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In the past few decades we have come to learn more about sleep. One of the major discoveries was that rather than being a single period of identical activity, sleep is characterised by a number of different periods and patterns. The two major divisions are between rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep is further divided into four stages. Throughout the night we will go through the stages of non-REM through to REM and back again several times.
These different aspects of sleep are one of the major effectors on our sleep patterns. Children have far more REM sleep and as we grow older the periods of REM sleep become less and less. This is one of the reasons that older people need less sleep.
Another major effector of sleep is an individual’s recent sleep history. The quality and quantity of sleep an individual has had in the past few nights has a massive influence on your sleep pattern. Missing a night’s sleep will have dramatic consequences on our next night’s sleep. Likewise, having a nap during the day can affect our night’s sleep.
Another thing that can influence our sleep is our diet. What we eat and drink can have a massive effect on how we sleep. This is why people who have trouble sleeping are recommended to adjust their diet.
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