that there is a very big cost difference to the body of night workers relative to day workers! (It is impossible for a human body to acclimatize to sleeping by day and working by night.  The medium to long term health costs are high!)

At the present moment in history, there is a very powerful and insidious commercial pressure to normalize very short amounts of sleep at night. But we ignore our need for adequate, regular, nightly sleep at our peril.

Many people consider that they can ignore their body’s need for sleep, and that they can function effectively on a meagre diet of sleep and still achieve their goals.  When they feel under pressure of time, they begin to shave hours off their normal sleep time.  This can happen with students studying for professional qualifications, on top of a full time job; parents of young children; politicians in crazy parliaments; medical staff, including nurses, in hospitals and clinics; carers; security staff; overly-ambitious individuals; and many others.

But the scientific facts presented in this book will hopefully help them all to change their minds, and start to respect their sleep as the vital source of nourishment and healing that it is.

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The reason I wrote this book was because I was so amazed and disturbed by the research findings that Matthew Walker discovered over twenty years ago, at Harvard University, when he started researching sleep there. He summarized this research in the book he published in 2017. He is now the Director of the University of California’s Berkeley Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab, and has been fascinated by different aspects of sleep for many years.

Back cover, for website

This led me to do a more thorough study of the many other books, journal articles and blogs which are available in this field of sleep research. There are many other eminent researchers and authors who have contributed to our understanding of why sleep is so important for human beings – including William Dement; James Maas; Nick Littlehales; Shawn Stevenson; Chris Winter; Osmun, Strine and Chapman; Ariana Huffington, and others – and some of their key research experiments and/or insights have been summarised in this book.

I wanted to identify some of the most useful research findings, and to get them summarized and published, so that people could see what the scientific facts are about sleep.

The logic behind this approach is that the more people are aware of the most recent research evidence about the power of sleep; how it gets disrupted; and the negative effects of that disruption; the more they will be able to see what they would gain significantly from protecting and ring-fencing their sleep.

And if people are willing to experiment with developing better sleep habits, then they, and their families, will become healthier, stronger and happier.

But behaviour change isn’t easy, so I have included information about how to change your sleep-related habits. There is a deceptively simple structure to habits, discovered by researchers, which can give people an insight into how they can change their sleep-reducing habits. This knowledge gives people, who want to enjoy much better sleep, the confidence to create new habits one step at a time; and one habit at a time.

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Also in the book are strategies you can use to handle outside pressure: You may want to make some alterations to your lifestyle on the basis of what you have read in this book. You may face pressure from others to stay exactly the same.

In fact there is a phenomenon called ‘sleep shaming,’ where people are ridiculed for protecting their sleep; even if their motivation is so they can do a decent day’s work the following day. I summarize some of the most useful verbal techniques you can use to strengthen your boundaries.

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There is a rich body of insights available to you in this book.  My hope is that you will select the ones that are most helpful for you and try them out and assess their value for yourself.

Most of us have at least some memories of the effects of a good night’s sleep on our moods and perceptions. Remember how refreshed, happy and well you felt after having a good night’s sleep? We feel strong, and sense that we can take on the world. We have a naturally positive approach to the day ahead, because we have recharged our batteries in the best way possible.

You can have that experience on a daily basis if you give yourself the amount and type of sleep recommended in my book. But in fact successful sportspeople, (who are aware of the effects of their occupations on their bodies, give themselves more time for sleep so their bodies can repair themselves and release more growth hormone. Roger Federer is an excellent example of what can be achieved with full self-care …

The techniques to restore and transform your sleep, which are described in this book, are some of the best available today. They are based on decades of modern scientific research; plus hundreds of years of research and practice in Eastern philosophical traditions.

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Chapter 2: Inborn patterns of sleep, and cultural variations

In this chapter we will examine some of the basic science of sleep, as explored by various American and European researchers.  In particular, we will look at the 24 hour ‘clock’ that is built into our body-mind by nature; some cultural variations in sleep patterns; and the innate – or inborn – patterns of sleep we find in early and late risers.

2.1: The 24 hour clock inside our brains

If you don’t understand your relationship to time, and the dark-light rotations of the earth, you might well make the mistake that you think you can skimp on your sleep in order to get more and more things done.

When we do understand our relationship to time, and the rotations of the earth, we begin to value our sleep, and to recognize that we need the right amount of sleep, at the right kind of times, in the right kind of environment, in order to ensure our health, happiness and success in life.

We humans are biological beings whose behaviour and organic functioning is very powerfully influenced – because of the processes of evolution – by the rotation of the earth each day.

Every day, we experience a 23 hours and 56 minutes circular rotation of the earth, with regular episodes of light and darkness, and fluctuations in temperature. And these repeated sequences influence human, plant and animal activity.

Furthermore, within us, we have a biological clock, which controls our circadian rhythm of approximately twenty-four hours, which is linked to sleep and wakefulness.  (‘Circa’ means ‘approximately’ and ‘dian’ comes from the word ‘diam’, meaning day). Our circadian rhythms involve a twenty-four hour cycle of sleep and wakefulness, linked to natural cycles of light and darkness. Our circadian rhythms are also controlled by internal hormonal processes. For examples: the rise and fall of melatonin levels, and the presence or absence of cortisol.

These internal processes exist independently of the external world’s movements, but they are linked to, and influenced by external time cues, via the alternation of light and darkness. And the part of the body which governs these cyclical processes, is called the ‘superchiasmatic nucleus’: the 24 hour clock in our brain.

This ‘superchiasmatic nucleus’ consists of two tiny groups of nerve cells that are found in the hypothalamus, (which is located at the base of the brain, near the pituitary gland).

This nucleus regulates the circadian rhythms in the body, and it analyses and assesses the light signals from the eyes, as these light messages are sent down the optic nerves. These messages journey towards the back of the brain, for an analysis of the messages contained within them. Any alterations in body temperature, metabolism (the state of the biochemical reactions that are going on in the cells of human beings, to sustain life), and the releasing of hormones which might be necessary, are dealt with there.  Thus visual information is used by the nucleus to re-order the 24 hour rhythm, so that it is maintained accurately.

When the suprachiasmatic nucleus was discovered by scientists they realised that although human beings can have their biological processes affected by light, the nucleus also operates independently of the messages that come from sources of light. Its role is to orchestrate the many circadian rhythms of the body.

To summarise, we are internally programmed, through billions of years of evolution, to have internal rhythms of sleeping, temperature changes, hormone production, eating and digestion, and alertness, affected by the world’s light/dark cycle which happens each day.

And when we are embryos in the womb, our mother’s fluctuating melatonin levels send messages to the biological clock in our brains. This prepares babies for the regular pulsations of life outside the womb.  We are ruled by these circadian rhythms within us, which developed in accord with the patterns of the earth’s rotation. They are fixed and unchanging and would operate even if we lived in an underground cave, far from daylight.

The take-away message here is this: We are pre-programmed to have a certain amount of sleep; and it is not up to our ill-informed culture to change that to suit the needs of industry and/or commerce – or personal recreation and all-night entertainment.

2.2: Do all cultures follow the same sleeping pattern?

If we want to know how we were programmed to sleep, before the industrial revolution, or the feudal era, how should we proceed?

We could look at the San people, who are a tribe of hunter-gatherers in the Kalahari Desert. And/or the Gabra tribe in northern Kenya.

These two tribes have not altered the way they live for thousands of years. And the pattern of sleeping they engage in comprises seven to eight hours sleep every night, and in the afternoon they have a nap which lasts between thirty to sixty minutes in length. This is called a ‘biphasic’ (or two-phase) sleep pattern.

In many other parts of the world, a ‘monophasic’ (or single-phase) approach to sleep is followed.  This describes a type of sleep pattern which consists of a solid block of sleep, lasting roughly seven hours each night. This is followed in many countries.

What seems apparent in the ‘biphasic pattern’ of sleeping (having a daily ‘siesta’ and a later, longer block of time sleeping through the night), is that the afternoon drop in energy (which all humans experience), is an integral part of the San and Gabra approach to sleep.

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The innate pattern of sleep

Matthew Walker (2017) states that this pattern of afternoon drowsiness is experienced by people all over the world:

“All humans, irrespective of culture, or geographical location, have a genetically hard-wired dip in alertness in the mid-afternoon hours”.

This drop in alertness has been embedded in us by evolution and seems to be the normal pattern of our daily lives. Walker (2017) explains that there is genetic, biological and anthropological evidence that human beings were wired up to follow a biphasic sleep system. This means a long sleep at night, with a shorter nap on the following day in mid-afternoon.

A Greek experiment

Greek society used to follow this biphasic model for all of its history, up to the end of the 20th century, when they abandoned the siesta. Harvard University’s School of Public Health became interested in how this country as a whole had adjusted to this very significant change in sleeping patterns.

Business and commercial pressures had led to the customary practice of an afternoon siesta being dropped, and the requirement that Greek workers continue to work through the afternoon. This was a significant change in lifestyle – and the Harvard researchers wanted to know the effects, if any, on the health of the working population. The number of people who were tracked by the researchers was 23,000, whose ages ranged from 20 to 83 years old.

They were tracked for six years as they adjusted their sleeping patterns from a biphasic to a monophasic sleep pattern, (dropping their afternoon siesta, and only having seven hours sleep during the night). The participants were chosen for their good health. None of them had any experience of heart disease or stroke, at the start of the research project.

The effects of dropping the afternoon siesta became very clear….

…End of extract from Chapter 2…

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Chapter 3: Deep and shallow sleep; dreams; and brain-cleansing

In this chapter we will take a look at the different types of sleep – including Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep – and their functions.

We will also look at three theories of why we dream; and examine the ‘housekeeping’ function of sleep, which is to detoxify the brain.

3.1: Types of sleep and their functions

For us to survive the challenges and perils of everyday life, evolution has created a regular and restorative process which enables us to deal with our daily experiences, and to recover our energy. This is the sleeping process, which has different kinds and levels of sleep within it.

The varied types of sleep that we go through during a night’s sleep, also review and preserve the learning and survival information that we gain each day, ready for the following day. As a result, we are refreshed, restored to full energy, and prepared for what the new day brings.

Here is what happens:

During the day our brain takes in and fully absorbs new information about the constantly changing environment we are in. Then we fall asleep at night and the brain changes its activity.

This change in brain activity has been tracked by researchers using a polysomnography machine, which receives brainwave information from research participants who are wired up before going to sleep. The machine records their different brainwave patterns as they sleep through the night.

Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) Sleep

The first type of sleep that has been identified is called non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM), and this type of sleep varies in intensity from light sleep, to a deeper form which develops as the sleeper gets more involved in the sleeping process.

Non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) is slow-wave, and the deeper stages of NREM sleep transfers items of information from a fragile, short- term memory store to a long-term memory store. The brain categorises and consolidates information from the day’s events, and the day’s significant happenings are slowly re-enacted, at a reduced speed, as the brain assimilates and combines aspects of the day’s events into long-term storage.

There are four stages in this type of sleep which have been identified: stages 1 and 2 of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep is shallow and light; and stages 3 and 4 are deeper types of slow-wave sleep; and the categories are based on the ease with which you could rouse someone from sleep.

So for example in stages 3 and 4 of NREM (non-rapid eye movement sleep) a sleeping person would be really difficult to wake up, in contrast to someone in stages 1 and 2, where they could be awoken much more easily.

Rapid Eye-Movement (REM) Sleep

The second type of sleep that follows on is called rapid eye-movement sleep (or REM sleep), and when people are in this stage of sleep, their eyelids are closed, and they flutter; and their eyes dart from side to side, rapidly. This indicates that they are in fact dreaming, and this eye movement is part of the dreaming process. This finding was discovered in 1952, by three famous sleep researchers: Kleitman, Aserinsky and William Dement. (See Dement, 2000).

The difference between rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) is that REM sleep is much more active when examined by a polysomnography machine, than NREM sleep. In fact, in REM sleep, the brain is just as active as it is during wakefulness, as indicated by comparing brainwave patterns.  While, during NREM sleep, brainwave activity is much slower and less active.

Although the brain isn’t taking in information from the outside world, during REM sleep, it is actively processing information while re-enacting and re-designing emotionally significant events, and integrating them with past memories to produce new and original creations.

Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is so valuable for human beings that the brain actually takes over the body’s muscles and deactivates them to make sure that this type of sleep takes place.

When someone is having a full night’s sleep, their brain goes through different cycles of REM sleep and NREM sleep, alternating every 90 minutes. And as the night progresses, the frequency of NREM sleep reduces and the occurrence of REM sleep increases.

In other words, there is an alteration in the ratio of these two types of sleep, and by later in the night and early morning, it is the REM sleep which predominates.

During deep wave REM sleep, our daily experiences are processed, and our energy is renewed, especially glycogen, which is our fuel supply, mainly stored in our liver.  Thus, if your sleep is disrupted during the second half of the night, you will suffer the negative effects of the insufficiency of those REM sleep functions.

3.2: What are dreams and why do we dream?

(a) Three theories of why we dream

William Dement, who was one of the pioneers of sleep research, explained in his book – The Promise of Sleep[i] (2000) – the reasons why he was so fascinated by this subject….

…end of extract from Chapter 3..

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[i] Dement, W.C. (2000) The Promise of Sleep. New York: Random House, Inc.

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Chapter 4: How our sleeping patterns change as we age

This chapter explores the ways in which sleep develops and changes as we go through various developmental stages: from the womb, to infancy, to childhood; into our teens; and on into middle and old age.

4.1: Sleep in the womb

“Lack of sleep impairs a child’s ability to learn, their emotional well-being (mood swings, anxiety, depression, hyperactivity and other behavioural problems) and even leads to many health problems like infections, high blood pressure and obesity.”

Dr Harvey Karp

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As a baby grows in the womb, they spend most of their time sleeping, and most of that sleep is mostly like REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. In the final weeks of their life as a foetus, their brain has developed the mental structures for rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM), but the brain of the foetus has not yet developed the mechanism which creates sleep paralysis. This mechanism stills the body movements which would otherwise take place during sleep, as it does when people are awake.

Their sleep pattern, at this stage of their life in the womb, is a combination of roughly six hours of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and six hours of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep; plus a mixture of these two types of sleep. And they are only awake for a short amount of time – (between two and three hours a day) – before they are born.

In the final two weeks before birth, a change takes place in the sleep pattern of the foetus. The REM sleep, that the foetus has been engaged in, increases to twelve hours a day, and this is the only time in the life of a human being when their REM sleep increases so rapidly. And the function of this change is to foster the growth of networks of neurons throughout the brain; and the electrical activity, which is part of rapid eye movement sleep, creates millions of synapses. (Synapses are junction points at which one impulse from a brain cell passes on to another).

This is a vital stage of brain development for babies, when the brain is being more fully constructed; and this process is replicated in almost all mammals, with the possible exception of new-born killer whales. (Walker, 2017).

4.2: Sleep in infancy

Children’s and babies’ sleep patterns are called ‘polyphasic’. This means that they sleep in small amounts, many times across the 24 hour day. This is in contrast to adults, who are innately biphasic; but who mostly have been culturally shaped to have one long period of sleep, which is called a ‘monophasic’ sleep pattern.

The reason for this difference, between infants and adults, is that in infants and young children, the internal 24 hour clock, which is the suprachiasmatic nucleus, hasn’t developed fully when the baby is born. (This nucleus controls their circadian rhythms of daily biological activity). To develop it fully takes approximately three or four months (from birth) for a regular pattern of activity and rest to start to emerge.

The signals of changes in temperature, regular feedings, and the alterations in the light patterns each day, strengthens the development of the inner 24 hour clock (the suprachiasmatic nucleus), which is in place at the end of a child’s first year. At this stage the child is awake during the day, with some naps, and is asleep for most of the night. The period of haphazard sleeping and wakefulness is now over.

Then there is a gradual transition to a ‘biphasic’ sleep pattern whereby the child has a long period of sleep at night and a short nap during the day. And as the child slowly transitions into late childhood, it is culturally shaped to drop the interval of sleep during the day, and just has one long sleep during the night, called the ‘monophasic’ sleep pattern.

The other change in their sleep patterns, as the infant grows into childhood, is that there is an alteration in the balance of the different types of sleep that they have. A sleeping infant has a balanced amount of rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM): roughly fifty-fifty.

Then as the child develops, this proportion changes. By the time a child reaches the age of five, there is a changed ratio, of thirty minutes of rapid eye movement sleep, and seventy minutes of non-rapid eye movement sleep, in each of their sleep cycles, during a night’s sleep.

4.3: Sleep in childhood

The rapid eye movement (REM) sleep a child needs actually reduces during their childhood years and there is a big increase in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. This new pattern lasts throughout their infancy and up to mid-childhood, reaching a balance of eighty-to-twenty (NREM to REM sleep) in the later teenage years, and all the way through the early and middle years of adult life.

Why is there an increase in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep as children grow up?

An American sleep researcher called Irwin Feinberg – (described in Mendelson, 2017)[i] – worked with group of six to eight year old children. He recorded their sleep patterns, at six to twelve month intervals. Electrodes were placed on the left and right sides of their heads and also at the front and back of their heads. The children returned at these set times, and the research lasted for ten years. There were 3,500 all-night observations, with electrical equipment recordings. From this research information, Feinberg was able to chart the changes in the pattern of deep sleep as the children grew from childhood into adolescence.

Before adolescence, the growth of new brain cells continued and there was a modest amount of deep sleep taking place. But then Feinberg observed a marked increase in the amount of deep sleep being recorded on his electrical equipment with early adolescents. Walker (2017) considered that this corresponds with the brain’s need to reduce surplus connections within the brain (which is called ‘neuronal pruning’).

 4.4: The teenager and sleep

“Teenagers get a bad press, but they are often just doing what their bodies want them to.”

Nick Littlehales

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At the onset of adolescence, Feinberg’s recordings of the electrical patterns of his research participants’ sleep revealed a reduction in the amount of deep, non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, as if the deep sleep activity had been preparing children for the changes of adolescence. Walker (2017) explains that by the time children become teenagers their brain has lost the elasticity and creativity that they had in their early childhood. A relevant example is the difficulty which older teenagers experience, when they are trying to learn a second language. Young children find it much easier to do this.

Finally, adolescents experience an alteration in their internal twenty-four hour clock. There is a change in their circadian rhythm. Why is this? …

…End of extract from Chapter 4.

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[i] Mendelson, W. (2017) The Science of Sleep: What it is, why we need it, how it works. London: Ivy Press.

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Email: Renata’s email address

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[1] Walker, M. (2018) Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams. London: Penguin.

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