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Night shift workers often have trouble falling asleep when they go to bed, and also have trouble staying awake at work because their natural circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle is disrupted. In the case of jet lag, circadian rhythms become out of sync with the time of day when people fly to a different time zone, creating a mismatch between their internal clock and the actual clock.
Your need for sleep and your sleep patterns change as you age, but this varies significantly across individuals of the same age. Babies initially sleep as much as 16 to 18 hours per day, which may boost growth and development especially of the brain. School-age children and teens on average need about 9. Most adults need hours of sleep a night, but after age 60, nighttime sleep tends to be shorter, lighter, and interrupted by multiple awakenings.
Elderly people are also more likely to take medications that interfere with sleep. In general, people are getting less sleep than they need due to longer work hours and the availability of round-the-clock entertainment and other activities. Many people feel they can "catch up" on missed sleep during the weekend but, depending on how sleep-deprived they are, sleeping longer on the weekends may not be adequate.
Everyone dreams. You spend about 2 hours each night dreaming but may not remember most of your dreams.
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Events from the day often invade your thoughts during sleep, and people suffering from stress or anxiety are more likely to have frightening dreams. Dreams can be experienced in all stages of sleep but usually are most vivid in REM sleep. Some people dream in color, while others only recall dreams in black and white.
Clusters of sleep-promoting neurons in many parts of the brain become more active as we get ready for bed. GABA is associated with sleep, muscle relaxation, and sedation. Norepinephrine and orexin also called hypocretin keep some parts of the brain active while we are awake.
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Other neurotransmitters that shape sleep and wakefulness include acetylcholine, histamine, adrenaline, cortisol, and serotonin. Genes may play a significant role in how much sleep we need. Scientists have identified several genes involved with sleep and sleep disorders, including genes that control the excitability of neurons, and "clock" genes such as Per , tim , and Cry that influence our circadian rhythms and the timing of sleep. Genome-wide association studies have identified sites on various chromosomes that increase our susceptibility to sleep disorders. Also, different genes have been identified with such sleep disorders as familial advanced sleep-phase disorder, narcolepsy, and restless legs syndrome.
Some of the genes expressed in the cerebral cortex and other brain areas change their level of expression between sleep and wake. Several genetic models—including the worm, fruit fly, and zebrafish—are helping scientists to identify molecular mechanisms and genetic variants involved in normal sleep and sleep disorders. Additional research will provide better understand of inherited sleep patterns and risks of circadian and sleep disorders.
Your health care provider may recommend a polysomnogram or other test to diagnose a sleep disorder.
A polysomnogram typically involves spending the night at a sleep lab or sleep center. It records your breathing, oxygen levels, eye and limb movements, heart rate, and brain waves throughout the night. Your sleep is also video and audio recorded.
The data can help a sleep specialist determine if you are reaching and proceeding properly through the various sleep stages. Results may be used to develop a treatment plan or determine if further tests are needed. Millions of people are using smartphone apps, bedside monitors, and wearable items including bracelets, smart watches, and headbands to informally collect and analyze data about their sleep.
Smart technology can record sounds and movement during sleep, journal hours slept, and monitor heart beat and respiration. Using a companion app, data from some devices can be synced to a smartphone or tablet, or uploaded to a PC.
Other apps and devices make white noise, produce light that stimulates melatonin production, and use gentle vibrations to help us sleep and wake. See a doctor if you have a problem sleeping or if you feel unusually tired during the day. Most sleep disorders can be treated effectively. Scientists continue to learn about the function and regulation of sleep. A key focus of research is to understand the risks involved with being chronically sleep deprived and the relationship between sleep and disease. People who are chronically sleep deprived are more likely to be overweight, have strokes and cardiovascular disease, infections, and certain types of cancer than those who get enough sleep.
Many mysteries remain about the association between sleep and these health problems. Does the lack of sleep lead to certain disorders, or do certain diseases cause a lack of sleep? These, and many other questions about sleep, represent the frontier of sleep research. Box Bethesda, MD www. NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency.
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Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history. Skip to main content. Submit Search. Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. Introduction Sleep is an important part of your daily routine—you spend about one-third of your time doing it. Genes and sleep Genes may play a significant role in how much sleep we need. Sleep studies Your health care provider may recommend a polysomnogram or other test to diagnose a sleep disorder.
Here are a few tips to improve your sleep: Set a schedule — go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
Exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day but no later than a few hours before going to bed. Avoid caffeine and nicotine late in the day and alcoholic drinks before bed. Have you ever spaced out during a meeting, but been jolted back to reality by the sound of your boss calling your name a few times?
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During microsleep, parts of the brain go offline for a few seconds while the rest of the brain stays awake. And although fatigue does seem to prime the brain for microsleep, even well-rested people do it — a lot. It may come as no surprise, then, that microsleep is dangerous.
When someone is literally half asleep, critical mistakes are more likely. A few seconds in a daze is all it takes for a fatal accident to happen, and, unfortunately, there have been at least few headline-grabbing disasters and tragedies attributed to microsleep. For instance, a speeding London tram derailed on a sharp left curve in because the driver fell into microsleep. The accident, which killed seven people and injured 62 more, was the worst train accident that the UK had seen in recent memory. But on a daily basis, most of us still engage in activities that, without paying attention, could send someone to the ER, or even the morgue.
A better understanding of microsleep could help keep us safe.
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