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Sleep: Understanding the Basics (cont.)

Substances That Alter Sleep

Sleep and wakefulness are influenced by different neurotransmitters in the brain. Some substances can change the balance of these neurotransmitters and affect our sleep and wakefulness. Caffeinated drinks (for example, coffee) and medicines (for example, diet pills) stimulate some parts of the brain and can cause difficulty in falling asleep. Many drugs prescribed for the treatment of depression suppress REM sleep.

People who smoke heavily often sleep very lightly and have reduced duration of REM sleep. Heavy smokers tend to wake up after 3 or 4 hours of sleep due to nicotine withdrawal. Some people who have insomnia may use alcohol. Even though alcohol may help people to fall into light sleep, it deprives them of REM sleep and the deeper and more restorative stages of sleep. Instead, it keeps them in the lighter stages of sleep from which they can be awakened easily.

During REM sleep, we lose some of our ability to regulate our body temperature. Therefore, abnormally hot or cold temperatures can disrupt our REM sleep. If our REM sleep is disturbed, the normal sleep cycle progression is affected during the next sleeping time and there is a possibility of slipping directly into REM sleep and going through long periods of REM sleep until the duration of REM sleep that is lost is caught up.

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