Stimulation and Muscle Tension Aggravate Sleep Cycles

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by Carol Belanger, BA, RM, BHS

Our brain stem connects the spinal cord with the structures of the brain. The white matter of the brain stem relays sensations and information from the body to the brain. Scattered throughout the white matter are patches of gray that affect our physical functions. Part of the gray matter we are concerned with on the topic of sleep is called the reticular formation (rf). It governs both sleep and consciousness.

Consciousness normally depends on sensory information received from all over the body. This information is sorted, and sensed for essential, unusual and threatening information, and passed onto the brain. This information influences our levels of consciousness from attentiveness and alertness, to relaxation and inattentiveness. Signals from the rf to the brain stimulates our wakefulness. When the sensory stimulation of the rf is low, inhibited or slowed, sleep can occur.

There are many sensory stimulants: caffeine, exercise and activity, emotional stimulation from nervousness, anger, grief, worry or fear and even happiness, giddiness, etc., as well as computers, television, cell phones and more. They can significantly increase reticular formation activity, stimulate us and thereby impair sleep cycles or delay sleep, even if we are or should be tired.

Most people find it difficult to fall asleep when their minds are going over lists, the evening news programs, memories, unresolved problems or emotions. This information is stored in the body and is reflected in muscle tension. Muscle tension decreases blood supply and impairs sleep due to poor blood supply as much as to pain – even if that pain is not being felt or is being ignored.

Likewise, there are also sensory depressants. Lack of exercise, lack of good nutrition, strained emotions, lack of stimulation, lack of fresh air, etc., also cause sleep imbalances; we may have difficulty falling asleep, or sleeping deeply enough.

This is some of the basic biology behind the recommendations of:

*limit total daily caffeine intake,
*don’t exercise in the hours before your intended sleep time,
*limit your computer or other device, television or radio use,
*limit research or other information searching,
*use meditation, self-massage and healing therapy work to calm nervousness and emotions – in order to promote good sleep potential.

Try reducing stimulation – perhaps even earlier in the evening than you would expect. Try observing how sleepy you are when turning the computer, television, radio or cell phone off earlier and then later. Sit quietly, read, listen to quiet music, have a bath or shower, look at artwork…See what kinds of results are produced as you change up your habits.

What we do during our active hours influences our restful hours. Our minds and bodies must have sufficient rest to repair and rejuvenate. With this in mind we might govern our activities to produce and influence the kind of rest we desire.