“To die, to sleep; perchance to dream” so proclaims Hamlet in his famous soliloquy. Hamlet, who was haunted by his father’s ghost, suffered greatly from insomnia. However, he did not work a 9 to 5 job; he was not multitasking by texting, doing emails and trying to manage family affairs all at once; nor did he fret about stock market volatility.
We 21 century humans are bombarded daily with technology of all sorts, lack the daily siesta of our forebearers and forced to squeeze freetime into bursts of intensity known as “quality time”. It is no wonder that we suffer greatly from insomnia.
Having a career that involves changing hours and shift work, I too have spent many a night gazing at the walls, wondering whether my stomach pains were really due to that double cheeseburger I ate at 10 pm.
Sleep is truly restorative and REM sleep is that period during deep sleep when your mind and body take that much needed rest. Think of deep sleep as a kind of tuneup: Conscious thoughts are replaced by vivid dreams, as the brain takes stock of the previous day’s events. Hormones such as insulin, growth hormone and adrenalin are fine tuned. Repair of wear and tear areas such as muscles and joints occur. In short, after a restful sleep the mind and body prepare themselves for the next day.
What happens when you can’t sleep can over time are major problems: heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity (yes, lack of sleep causes the body to hoard the calories), cancer and anxiety. No sleep at all for as few as 48 hours can cause acute psychosis. Lack of quality sleep-ie REM sleep can lead to similar problems.
All is not lost however. There are some simple measures which have been shown to help you fall and stay asleep. Hamlet, beset by a nagging ghost, may not have been helped by anything short of a medieval ghostbuster. You, however, have the distinct advantage of not being born in kingdom hundreds of years ago, where your mother slept with your uncle and had your father murdered. So, forget about the ghostbusters and next week I will discuss how to get that sleep you need.