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Little is known about why sleep is essential for good health. It seems that the central nervous system needs a regular period of recuperation from stimulation. However, it is not known why about a third of every twenty-four hours are spent in this recovery phase.
People who go without their normal amount of sleep lack concentration. Normal sleep consists of two types; the first is known as slow-wave sleep because there is reduced electrical activity in the brain during this period. It is also known as non-REM sleep. The second type of sleep is known as REM sleep, because of the rapid eye movements that take place behind the closed eyelids. Dreaming also takes places during this phase, and there is a period of the normal wakefulness as a person falls asleep followed by a state of relaxation that becomes 'light sleep', before the body enters the phase of slow-wave (non-REM) sleep.
Slow-wave sleep initially lasts about two hours before the first episode of REM sleep begins.
Dreaming is a necessary part of normal sleep, and is also probably necessary for the well-being of the mind.
Insomnia is the most common sleep problem and one that causes a lot of distress. However, there are other sleep problems that commonly occur in children. These sleep problems may be associated with behavior problems in children. For example, a child may refuse to settle down at night and may constantly get up or make excuse about some minor discomfort. Such a child often struggles with anxiety, and requires a set ritual at bedtime, without over-excitement.
Another problem is young children, usually aged between three and five, who wake too early in the morning. A solution that has been tried by some parents is to stop afternoon naps and put the child to bed later in the evening than they usually would.
Sleepwalking and sleep-talking are two other problems that are common in childhood, but ones that tend to improve at the onset of puberty. Hypersomnia, as it's sometimes called, may develop after serious illnesses (during the convalescent period). It may also arise from anemia or depression, and sometimes simply occurs in adolescence as a relatively normal behavior. Meanwhile sleep reversal, which describes a person that sleeps excessively (sometimes all day) is always considered a serious symptom when there is no obvious cause for it. It can arise from disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, encephalitis, and sleeping sickness.
Treatment of Sleep Problems
The class of drugs known as amphetamines is useful in treating many instances of hypersomnia. However, amphetamines can be quite addictive, so the physician must take great care to ensure that excessive amounts of these drugs are not being prescribed or used. Sleepwalking or somnambulism is most common between the ages of four and fourteen, and more frequent in boys than girls. This state seldom lasts for more than half an hour and is more likely to occur when the person is sleeping in an unfamiliar room or environment. The individual may appear normal while sleepwalking, and can even perform complex movements, such as opening and shutting doors or walking up or down a set of stairs. Their eyes may be closed or open, and the person might appear to be looking at something. The sleepwalker may grunt to speak, but ultimately returns to bed and wakes up in the morning with no memory of the event. It is not dangerous to wake someone who is sleepwalking, however, it is better not to attempt to do so, because it may frighten the sleepwalker unnecessarily.
The cause of sleepwalking is unknown. It is associated with the dreaming stage of sleep, or with underlying fears and anxieties. Sleep-talking is a common occurrence in children. It may consist of no more than a few grunts or an occasional word or it may be a whole sentence. It is even possible to hold a brief conversation with a sleep-talker. Sleep-talking is probably the results of a vivid dream or a nightmare.