Understanding the Importance of Sleep Stages

People need to experience enough sleep, in terms of the number of hours that they sleep (usually seven to eight hours per night), and they also need to experience all the different stages of sleep, ranging from light sleep to deep sleep. Some researchers believe that people with fibromyalgia don't spend enough time in the very deep sleep levels. A lack of quality deep sleep may inhibit an adequate production of important protective hormones that are normally made while we sleep, such as growth hormones and prolactin. Prolactin is the same hormone that's released by nursing mothers (although sleep releases much less of it), but scientists aren't sure exactly what function prolactin fulfills in nonlactating people.

In 2001, researchers reported on their study of the nighttime hormone levels of women with and without fibromyalgia in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. They found that women with fibromyalgia (who agreed to take no medication during the study) had significantly lower levels of both nocturnal growth hormone and prolactin. This result provides even more proof that fibromyalgia is real! It also serves as another indicator that people with fibromyalgia should pay special attention to resolving their sleep problems.

Note: Men also release prolactin during deep sleep stages, but less than women.

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When people with fibromyalgia sleep even less than they usually do, they hurt more. Sleep expert William C. Dement, MD, PhD, and Christopher Vaughan say in their book, The Promise of Sleep, that in experiments in which people with fibromyalgia are purposely deprived of sleep, their pain is significantly greater.

Here are the three basic types of sleep, according to sleep experts:

I Light sleep (Stages 1 and 2) I Deep sleep (Stages 3 and 4) I Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep

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