It has been my experience that sleep is the luxury of the strong-minded and the vice of the weak-minded. Sleep, in my life, has served as both a safe haven and torture chamber. I think Dale Carnegie (n.d.), the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, said it best, “If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It’s the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep” (p. 25). In fact, it can be established convincingly that sleep deprivation and some subsequent disorders are not caused by physical exhaustion or mental tiredness, but can be accounted for within the framework of the circadian theory of sleep.
As I have worked to complete my degree in psychology I have noticed that anticipation is the enemy of a good night of sleep. Let me explain. I take great care in completing my assignments, discussion questions, exercises, and readings. In fact, it is not unusual for me to complete a week’s work on Wednesday and on Thursday begin preparation for the next week’s work. I might print out my readings on Thursday, go ahead and save templates of all of the next week’s assignments on Friday, and read the intros to all of the chapters on the weekend. I do not begin any assignments until Monday though. At times anticipation of the coming week builds until it manifests as anxiety. It is this anxiety that I believe keeps me from sleeping my regular 8 hours. When I am anxious like that I sit in bed for hours before falling asleep and wake often during the night. Our textbook asserts that no convincing data have been persistently documented that sleep deprivation has any effect on motor performance or physical strength (Pinel, 2007). However, some studies have concluded that complex cognitive abilities such as creativity are adversely affected by sleep deprivation. This has been my experience. Even with anxious sleep, I am still able to wake up on time and complete my daily routine without error. If truth be told, I can even complete some checkpoints and most discussion questions even in this state. The problem comes when I try to complete a 1000 word assignment, which makes extensive use of the creative centers in my brain. That is when the curse words flow freely and very little else. I have also witnessed evidence in my own sleep life that the default theory of REM sleep is quite accurate. My wife works nights and gets home at about 3 a.m. every morning. If she wakes me up and I immediately go back to sleep I feel groggy in the morning; however, if I wake up when she gets here for between 15 and 30 minutes I do not feel groggy in the morning. Both of these points line up well with the circadian theories of sleep more so than the recuperation theory of sleep, because my sleep patterns seem to be dictated by cognitive functions rather than energy depletion.
On the flip side of the same coin, sleep reduction works much the same way as the settling-point theory of hunger. According to some convincing data, the amount of sleep that a person requires is a fluid, dynamic affair rather than a static, set-point situation (Pinel, 2007). Apparently, the body has the ability to adapt to a steady reduction in the duration of sleep every night over a long period of time. It is the abrupt, unexpected bouts with sleep reduction which cause many symptoms, such as grogginess. Much the same way that the digestive system works, if the amount of time that a person has to sleep is reduced, then the body starts to use the sleep time more efficiently. It is in this manner that some people have been able to maintain normal day-time lives while only sleeping 4 to 5 hours a night. These observations are strong evidence that the circadian theory of sleep is much more accurate than the recuperative theory of sleep.
And lastly, sleeping disorders fall into two main categories: insomnia and hypersomnia. As you might have guess hypersomnia is the inability to stay awake and insomnia is characterized as the inability to sleep. Insomnia can have both physical and mental precursors. Some physical causes of insomnia are restless legs, nocturnal myoclonus, and sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can be caused because of an obstruction in the respiratory system or even the autonomic branch of the nervous system’s failure to stimulate respiration. Nocturnal myoclonus and restless legs are both related to muscle twitching while asleep. The most common pharmaceutical treatment for insomnia is benzodiazepines (Valium and Librium). The downside to these drugs is that the body immediately begins to adapt to them when taken regularly. In that case, larger doses of these drugs are required to maintain the same level of quality and quantity of sleep over a long period of time. Hypersomnia, on the other hand, entails the inability to keep from sleeping during the waking hours. During REM sleep core muscle tone is lost and this tends to happen to people who suffer from narcolepsy, one form of hyper insomnia, during the day. The major types of drugs that are beneficial to those who suffer from narcolepsy are stimulants (cocaine and amphetamine) and tricyclic antidepressants. As with the drugs that address insomnia these drugs are rarely effective on a long-term basis. In all, even sleep disorders seem to reinforce the circadian theory of sleep because they are all caused by forces other than homeostatic imbalances.
In conclusion, the circadian theory of sleep seems to account for almost all data related to sleep disorders, sleep deprivation, and sleep reduction. In my own experience, I have seen how anxiety, anticipation, and worrying rather than homeostatic imbalances have led to a loss of sleep. Finally, at present, there does not appear to be an adequate, long-term pharmaceutical solution to either insomnia and hypersomnia.
Carnegie, D. (n.d.). Retrieved July 3, 2008, from Quoteland Web site:
Pinel, J. P. J. (2007). Basics of biopsychology. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.