What is a Normal Sleep Pattern? What is Insomnia?

What is a Normal Sleep Pattern? What is Insomnia?


Do you wonder whether your sleep pattern is considered normal? I used to think that healthy sleep meant that you fall asleep a few minutes after your head hits the pillow and you stay asleep until the next morning. I used to be wrong. 

My understanding of what healthy sleep looks like expanded when I met a sleep specialist counselor and then again when I took a class on helping clients overcome insomnia naturally. 

I'll pass on my learning about what healthy sleep patterns look like and what insomnia looks like in this post.

I talk about natural remedies for insomnia information about insomnia that I've learned from other sources over the years in another post: 7 Insomnia Natural Remedies. 


What's In This Post

What is a Healthy Amount of Sleep?
What Does Healthy Sleep Look Like?
What is the Sleep Cycle?
What are Insomnia Symptoms
What is Acute Insomnia and Chronic Insomnia?
How Common Is Insomnia?
 What Happens When You Don't Sleep?


    Throughout this post, I'll use "night" to represent whatever time of day you are attempting to get your main sleep. For shift workers, your "night" might actually occur during the day. 


    1. What is a Healthy Amount of Sleep?

    The amount of sleep you need varies with age and many other factors.

    An adult, on average, needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Exactly what you need to be at your best will likely fall somewhere in that range. (Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society.)

    Personally, I've noticed that I do well on 7 hours of sleep most days so I calculate what 7 hours will be from the time I go to sleep and set an intention for the time I want to wake up the next morning. If I wake up earlier than that time, I go back to sleep. If I wake up after that 7-hour mark, I usually get up -- even if it's 4:30 am. (That would mean that I went to sleep by 9:30 the night before.)


    2. What Does Healthy Sleep Look Like?

    First of all -- it's important to realize that you don't have to fall asleep as soon as you close your eyes. Taking up to a half-hour to fall asleep is considered normal.

    And healthy sleep doesn't mean you stay in a steady sleep phase all night until you wake up refreshed in the morning. It was news to me when I was told this tidbit by a counseling colleague, sleep specialist Anne-Marie Cox, who I met while attending a class on Integrative Medicine for Mental Health. 

    I don't remember waking during the night when I was younger but I've noticed that since perimenopause I wake up during the night most nights. I usually go right back to sleep, but it had concerned me that waking, even momentarily, was a sign that something was wrong. It was a relief to find out that it is normal and that it doesn't get in the way of achieving quality sleep. 

    Healthy sleep involves 4 sleep stages that occur in cycles repeatedly throughout the night. It is not unusual to wake up between cycles and quickly go back to sleep again. Concern (and an insomnia classification) comes into the equation if you have trouble getting back to sleep. 


    3. What is the Sleep Cycle?

    Each sleep cycle includes 3 non-REM stages and one REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage.

    During the 3 sequential non-REM stages sleep gets progressively deeper. 

    The REM stage is the stage in which you dream.

    One sleep cycle spans about 90 to 120 minutes. People usually experience 4 to 6 of these cycles per night.


    Sleep Cycle Stages, Natural Remedies for Insomnia 


    After the REM stage, you return to Stage 1: Light Sleep.

    People often wake in-between the cycles as they hit the light sleep stage again. 

    Waking up in-between cycles isn't a problem, but waking up and having trouble getting back to sleep -- that's a problem. 


    4. What are Insomnia Symptoms?

    Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

    People with insomnia may:

    • have a hard time falling asleep (more than a half-hour),

    • have trouble going back to sleep if they wake up during the night,

    • wake up too early and can't get back to sleep, or 

    • feel tired and unrefreshed after sleep.


    5. What is Acute Insomnia and Chronic Insomnia?

    With acute insomnia, sleep problems occur 3 nights per week for between 2 weeks and 3 months.

    When the sleep problems persist beyond 3 months, you've entered the realm of chronic insomnia


    6. How Common Is Insomnia?

    Here are some insomnia stats for American adults:

    • 30% to 35% have brief insomnia symptoms (less than 2 weeks)
    • 15% to 20% have acute insomnia (2 weeks to 3 months)
    • 6% to 10% have chronic insomnia (more than 3 months)

    Note that 10% translates into 1 in 10 people. That's a lot of people with chronic insomnia.


    7. What Happens When You Don't Sleep?

    Trouble getting and staying asleep is not only painful in the moment--it also has a negative impact on your body and mind. 

    Common side-effects of insomnia include:

    • Fatigue (this one's pretty obvious)
    • Lengthened reaction time
    • Reduced hand-eye coordination
    • Inability to focus or concentrate
    • Poor memory
    • Mood disturbance (depression and anxiety)
    • Daytime sleepiness
    • Low motivation or energy
    • Increased errors or accidents


     For help with insomnia, including

          -  3 Things to Stop Doing if You Have Trouble Sleeping,

          -  medications with insomnia side-effects, and

          -  natural remedies for insomnia,

    check out my blog post:  7 Insomnia Natural Remedies. 



    Disclaimer: No part of this post should be taken as medical advice. It is always advisable to consult with your personal doctors and medical professionals about your individual circumstances.

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    • Ann Silvers
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