Insomnia - Why You Need Quality Sleep

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Last night I had a really restless night and today I feel really tired and lethargic.
It's my own fault though. I did something I shouldn't and had a guilty conscience.

Now don't get all excited and think I'm going to reveal something really juicy or controversial. It's nothing like that.

You see my son has autism. He also has a huge collection of old videos which he rarely watches. They just take up space.

This weekend he went away for respite care and as he has just celebrated his 18th birthday I decided to get rid of some of the older ones which I considered inappropriate for his age.

Actually, I could have got rid of most of them using those criteria, but like most people with autism my son likes familiar things so the ones he's watched since a child are his favourites.

Anyway, whilst he was gone I placed some of them outside the door of a local charity shop feeling good that someone else might get enjoyment from them.

However, when I collected my son from his respite care yesterday afternoon he proudly produced two new videos. Apparently he'd found them in some charity shops.

My heart sank, not because he's brought home some more but because the two he'd just bought were different episodes of the videos I'd just given away. I realised he must have been collecting them.

My son doesn't really speak so I had no way of knowing but once the possibility hit me I knew I had to get them back.

I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned and thought what a rotten mother I was until eventually I could stand it no longer. As dawn was breaking I left my son sleeping in the care of his elder brother and went to the shop to try and retrieve them.

I felt like some sort of thief and hoped no-one would see me but they'd gone!

I returned home dejected and my troubled mind kept me awake. If my son had been "normal" I would never have contemplated disposing of his possessions without asking his permission first.

I had to get them back and decided to go the charity shop as soon as it opened.

Fortunately, when I arrived first thing this morning and explained the situation they kindly returned the videos to me. The experience taught me a lesson though and hopefully tonight I will be able to sleep.

I had one sleepless night but many people aren't as fortunate. Their lack of sleep goes on for days.

Insomnia affects approximately 60 million people, usually more women than men and can drive some people to the brink of madness.

I have had many sleepless nights over the years. Until my autistic son was about eight I didn't get one single good night's sleep. I can remember how awful it made me feel and once I wrote off my car because I think I fell asleep at the wheel. Fortunately I'm here to tell the tale but there are numerous similar situations which have a different ending.

Sleep deprivation creates all sorts of problems, not least the ability to think straight.

However, it is not necessarily the quantity of sleep which affects people but rather the quality. To prove the point one man actually went without sleep for almost 19 days in 1980 but that's certainly not to be recommended. He got his name in the record books but I doubt that it did much for his overall health.

You see it is whilst we are asleep that our body restores itself. The blood nourishes and repairs our muscles and our immune system turns on. That's why people sleep so much when they are ill.

I didn't realise until recently that sleep is actually quite a complex process. It's not just a case of relaxing, closing your eyes and then waking up sometime later.

Infact there are five different stages of sleep using different brain waves. Some stages benefit you more than others, and during the course of the night you will go through these stages multiple times.

The first stage is when you sort of daydream. During the second stage you feel drowsy, but it is the third and fourth stages which benefit you most. That's when you are in what is known as Deep Sleep and accounts for almost 25% of the process.

The final stage which is known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) also accounts for about 25% of the process and whilst no-one is absolutely sure why it happens, scientists believe it is when you absorb learning. It is, however, the stage during which you dream.

The realisation that there are different stages of sleep explains why sometimes you can wake up feeling refreshed and at other times you feel absolutely awful. Also, why you can only sometimes remember your dreams.

Insomnia is a horrible thing and there are even clinics set up to deal with the problem. You can take medication, listen to music, try relaxation techniques and self help routines. You can even buy Counting Sheep night attire but I never could understand how the vision of energetic ovines leaping over a gate could send people to sleep. It's just the wrong message.

On the other hand, two of the best things to help insomnia are exposure to natural sunlight and exercise, so bearing that in mind I am now off for a brisk walk in the lovely spring sunshine.

I would run but I'm tired!
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