Getting a good night's sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our health. Great sleep can give us great energy and refresh us for each day.
Yet the CDC estimates that “70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems. Sleep deprivation is associated with injuries, chronic diseases, mental illnesses, poor quality of life and well-being, increased health care costs, and lost work productivity.”
Finding ways to improve our sleep and decrease interruptions and even nightmares can help turn this around.
Our sleep cycle is made up of light sleep, deeper slow-wave sleep, and rapid eye movement (also known as REM) sleep. We need to move through all the levels of sleep to get deep, restful sleep.
We start in light sleep with stage 1, where we have slow-frequency brain activity. Stage 1 generally lasts from five to 10 minutes, and it is the transition from wakefulness to sleep.
We are still in light sleep when we move to stage 2, where we have mixed frequency brain waves. The body begins to decrease temperature and heart rate. Stage 2 last for about 20 minutes.
Deep, slow-wave sleep characterize stage 3 and stage 4 sleep. Stage 3 is the transition into deep sleep. Our slow delta brain waves increase up to 50 percent. Stage 4 lasts about 30 minutes. More than 50 percent of the slow delta brain waves occur during stage four.
Finally, we reach the fifth stage of REM sleep. This is where dreaming occurs. REM brings a combination of brain wave activity, increased respiration rate and brain activity.
During our dream stages of sleep, behaviors and things in our environment can influence whether we have good dreams or nightmares.
Here are some things that could be affecting your sleep:
Any food that is really spicy or upsets your stomach can cause sleep disturbances and interrupt dreams. If you are hungry while you are asleep, you might end up dreaming about food. So eat a few hours before you go to bed and keep it on the mild side.
Antidepressants have been linked to changes in sleep patterns which can include more nightmares.