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Sleep: Top 10 Questions

May 2017

Thanks to Thanks to Dr. Janat O'Donnell, internist, Saint Alphonsus Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine Center; and Nancy Nadolski, nurse practitioner, for their answers. for the answers.

1: What is sleep?

That question has been asked by those of us in medicine for many, many years. We finally have the technology that can identify the difference between being awake and being asleep, but we still really don't know what it is. We do know that sleep has stayed with us as we've evolved, so it must be important. Hopefully, in the next 20 to 40 years, we will better understand exactly what sleep is. (From Dominik at Crimson Point Elementary School in Kuna)

2: Why does our brain need sleep?

Our brain is working all the time. It does not shut off when we go to sleep but needs a break from all of the input of the day. During sleep, the brain is able to download all of the experiences of the day. It decides what stays, what goes into long-term memory and what goes into short-term memory. It's also a time for us to sort through the emotional experiences of the day. Our brain needs sleep for many reasons. (From Ashlynn at Russell Elementary School in Moscow)

3: Why do we have dreams?

When we go to sleep, we go through many different stages of sleep. One of those stages is REM, rapid eye movement, sleep. We can dream in all of the stages, but we do most of our dreaming in REM sleep. REM is very critical for memory. It helps us put the experiences that we have during the day into memory. It also helps with our emotions and how we feel. It is a critical part of sleep. (From Alethea at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

4: Why is it hard to fall asleep?

There are nights where it is more difficult to fall asleep than other nights. Many of our problems falling asleep are due to what occurs during the day. Increased stress levels can greatly impact how easily we fall asleep. Stress occurs for many reasons. Having a lot going on or changes in our routine can increase our stress. Also, people who are very anxious have a harder time falling asleep. They have a busy brain with racing thoughts, and it can be challenging for them to relax and be able to fall into the stages of sleep. (From Vincent at McDonald Elementary School in Moscow)

5: Why do people snore?

People snore because of a narrowing of the airway in their throats. Snoring is just a vibration of the muscles in the back of the airway. If, for example, you're congested, or you have very large tonsils, and air is trying to move in and out of your lungs, it can create a snoring sound when that air passage is narrow. Snoring is not normal, but a number of people snore at night. (From Brenna at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

6: How much is too much sleep?

We can't ever get too much sleep because our bodies will tell us how much we need. If we find that we are falling asleep during the day, or that we are not getting up during the day feeling restored, it's because we really haven't had the kind of sleep that our bodies love. In other words, we haven't been able to get through all of the nutrient sleep stages that help us grow and develop. (From Jaden at Crimson Point Elementary School in Kuna)

7: Why is it easier to sleep in the dark than in the light?

It's easier to sleep in the dark because of a number of things that happen in our bodies when it gets dark out. We actually have an internal clock called a circadian rhythm. It lasts about 24 hours. Then, as we go through the day and into evening, our bodies produce something called melatonin. Melatonin, which makes us sleepy, is produced in the dark, making it easier for us to fall asleep. (From Ella at McDonald Elementary School in Moscow)

8: Why do we move our eyes so much when we sleep?

Our eyes move back and forth rapidly in the REM stage of sleep. REM is where we do most of our dreaming. In REM sleep, most of our muscles don't work. We do, however, continue breathing during this stage, and also continue to have eye movement as well as some other functions that are needed for us to live. It doesn't necessarily correlate with what we are dreaming about, but because it's one of the muscles that continues to work when we are sleeping, we see eye movements when people are in REM sleep. (From Kaden at Owyhee Elementary School in Boise)

9: How do you get nightmares?

Nightmares are a product of dreaming. Your memories, whether recent or from a long time ago, can surface in your dreams. Nightmares are more than just dreams. They are very strong emotional reactions. We know that when someone is having a nightmare, it is a frightening, almost paralyzing experience. We also know that once we are able to wake up and realize we were dreaming and that nothing bad was happening, we can be reassured and actually return to sleep. (From Trynley at McDonald Elementary School in Moscow)

10: How is it that when we sleep, time seems to go faster?

When we sleep at night, it can seem like the night goes very fast, especially if we're good sleepers. For people who don't sleep well, who may wake up a lot at night or lay awake for a long period of time, the nights can seem rather long. When we sleep well, however, we don't really have an awareness of time passing. We go through different stages of sleep, but we don't have a sense of time. As a result, when we wake up, it may feel like the night went by fast. (From Joanna at Russell Elementary School in Moscow)


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