We spend 1/3 of our lives asleep. But why do we sleep? Despite countless research studies, scientists still are not exactly sure why we sleep. Some experts believe that sleep gives the body a chance to rest and regenerate, and sleep definitely helps us to maintain our cognitive skills, like memory and concentration.
Could we do without sleep?
What would happen if we didn’t sleep? Lack of sleep affects our brain function, and you will know this if you have ever felt the effects of sleep deprivation. It makes you groggy, irritable, and forgetful. It can also affect your concentration and memory.
If you continue missing out on sleep, it affects your ability to make decisions and your alertness. Studies have shown that being awake for 17 hours decreases performance as much as it would if you had drunk 2 glasses of wine.
Research also shows that sleep-deprived people find it difficult to respond to emergencies or problems, and they struggle to make rational judgments. Sleep deprivation can have dire consequences, and is thought to have been a contributing factor in the cases of disasters such as that which occurred in Chernobyl.
Sleep deprivation can also affect emotional and physical health. Disorders such as sleep apnoea, where a suffer stops breathing temporarily in their sleep, results in excessive daytime sleepiness and is linked to stress and high blood pressure. Research has also suggested that sleep loss may increase the risk of obesity because chemicals and hormones that control appetite and weight gain are released during sleep.
What happens during sleep?
Sleep occurs in cycles which are between 90 and 110 minutes long. Sleep is divided into 2 categories; non-REM sleep and REM sleep.
Stage one: Light Sleep
During the first stage of sleep, we’re half awake and half asleep. Muscle activity slows down and twitching of the muscles may occur. This is light sleep, so we can be easily woken up at this stage.
Stage two: True Sleep
Within around 10 minutes of light sleep, we enter stage 2, which lasts for around 20 minutes. The breathing pattern and heart rate start to slow down. This makes up most of the time we are asleep.
Stages three and four: Deep Sleep
During stage three, the brain waves change, and breathing and heart rate are at their lowest levels.
Stage four is characterised by rhythmic breathing and limited muscle activity. If we are awakened during deep sleep we often feel groggy and disoriented for several minutes after waking up. Some children experience bed-wetting, night terrors, or sleepwalking during this stage.
The first rapid eye movement (REM) period usually begins about 70 to 90 minutes after we fall asleep. We have around 3-5 periods of REM sleep per night.
Although we are not conscious, the brain is active. This is when dreams tend to occur. The eyes dart around, and our breathing rate and blood pressure rise, though the muscles are technically paralysed.
After this stage, the whole sleep cycle starts again.
How much sleep do we need?
The amount of sleep we need varies from person to person. Some people can get by on 5 hours, some people need as much as 11 hours. The average amount of sleep is 7.75 hours.
The experts say that you are getting enough sleep if you don’t feel sleepy during the day.
Common sleep disorders
Sleep disorders are conditions that prevent a person from getting restful sleep, and that result in the inability to function properly through the day due to fatigue. There are around 80 known sleep disorders. Here are some of the most common:
Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which sufferers have difficulty falling or staying asleep. People with insomnia usually experience one of more of the following symptoms:
Difficulty falling asleep
Waking up during the night and having trouble getting back to sleep
Waking up too early in the morning
Having unrefreshing sleep
Having at least one daytime problem such as fatigue; sleepiness; problems with mood and concentration, or even accidents at work.
Insomnia varies in frequency and duration. About half of all adults experience occasional bouts of insomnia and 1 in 10 people suffer from chronic insomnia. Insomnia can occur on its own or it can be associated with a medical or psychiatric condition. Acute insomnia can last from 1 night to a few weeks. Insomnia is chronic when a person has insomnia on at least 3 nights per week for a month or more.
Sleep apnoea is a potentially serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnoea stop breathing repeatedly when they are asleep. There are two types of sleep apnoea: obstructive and central.
Obstructive sleep apnoea is the most common. It is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses during sleep. In central sleep apnoea, the airway is not blocked but the brain doesn’t tell the body to breathe. It’s called central apnoea because the condition is related to a fault with the central nervous system. Symptoms of obstructive apnoea can include snoring, daytime sleepiness, fatigue, restlessness during sleep, gasping for air while sleeping and trouble concentrating. People with central apnoea may gasp for air or wake up often during the night.
Restless legs syndrome
Restless legs syndrome is a sleep disorder that causes an intense and irresistible urge to move the legs. This sensation is brought on by any period of resting such as lying down in bed, sitting for prolonged periods such as while driving or at a cinema. It usually occurs in the evening, which makes it difficult for sufferers to fall asleep and stay asleep. It can cause problems with daytime sleepiness, irritability, and concentration. Often, people with restless legs find that they want to walk around and shake their legs to help relieve the sensation.
Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder of sleep regulation that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness. People with narcolepsy experience excessive daytime sleepiness and intermittent, uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the daytime. These sudden sleep attacks may occur during any type of activity at any time of the day. Some patients with narcolepsy experience sudden muscle weakness with laughter or other emotions. Narcolepsy usually begins between the ages of 15 and 25, but it can become apparent at any age. In many cases, narcolepsy is undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated.
How are sleep disorders diagnosed?
If you think that you may have a sleep disorder, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. They will usually do a physical exam and ask you about your sleeping patterns. It might help if you keep a sleep diary for a few weeks before you go to see them.
How to sleep better
The best way to sleep better is to adopt a regular bedtime routine if you don’t have one. Here are some tips that should help you to sleep better.
Sleep at regular times
Try to keep regular sleeping hours. This programmes your internal body clock to get used to a set routine. Most adults need between 6 and 9 hours of sleep every night. Work out what time you need to wake up, and this will help you to set a regular bedtime.
Make sure you wind down before bed
Taking time to wind down will help you to get into a relaxed state before bed. Here are some tips on relaxing before bed:
Have a warm bath. It will increase your body temperature and prepare you for sleep.
If your mind feels ‘busy’, write a list of things that are on your mind.
Do relaxing activities such as light yoga stretches, don’t exercise before bed as this produces adrenaline and causes you to wake up.
Listening to relaxing music or a guided meditation.
Reading a book can help to relax you.
Make your bedroom sleep-friendly
Make your bedroom as relaxing as possible. Keep TVs and other electronic gadgets out of the room, and keep the room at a cool, but not cold temperature. Invest in thick curtains to make it as dark as possible and invest in earplugs if you get bothered by noise.
Keep a sleep diary
Keeping a sleep diary can help you to see what might be contributing to your sleep problems. This will make it easier if you go to see your doctor too.
Sleeping aids: Remeron
Remeron is a drug which can help to adjust the levels of chemicals in your brain. The drug is most commonly used as an antidepressant, and it affects chemicals in the brain which are responsible for mood and thinking. These chemicals are the neurotransmitters serotonin and noradrenaline. When people are depressed, these chemicals don’t act on the brain as effectively. Remeron boosts the levels in the brain and improve the mood.
Remeron can begin working within a few weeks, though the full effects might take up to 4 weeks or longer to appear. The most common side effect of the drug is feeling sick or being sick, but this tends to disappear after continued use. Some people can experience increased suicidal feelings while taking the drug, in the early stages. Seek advice about this right away.
Other possible side effects of Remeron
As with all antidepressant drugs, there are some side effects associated with Remeron use. These include weight gain and, because the drug stays in the system all day, you might experience drowsiness.
Less common side-effects include periodic restless leg movements in young healthy men which may affect their sleep quality. (this was found in a small study).
Strangely, despite its sedative effects, one known symptom of Remeron withdrawal is insomnia. So, while the drug may help you sleep when you are taking it regularly, changing the dose or stopping the medication altogether may have a negative effect on your sleep. Other side effects include:
Feeling excessively energetic very excited
Remeron and young people
Studies have shown that young people were more likely than adults to get side-effects when taking Remeron. The drug is not licensed for use in people under 18 years of age. The research has shown that:
Young people aged under 18 were more likely than adults to put on weight, get a skin rash, or develop higher blood fat levels in blood tests, while taking Remeron.
Young people aged under 25 were more likely to have thoughts about harming themselves or taking their own lives than older adults.
Young people under 18 have an increased risk of becoming aggressive or angry when taking the drug.
Remeron and drug interactions
Remeron does not mix well with some other medicines and drugs. Don’t take it if you are taking the following:
antidepressants such as SSRIs or venlafaxine
medicines for migraine
tramadol (a pain-killer)
lithium (used to treat bipolar disorder)
St. John’s Wort
medicines for anxiety or insomnia such as benzodiazepines
medicines for schizophrenia such as olanzapine
antihistamine medicines for hay fever or allergies such as cetirizine
medicines for severe pain such as morphine
medicines for infections; medicines for bacterial infection, medicines for fungal infections, and medicines for HIV/AIDS
medicines for epilepsy such as carbamazepine and phenytoin
medicines for tuberculosis such as rifampicin
medicines to prevent blood clotting such as warfarin.
Remeron does not mix well with street drugs
Cannabis can make you extra drowsy if taken with this drug. It can also make your heart race.
Methadone or heroin can make drowsiness worse if taken with Remeron.
Remeron could raise the level of cocaine in your body, giving you a stronger and more dangerous reaction to it.
Taking Remeron with cocaine, ecstasy or amphetamines can cause a potentially life-threatening problem called serotonin syndrome. You could get a high temperature or fever, and you will experience agitation, confusion, trembling or unusual muscle movements. You need urgent medical attention in this case. Tell the doctor you see that you are taking Remeron.
Withdrawal from Remeron
Stopping this medicine suddenly or reducing the dose too much in one go, might cause you to experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include dizziness, agitation, anxiety, headache, feeling or being sick. Withdrawal symptoms are often mild and will disappear after a few days. Remeron is not addictive, so this is not why you experience the symptoms. It’s all to do with the levels of chemicals in your brain having to readjust.
Remeron and sleep
Remeron is primarily an antidepressant drug prescribed to treat Major Depressive Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and a range of anxiety disorders. As well as this, doctors sometimes prescribe it ‘off label’ to people who experience chronic sleep disorders.
Does Remeron help you sleep?
Research has shown that Remeron, when taken at bedtime, has a positive impact on insomnia symptoms in people who have clinical depression. It has also been found to improve the total amount of time in bed spent asleep, and to decrease night-time waking.
Taking Remeron for sleep
People with depression often experience increased REM sleep. This reduces the amount of time spent in the other stages of sleep and so overall sleep quality is reduced. Most antidepressant drugs work to inhibit REM sleep and redress the balance.
Remeron only modestly suppresses REM sleep but it still has an effect on sleep quality and duration, so this is why it is prescribed for people who don’t have depression, but suffer from insomnia.
Remeron has a sedative effect which might help to calm someone before sleep. It also boosts the duration of restorative sleep.
Experts might not be completely sure why we need sleep, but we all know how we feel without it. We need it to restore and replenish our energy levels, and to keep ourselves mentally and physically healthy.
If you have ever been sleep deprived, you will be familiar with the groggy, irritable feeling that comes with it, and that’s without the dark circles under the eyes!
There are as many as 80 known sleep disorders, and the most common are insomnia, sleep apnoea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy. They can cause considerable health problems for sufferers, and many people turn to medications to help them sleep.
Before you visit your doctor, consider keeping a diary and making some lifestyle changes. Do you drink caffeine excessively, do you spend a lot of time looking at screens before bed? Is your bedroom not dark enough, too warm, or too cold? Making a few slight adjustments to your routine may be all you need.
If you have made these changes and your sleep has not improved, then it may be time to think about medication. A drug called Remeron might just be able to help. It is prescribed mainly for depression and anxiety, but due to its sedative effects, it can help you to sleep better. It works by increasing the amount of time your body spends in the restorative sleep stage, so you will wake feeling refreshed, and who doesn’t love that feeling?