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Until the 1950s, most people thought of sleep as a passive, dormant part of our daily lives. We now know that our brains are very active during sleep. Moreover, sleep affects our daily functioning and our physical and mental health in many ways that we are just beginning to understand.

During sleep, we usually pass through five phases of sleep: stages 1, 2, 3, 4, and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. These stages progress in a cycle from stage 1 to REM sleep, then the cycle starts over again with stage 1. We spend almost 50 percent of our total sleep time in stage 2 sleep, about 20 percent in REM sleep, and the remaining 30 percent in the other stages. Infants, by contrast, spend about half of their sleep time in REM sleep.

During stage 1, which is light sleep, we drift in and out of sleep and can be awakened easily. Our eyes move very slowly and muscle activity slows. People awakened from stage 1 sleep often remember fragmented visual images. Many also experience sudden muscle contractions called hypnic myoclonia, often preceded by a sensation of starting to fall. These sudden movements are similar to the "jump" we make when startled. When we enter stage 2 sleep, our eye movements stop and our brain waves become slower, with occasional bursts of rapid waves called sleep spindles. In stage 3, extremely slow brain waves called delta waves begin to appear, interspersed with smaller, faster waves. By stage 4, the brain produces delta waves almost exclusively. It is very difficult to wake someone during stages 3 and 4, which together are called deep sleep. There is no eye movement or muscle activity. People awakened during deep sleep do not adjust immediately and often feel groggy and disoriented for several minutes after they wake up. Some children experience bedwetting, night terrors, or sleepwalking during deep sleep.

When we switch into REM sleep, our breathing becomes more rapid, irregular, and shallow, our eyes jerk rapidly in various directions, and our limb muscles become temporarily paralyzed. Our heart rate increases, our blood pressure rises, and males develop penile erections. When people awaken during REM sleep, they often describe bizarre and illogical tales—dreams.

The first REM sleep period usually occurs about 70 to 90 minutes after we fall asleep. A complete sleep cycle takes 90 to 110 minutes on average. The first sleep cycles each night contain relatively short REM periods and long periods of deep sleep. As the night progresses, REM sleep periods increase in length while deep sleep decreases. By morning, people spend nearly all their sleep time in stages 1, 2, and REM.

Since sleep and wakefulness are influenced by different neurotransmitter signals in the brain, foods and medicines that change the balance of these signals affect whether we feel alert or drowsy and how well we sleep. Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, and drugs such as diet pills and decongestants stimulate some parts of the brain and can cause insomnia, or an inability to sleep. Many antidepressants suppress REM sleep. Heavy smokers often sleep very lightly and have reduced amounts of REM sleep. They also tend to wake up after 3 or 4 hours of sleep due to nicotine withdrawal. Many people who suffer from insomnia try to solve the problem with alcohol—the so-called night cap. While alcohol does help people fall into light sleep, it also robs them of REM and the deeper, more restorative stages of sleep. Instead, it keeps them in the lighter stages of sleep, from which they can be awakened easily.

~National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, May 21, 2007


Chamomile

The herb chamomile has excellent medicinal properties. It affects the nerves, stomach, kidneys, spleen and liver.

The active properties of chamomile include:

Emmenagogue (aiding menstrual flow)

Nervine (soothing of the nerves)

Sedative (calms and soothes)

Carminative (expels gas from the body; relieves flatulence),

Diaphoretic (aids perspiration)

Tonic (maintains, increases, or restores the tone of health)

Internal Use:
Chamomile is good for insomnia and nervousness. It increases appetite and helps those with weak stomachs. It reduces inflammation, and aids digestion and sleep. 1-2 teaspoons of the tincture at a time is good for menstrual cramps, kidney, spleen or bladder problems. It acts as a diuretic, nerve tonic and is a useful remedy for stress, anxiety and indigestion.

Chamomile can be safely used for children with colds, indigestion, and nervous disorders. It helps relieve cramping associated with the menstrual cycle and will bring on the period. It can also be used as a relaxing antispasmodic, anodyne bath additive. It is good for dizziness, gas, hysteria, jaundice, kidney problems, measles and swellings. It is also good for lumbago, rheumatic problems and rashes.

External Use:
Chamomile can be used as a mouthwash for minor mouth and gum infections. The tea is a good wash for sore eyes and open sores. Use it as a wash or compress for skin problems and inflammations, including inflammation of the mucous tissues. Keeping a mouthful in the mouth for a time will temporarily relieve toothache. Use it for a sitz (sitting) bath to help haemorrhoids, or as a foot or hand bath for sweaty feet or hands. For haemorrhoids and wounds, the flowers are also made into a salve. To help asthma in children or to relieve the symptoms of a cold, try a vapour bath of the tea. A fomentation can be used for cramps, gas and swellings.

The flowers are used and most commonly taken as a tea.

~Natural Remedies Encyclopedia, Vance Ferrell, page 124

Recipe of the Month

Quick Salad Ideas

1. Finely sliced cabbage, onion and lemon juice
2. Chopped cauliflower with tomato or shredded carrot
3. Grated carrot, with coconut
4. Chopped cauliflower with walnuts and celery
5. Cucumber, parsley, lemon juice and salt
6. Sticks of celery filled with peanut butter
7. Kumara boiled and cubed (when cold) with nuts, celery and pineapple
8. Swede, carrot, cabbage and chives
9. Carrot, turnip and/or radishes on lettuce leaves
10. Cabbage, chopped nuts and salad dressing