Have you ever wondered why we need differing amounts of sleep during our lifetime? Sleep amounts and times vary as we transition from infant to adult. As a fetus in the womb, we need approximately 6-9 hours of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep a day. It's important at that stage to have a lot of REM sleep because the brain is developing. This stage is called synaptogenesis and it involves the creation of trillions of synapses (or wiring links) between neurons. These are the brain pathways that allow thoughts to flow.
It's interesting to note that researchers have shown autistic children to have an imbalance of normal sleep patterns. They have too many connections with the wiring links in some areas of the brain and not enough in others. They also have a 30 to 50% deficit in REM sleep. Newborns of alcoholic mothers demonstrate similar problems. Even an occasional glass of wine can have a significant effect on a fetus or the newborn of breastfeeding moms. There is a 20 to 30% reduction in REM sleep due to even mild levels of alcohol. This reduction directly affects brain development in babies.
Most of us are unaware of the importance of sleep brainwaves and the sleep stages so vital to our health and well-being. Researchers measure sleep and determine the various phases and stages of sleep by looking at brainwaves. When you are awake, your brainwaves will have a fast-frequency, chaotic activity. Different parts of your brain are processing different pieces of information at different moments in time and in different ways. Electrodes can read the entire discombobulated pattern of electrical activity and this has enabled scientists to gain new insights into how the brain works. Let's take a look at two types of brainwaves and why they are important to our sleep.
The urge to sleep is due to the Circadian Rhythm which is an internal 24-hour and 15-minute clock. It is called the suprachiasmatic nucleus and is located in the middle of your brain. It consists of 20,000 brain cells connected to optic nerves in your eyes and is reset by sunlight every day. It also coordinates core body temperature fluctuations. Core temperature is higher during the day while you are awake. It lowers as you get ready to sleep and is at its lowest during sleep.