Dr. Vincent Fortanasce was one of the first sleep experts in Southern California. He is Sleep Board Eligible by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. At the Fortanasce – Purino Neurology Center both “Home Sleep Study” and overnight Polysomnography (PSG) sleep evaluations are available in a modern home like atmosphere. We provide a full array of treatments of insomnias to obstruct sleep apnea. We provide full services at your home and assistance in the use of all equipment needed. Our Psychologists provide group classes for those with insomnia and obstructive sleep disorder.

What is sleep?

Sleep is a naturally recurring state characterized by reduced or absent consciousness, relatively suspended sensory activity, and inactivity of nearly all voluntary muscles. It is distinguished from quiet wakefulness by a decreased ability to react to stimuli, and is more easily reversible than being in hibernation or a coma. Sleep is also a heightened anabolic state, accentuating the growth and rejuvenation of the immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems. It is observed in all mammals, all birds, and many reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

The purposes and mechanisms of sleep are only partially clear and are the subject of intense research. Sleep is often thought to help conserve energy, but actually decreases metabolism only about 5-10%.

Sleep stages

In mammals and birds, sleep is divided into two broad types: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM or non-REM) sleep. Each type has a distinct set of associated physiological, neurological, and psychological features. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) further divides NREM into three stages: N1, N2, and N3, the last of which is also called delta sleep or slow-wave sleep (SWS).

Sleep proceeds in cycles of REM and NREM, the order normally being N1 → N2 → N3 → N2 → REM. There is a greater amount of deep sleep (stage N3) earlier in the sleep cycle, while the proportion of REM sleep increases later in the sleep cycle and just before natural awakening.

Sleep stages and other characteristics of sleep are commonly assessed by polysomnography in a specialized sleep laboratory. Measurements taken include EEG of brain waves, electrooculography (EOG) of eye movements, and electromyography (EMG) of skeletal muscle activity. In humans, each sleep cycle lasts from 90 to 110 minutes on average and each stage may have a distinct physiological function. This can result in sleep that exhibits loss of consciousness but does not fulfill its physiological functions (i.e., one may still feel tired after apparently sufficient sleep).

Scientific studies on sleep have shown that sleep stage at awakening is an important factor in amplifying sleep inertia.

NREM or Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep

According to the 2007 AASM standards, NREM consists of three stages. There is relatively little dreaming in NREM.

Stage N1 refers to the transition of the brain from alpha waves having a frequency of 8-13 Hz (common in the awake state) to theta waves having a frequency of 4-7 Hz. This stage is sometimes referred to as somnolence or drowsy sleep. Sudden twitches and hypnic jerks, also known as positive myoclonus, may be associated with the onset of sleep during N1. During N1, the subject loses some muscle tone and most conscious awareness of the external environment. To put it in simpler form, you are in a very shallow sleep, can jerk awake easily, are slightly aware of your surroundings, aren’t dreaming, and have no rapid eye movement.

Stage N2 is characterized by sleep spindles ranging from 11 to 16 Hz (most commonly 12-14 Hz) and K-complexes. During this stage, muscular activity as measured by EMG decreases, and conscious awareness of the external environment disappears. This stage occupies 45-55% of total sleep in adults.

Stage N3 (deep or slow-wave sleep) is characterized by the presence of a minimum of 20% delta waves ranging from 0.5-2 Hz and having a peak-to-peak amplitude >75 µV. This is the stage in which parasomnias such as night terrors, nocturnal enuresis, sleepwalking, and somniloquy occur. Many illustrations and descriptions still show a stage N3 with 20-50% delta waves and a stage N4 with greater than 50% delta waves; these have been combined as stage N3.

REM or Rapid Eye Movement Sleep

Rapid eye movement sleep, or REM sleep, accounts for 20-25% of total sleep time in most human adults. The criteria for REM sleep include rapid eye movements as well as a rapid low-voltage EEG. Most memorable dreaming occurs in this stage. At least in mammals, a descending muscular atonia is seen. Such paralysis may be necessary to protect organisms from self-damage through physically acting out scenes from the often-vivid dreams that occur during this stage.

Timing – The Human Biological Clock

Sleep timing is controlled by the circadian clock, sleep-wake homeostasis, and in humans, within certain bounds, willed behavior. The circadian clock-an inner timekeeping, temperature-fluctuating, enzyme-controlling device-works in tandem with adenosine, a neurotransmitter that inhibits many of the bodily processes associated with wakefulness. Adenosine is created over the course of the day; high levels of adenosine lead to sleepiness. In diurnal animals, sleepiness occurs as the circadian element causes the release of the hormone melatonin and a gradual decrease in core body temperature. The timing is affected by one’s chronotype. It is the circadian rhythm that determines the ideal timing of a correctly structured and restorative sleep episode.

Homeostatic sleep propensity (the need for sleep as a function of the amount of time elapsed since the last adequate sleep episode) must be balanced against the circadian element for satisfactory sleep. Along with corresponding messages from the circadian clock, this tells the body it needs to sleep. Sleep offset (awakening) is primarily determined by circadian rhythm. A person who regularly awakens at an early hour will generally not be able to sleep much later than his or her normal waking time, even if moderately sleep-deprived.