At least once in our lives, we have all encountered some sleepless nights: especially in the last year, the rhythms of the sleep-wake cycle have been altered by a new lifestyle that has replaced old habits. Sleepless nights, if they occur for a shorter or longer period, cause damage to the entire organism, not only to the body but also to the mind.
During the night, various hormones are produced, such as cortisol, melatonin, and catecholamines. An imbalance in the release of these organic compounds causes alterations that continue throughout the day: just think that these hormones regulate stress levels, energy expenditure, the sensation of appetite, inflammation, and the immune response of our body. That is why it is important to know the quantity, but especially the quality of our sleep. When we sleep little or badly, our mood, attention and learning are greatly affected.
THE CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
The circadian rhythm is an endogenous “biological clock”, regulated by the natural cycle of light and dark. The alterations derived from the passage between day and night, therefore linked to light and temperature, act as stimuli for the body, modulate the release of hormones and the sleep-wake cycle. The gears of this clock are at the level of the hypothalamus. The light, which is captured by the retina, acts as a signal that once it reaches the CNS it regulates the secretion of hormones such as melatonin and glucocorticoids. In addition to the intensity of the light, its wavelength or color is also important. The retina, in fact, is particularly sensitive to blue light, which is why it acts as a factor capable of altering the normal circadian of melatonin. In circadian rhythm disorders, there is a misalignment between the endogenous sleep-wake rhythms and the external light-dark cycle. This often occurs from internal causes, such as delayed or disturbed sleep phase syndrome, but even more from external causes, such as shift work disorder or leg reaction disorder.
INSTRUMENTS FOR SLEEP TRACKING
Actigraphy is a non-invasive technique that records the degree of motor activity of the extremities over time. This practice makes it possible to transform, by means of suitable mathematical algorithms, the analysis of movement into the analysis of sleep. The device can be placed on the ankle or, more commonly, on the wrist for a period of days to weeks. These systems allow you to develop a personalized report, taking into account the total hours of sleep actually slept, waking up at night, and any daytime sleep (often a sign of insufficient night sleep).
The device looks like a normal wristwatch, but it is capable of capturing all the data related to our movements, processing them, and being able to view them later on the computer, in the form of graphics. In addition to providing a synthesis of wakefulness, the actigraph also allows verifying other parameters, commonly measured by polysomnography, invasive electrophysiological instrumentation. Although this technique must be performed in a hospital, the actigraph allows the subject to remain in their natural sleeping environment and contact an expert only afterward, to perform the reading. Also, unlike polysomnography, actigraphy is a less expensive and cumbersome technique. This has significant advantages even in the case of large field studies. Unlike polysomnography, it does not provide measurements related to brain activity,
Actigraphy, used in sleep studies since the early 1990s, offers reliable results, even very close to those of polysomnography, without the limitations offered by the latter. It is also especially suitable for pediatric and elderly patients.
SUPPORT FOR A SLEEP OF REST
It is essential to adopt a healthy lifestyle and habits, not to work on the PC at night, not to sleep too much in the afternoon, not to drink too much coffee during the day. If these daily practices weren’t enough, plant extracts can be used, including:
- B vitamins and magnesium: cofactors for the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin; magnesium is widely used even during the day, to counteract states of stress, without inducing drowsiness.
- Melatonin: promotes sleep and helps regulate the sleep-wake rhythm.
- Theanine: contributes to the appearance of alpha waves, exerting a calming effect and stimulating sleep.
- Valerian and Passionflower: they exert an agonist action on the GABA receptor.
- Lemon Balm: By inhibiting the GABA-transaminase enzyme, it increases GABA levels in the central nervous system.