Why do some people sleep through anything and others wake up at the slightest noise? Scientists are starting to unravel the secrets of a good night’s sleep, and think it has to do with “spindles”- rapid waves of brain activity that only occur during sleep. These are believed to shut out noise by closing down the entrance to the part of the brain known as the thalamus, which is where sounds are registered. This much was already known, but a new study carried out at the sleep centre at Harvard Medical School has shown that those with the highest spindle rates during sleep are the least likely to be woken up. With noise a growing problem in the modern world the team now hopes to use the discovery to develop a special form of chemical earplug for light sleepers. “Our goal is to find brain-based solutions that integrate a sleeping person into their modern environment, so that sleep is maintained even in the face of noises” said the report.
Exercise is also a great improver of sleep.
A recent Stanford University Medical School study reported that older and middle-aged people were sleeping better when they added regular exercise to their routine. After 16 weeks in a moderate intensity exercise program, subjects were able to fall asleep about 15 minutes earlier and sleep about 45 minutes longer at night.
Researchers selected 29 women and 14 men with mild sleep complaints for a 16-week controlled study. All participants were aged 50 to 74, lived sedentary lives, and suffered no cardiovascular disease, stroke or other clinically diagnosed disorder known to cause sleep disorders. All were non-smokers and moderate drinkers. None were seriously overweight or taking hormone replacement therapy, sleep medications or other medications known to affect sleep.
Participants exercised at least four times a week. Twice a week they participated in an organized aerobics class, which included 30 minutes of endurance training. The other two times they exercised on their own, doing 40 minutes of brisk walking or stationary bike riding. To assess impact on sleep, researchers looked at factors such as how long it takes to fall asleep, total hours of sleep per night, how often one wakes up, how one feels when waking up, and daytime function.
The link between aerobic exercise and sleep may seem obvious, but until this study, there has been very little controlled research to support this “conventional wisdom.” Researchers were especially concerned about the overemphasis on sedative hypnotic medications for older adults. Though they are only 20% of the population, older Americans receive almost half the medications prescribed to aid sleep. The potential side effects of these drugs – confusion, falls, extended drowsiness, agitation, and interactions with other medications – can be especially problematic for this age group. Until this study, there have been very few attempts to identify effective non-drug approaches to treating mild sleep disorders.
The study also provides further evidence of the interactions of mind and body. In this case improving physical health shows a positive impact on the mind.
So if you are struggling not just with sleep but also physical exercise or lifestyle, then one of our personal trainer courses can really help. I (editor) can testify that physical exercise does really help-my partner thinks that I am joking sometimes when I lie down and then do not respond to a question 10 seconds later. I am asleep!!!