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Biology 202, Spring 2005
Second Web Papers
On Serendip


Amelia Jordan

Sleep. For the majority of us it serves as an escape from the perpetual stress and reality of the surrounding world. It is often a few coveted hours that one looks forward to after a long day of work or school. Unfortunately, a lot of people do not receive an adequate amount of sleep on a regular basis, which is a characteristic of insomnia. But if it is so desired, why do so many people have such a massive sleep deficit? Why does it even matter in the first place if you get enough sleep? What happens when you don't sleep enough?

Technically, sleep occurs when the body's supply of adenosine breaks down. Adenosine is used by cells in a process called hydrolysis. Once an ATP (adenosine triphosphate) molecule is formed, the third phosphate group can be removed by hydrolysis. After this has occurred, free energy is released, which the body uses to function (1). So, when there is less adenosine in the body, fatigue sets in. Many attempt to combat exhaustion with high-energy substances, such as caffeine; however, ultimately, nothing can substitute for real rest.

Health is at risk when one does not sleep enough. It has been shown that the immune system uses energy to rebuild itself when a person rests, but when his or her body is too active, there is not enough energy to fight illness and maintain alertness simultaneously. The result is prolonged or worsened sickness. Day to day tasks are also much more difficult when a person does not get sufficient sleep. Driving a car, studying for a test, and sitting through class, are all undertakings that prove to be a great deal harder when one is sleep deprived. General concentration and well-being are greatly affected by sleep disorders, which is why it is so important that patients with insomnia (and other sleep-related problems) be treated quickly and effectively

A night like the following is quite typical of an insomniac: You have been lying awake in bed for hours staring at the bright green numbers on your digital clock. The time is passing quickly and every time you roll over to check the time you cannot help but think about how frustrating it is that you are unable to get to sleep. You also know that you have an eventful day ahead and will not be rested enough to get through it all with a satisfactory amount of energy. Now it's five in the morning and the alarm on that little machine that directs your life's schedule is going to go off in a few hours. The worst part is that the harder you try to make yourself fall asleep, the more difficult the task seems to be. Many of us have been there at least once, if not more.

The term insomnia is not defined simply by how many hours of sleep one gets every night. However, the dictionary defines it as "prolonged and usually abnormal inability to obtain adequate sleep." People with insomnia seem to agree to that difficulty falling asleep, waking up too early in the morning, waking up many times throughout the night with difficulty falling back asleep, and an un-refreshing sleep are all symptoms of the disorder (2).

It is diagnosed through various evaluations of sleep and medical histories. The sleep history can come from a sleep diary or journal that the patient keeps (3). Special cases are sometimes referred to sleep specialists for specific testing (2).

Insomnia can be classified in three different ways. There is transient or acute (short term), intermittent (on and off), and chronic (long term) insomnia (3). Acute insomnia usually lasts from a single night to a few weeks. The causes of acute and intermittent insomnia often include: physical discomfort, emotional distress, environmental factors, or simple factors such as jet lag (2). Chronic insomnia generally lasts for more than a month and often has to do with mental disorders, primarily depression and anxiety (3). This type of insomnia can be categorized in two ways: primary and secondary. "Primary" is when the disorder is not caused by any medical or health condition (4). "Secondary" insomnia is just the opposite; it is based on a health factor (e.g. cancer, asthma, arthritis, alcoholism) (2).

After insomnia has been diagnosed (chronic particularly), it can be treated in a number of different ways. There are three behavioral methods that are frequently used by doctors and counselors. One is called "Relaxation Therapy" and its objective is to make the patient's mind stop "racing" so that his or her muscles can loosen up, and reduce anxiety. "Sleep Restriction" is implemented when the patient spends too much time in bed trying to fall asleep. It gradually integrates more hours sleep into one's night, in order that a more normal sleep cycle is established. The third is "Reconditioning," which is supposed to help the patient associate the bed with sleep only. The patient is told to use his or her bed solely for sleep and sex, and to only lie down if tired. If the patient cannot fall asleep, he/she is instructed to get up and return to bed when she feels tired again. This method tells the patients not to nap, and to wake up/go to sleep at the same time every day (5). Sleeping pills are generally a last resort, as they can cause dependence and various side effects such as morning sedation and headaches (4).

Clearly, getting enough sleep is an issue that one must conquer on his or her own. However, it can be done if one actually provides the effort necessary.


1) pages1A/ATP.html





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