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Home » Resources » Health » The A, B, ZZZZs of Sleep Disorders

The A, B, ZZZZs of Sleep Disorders


How well you sleep can affect your ability to perform, as well as your physical and mental health. Looking at the five stages of sleep we can begin to understand why. Stage one is characterized by light sleep. Rapid eye movements stop and brain waves slow as we enter stage two. Extremely slow brain waves, called delta waves, become more frequent during stages three and four, which are characterized by deep sleep. Finally, we enter rapid eye movement (REM) sleep where breathing becomes quicker and irregular, and the eyes jerk rapidly. Following REM sleep, the cycle starts again, with each five-stage cycle averaging 90 to 110 minutes.

Adults spend about 50% of their sleep time in stage two and about 20% in REM sleep. As the night progresses, the REM sleep stages increase in length, while deep sleep stages shrink. If REM sleep is disrupted, the next time you sleep your body may jump directly to REM sleep in order to catch up.

Circadian Rhythms

Circadian rhythms are mental and physical changes to your body over the course of a day. They are controlled by the body’s biological clock, which takes cues from environmental factors such as light.

When you do not maintain your normal external time cues—for example, when traveling to another time zone—circadian rhythms are disrupted, and you experience the uncomfortable sensation of jet lag. These same symptoms can occur when you perform gigs until the wee hours of the morning.

Sometimes it’s just not possible to get the perfect amount of sleep, but there are strategies that can help you on a nightly basis.

How Much Is Enough?

While most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep, some need as few as five, or as many as 10. People are typically not able to adapt to getting less sleep than they require. Eventually, lack of sleep affects you. Warning signs are daytime drowsiness, falling asleep within five minutes of lying down, and episodes of sleeping while “awake.” However, you may never experience these warning signs, or you may be masking them with caffeine.

Eventually, sleep deprivation can affect your career. Tests have proven that the hand-eye coordination of a sleep-deprived person can be as bad as that of a drunk person. Lack of sleep also affects the nervous system, leaving you unable to concentrate or with impaired memory and social skills. Long-term sleep deprivation can also lead to mood swings and even hallucinations. Because REM sleep stimulates the regions of the brain used in learning, a lack of sleep may even make it more difficult to learn new music. Caffeine may keep you awake, but it cannot overcome the side effects of sleep deprivation.

Tips for Better Sleep

Here are seven ways to get a better night’s sleep:

1)    Set a schedule—Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Gradually ease into a sleep schedule of 2 a.m. to 9 a.m. before your next tour begins. “Sleeping in” occasionally to catch up on sleep actually makes it harder to get up the next day because your sleep cycle has been reset.

2)    Exercise—Maintain a daily exercise routine of 20 to 30 minutes that finishes at least five hours before bedtime.

3)    Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol—Coffee, chocolate, soda, tea, and some medications are stimulants. Smokers tend to sleep lightly in the early morning because of nicotine withdrawal. Alcohol disrupts sleep cycles, keeping people more in the lighter stages of sleep.

4)    Relax—Create a bedtime ritual of calming activities like a warm bath, reading, or listening to music, to make it easier to fall asleep.

5)    Sleep until sunlight—If possible, wake up with the sun and/or use bright lights in the morning to reset your biological clock.

6)    Don’t lie in bed awake—If you can’t sleep, get up and do something else like reading or listening to music until you feel tired again.

7)    Control the temperature—Maintain a comfortable, consistent room temperature.

Sleep Disorders

If you consistently have problems getting enough sleep, you may be one of the 40 million Americans who suffer from more than 70 different sleep disorders. Here are a few:

Insomnia—Almost everyone occasionally suffers from insomnia because of stress, jet lag, diet, and illness. Doctors may prescribe sleeping pills, but the best cure could be to improve your sleeping habits

Sleep apnea—Common causes of interrupted breathing during sleep, or sleep apnea, are fat buildup and loss of muscle tone, which allow the windpipe to collapse during sleep. One symptom is loud snoring. Sleep apnea can often be overcome with weight loss, but if that doesn’t work there are special devices you can use while sleeping.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS)—The symptoms of RLS—crawling, prickling, or tingling sensations in the legs and feet that lead to insomnia—can sometimes be relieved with drugs.

Narcolepsy—Narcolepsy causes “sleep attacks” of varying length during the day, even when sufferers have a normal amount of nighttime sleep. It is often hereditary. Drugs and timed naps are sometimes used to control the symptoms.