Updated: Oct 14, 2020
“It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.” — John Steinbeck
Maybe you haven't really given sleep or your sleep habits much thought? Maybe you live life by the quote “I’ll sleep when I am dead” (Benjamin Franklin, who died at 84 by the way of an abcess in his lungs that burst). Maybe just reading this subject is making you yawn….
I am here to change your mind. I am a pretty big fan of sleeping. You could say I am Sleep’s #1 FAN! If sleep had an Instagram, I would like all of its photographs, and comment on every post.
Of course, there are only so many hours in a day (precisely 24), and I understand that most of us have a lot on our plates, and we want to get as much done in each day as possible. Sleep and I have had an interesting relationship. I think most of us as kids had a pretty typical, consistent bedtime schedule. I think this usually benefited our parents too, giving them time to themselves at the end of the day while we slept. But the routine, whether we noticed or not, helped us too! But, the older we get, the more our sleep schedule changes. Maybe you have a job that doesn't end until later in the day, leaving you less time to do what you want at the end of the day, usually causing you to stay up later, but still having to wake up early to go back to work. Maybe you have trouble falling asleep in general? Maybe you're getting 8 hours of sleep, but still not feeling rested the next day?
The AMOUNT of sleep we get and WHAT KIND of sleep we get can have a HUGE effect on your mood, your energy levels, your concentration, your productivity, your heart health, your stress levels, your digestion, your immune system, your weight, your sex drive, your fertility, and so many more areas. We all know that one imbalance can cause more IMBALANCE in every area of our health and of our lives.
I am lucky enough to have a Fitbit (which I LOVE), and it tracks my sleep. If I didn't have my Fitbit in order to track my sleep, I would have never known that my sleep was so off whack: waking up a lot (tossing and turning), and that my stages of sleep were not long enough to allow me to feel rested in the morning. There was a moment where I just thought that's how everyone felt when they woke up. Maybe the only time we felt rested after sleeping was when we were children.
We can measure the QUALITY of our sleep by the patterns of brain waves that occur during our sleep cycle. Here is a little information on what the different brain waves that happen during sleep:
Alpha waves: “Power of Now”; falls in the middle of the brain wave spectrum; make you feel relatively calm and relaxed; normal amounts of alpha brain waves increase creativity and decrease depression and anxiety; you are awake, but you usually have your eyes closed and aren't processing much information
Theta waves: (this can also occur during deep meditation); affects thinking, memory, and intuition; “twilight” stage; this is where we dream (vivid imagery, intuition, anything beyond our normal consciousness when we are awake). These happen during light sleep or right before you fall asleep or wake up; these are slower than alpha waves. This is involved in restorative sleep.
Beta: These are below your Gamma waves in speed; they can be high beta (beta 3), mid beta (beta 2) or low (beta 1) beta waves when you are really thinking hard about something, or you just sort of mulling something over. They happen mostly when you are awake. They are involved in conscious thought and logical thinking, and tend to have a stimulating effect. Too much beta waves can cause anxiety, high arousal, an inability to relax, and stress; too little beta waves can lead to ADHD, daydreaming, depression, and poor cognition
Gamma waves: these are your fastest brain wave; responsible for cognitive functioning, learning, memory, and information processing; too much of this can increase anxiety, high arousal, and stress. Not enough can lead to ADHD, depression, and learning disabilities. These happen when you are really concentrating on something.
Delta waves: these are your slowest brain waves; are associated with the deepest levels of relaxation and restorative, healing sleep; helps us feel completely rejuvenated and promotes the immune system, natural healing, and restorative/deep sleep. If you wake after 8 hours of sleep and don’t feel rested, it is usually related to your delta waves levels. This brain wave is your “gateway” to spirituality.
As you can see, the different brain waves that occur can have a HUGE impact on how our brain functions, our mood, our productivity/focus/concentration, and how rested we feel.
So now that we have discussed the different brain waves, let’s talk about the FIVE different stages of sleep:
Stage 1: (1-5 minutes) This is a non-REM sleep stage that happens when you begin to fall asleep. It usually only lasts just a few minutes. Your heartbeat and breathing will begin to slow down, your muscles will start to relax, and you produce alpha and theta brain waves. There may be brief moments of muscle twitching
Stage 2: (30-60 minutes) This is another non-REM sleep stage that happens just before entering deep sleep. Your body temperature will drop, your heartbeat and breathing will slow even further, your eye movement will cease, and your brain waves will spike up and down creating “sleep spindles”. You spend more time in this cycle more than any other stage. Theta waves are still present here.
Stage 3: (20-40 minutes) This is another non-REM sleep stage, but this is the sleep you need to feel refreshed in the morning. It is harder to wake someone during this stage, as it is the deep sleeping stage. Delta brain waves increase here, and heartbeat and breathing will slow even more. It occurs for longer periods of time during the first half of the night. Blood supply to muscles increases; Tissue growth and repair occurs; Energy is restored; Hormones are released, such as: Growth hormone, essential for growth and development, including muscle development
Stage 4: (20-40 minutes) This is the last non-REM sleep stage, but this is the deepest of the sleep stages. Along with stage 3, these are the most important stages as they lead to mental wellbeing and feeling rested. Delta brain waves increase here, and heartbeat and breathing will slow even more. It occurs for longer periods of time during the first half of the night. According to the new science, Stage 3+4 are now just ONE STAGE.
Stage 5: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) This is where most of our dreaming occurs. Awakenings occur more easily here. They happen intermittently with light sleep stages, and usually occur at the end of the sleep cycle. Your brain becomes more active here, and your heartbeat and breathing rate will increase. But your muscles will almost become paralyzed so that you don't accidentally act out your dreams. REM is associated with mood regulation, and dreams are an important way for your mind to work things out in a safe space.
Ok. So, we know the stages. But what does a normal night of sleeping look like? Great questions, thank you for asking! Here are the facts:
Each sleep cycle (stages 1-5) lasts about 90 minutes, and you cycle through the different stages multiple times a night
During the first 2-3 sleep cycles, we spend most of our time in deep non-REM sleep (stages 3-4), but during the final 2-3 sleep cycles, we spend much more time in REM sleep followed by lighter non-REM sleep
Most people tend to experience more non-REM sleep in the earlier hours of the night (11 p.m. – 3 a.m.) and more REM sleep in the later hours of the night (3 a.m. – 7 a.m.)
To sum up a regular night sleep, you will start in stage one and quickly move into stage 2. You then quickly move into deep sleep, then into REM sleep. Then you will hop back and forth between light and deep sleep, and then more REM sleep. The longer you are sleeping, the more REM you will get and the less deep sleep you will get.
Light sleep will take up about 50-60% or more of your night
Deep sleep takes up 10-25% (depending on your age) of sleep
REM makes up about 20-25% of your nightly sleep.
So, why is sleep so important?
Stronger immune system: while you are sleeping, your body is able to repair, regenerate, and recover.Without enough sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation.
Lower risk of Heart Disease: Healthy sleep cycles lowers your blood pressure, thus allowing you to avoid the risk of heart disease. Not enough sleep can lead to increased levels of stress and higher blood pressure. Lack of sleep can cause your body to release cortisol, a stress hormone that triggers your heart to work harder
Maintaining weight: Poor sleep is scientifically linked to weight gain which causes changes to hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. The hormone leptin suppresses appetite and encourages the body to expend energy. Sleep deprivation reduces leptin. Also the lack of sleep tricks our body into finding other sources of energy: food, which is not REALLY what our body needs.
Improves brain function and productivity: sleep has been linked to improved concentration and higher cognitive function,
Mental health management: Another thing that your brain does while you sleep is process your emotions. Studies report that REM sleep enhances learning and memory, and contributes to emotional health — in complex ways.
Stress regulation: sort of similar to how sleep affects our mental health, sleep also affects our stress regulation. When we have had an adequate amount of sleep, we are less irritable, more patient, our mental health is healthy, and so we are able to regulate our stress levels better. It is also cyclical in the way that stress can affect how well we sleep. If we are stressed, we don't get as much quality sleep, which in turn can lead to low quality sleep.
Repairs skin: just like all of our other organs, while sleeping our body is able to repair damaged tissues and cells because it’s not so busy doing other things. Your skin’s blood flow increases, and the organ rebuilds its collagen and repairs damage from UV exposure, reducing wrinkles and age spots.
Reduces inflammation: Stress hormones increase inflammation in the body. When you're sleeping, those stress hormones drop.
Napping is recommended!: People who nap at work show much lower levels of stress. Napping also improves memory, cognitive function, and mood. Anything less than an hour will give you a little boost, which is sort of a head nod towards your circadian rhythm.
"There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep." -Homer
There are so many benefits to getting quality sleep. I firmly believe that sleep should be VERY important, and that we dont really talk about it enough. If you look at the list above of all the benefits, most of them can contribute to another. For example, stress can affect your sleep which affects your skin which can increase stress. Stress can affect your sleep which can affect your weight management which can increase stress. Stress can affect your sleep which can affect your mood regulation/mental health, which can increase your stress. It’s almost if they are all RELATED. I believe they are.
Whatever you do, please don’t feel stressed about this. Remain calm and take things one step at a time.
Here are some things that might be affecting the quality of your sleep (with or without you realizing):
Caffeine intake (caffeine has a long half life meaning that cup can affect you up to 16 hours later)
Alcohol (it might help you fall asleep, but disrupts your sleep cycles)
Nicotine (in any form)
Blue light + any kind of light
Exercise (when you exercised before sleeping)
When you ate your last meal (too soon before bed, or too long before bed so now you're hungry)
If you took a nap, how long was it?
Sleeping disorders (insomnia, sleep apnea, sleep walking, Restless Leg Syndrome, etc)
Not feeling tired
Medical conditions (pain, etc)
Shift-based work (when you work)
Needing to use the restroom/drinking water before bed
Sleeping too much/circadian rhythm is off
As you can see, there are a lot of factors when it comes to getting a good nights sleep, as so many different things can come into play. For me, it’s really hard to fall asleep if I am hot, or if I don't have a fan in the room, or if there is no sound or too much sound. Too much silence makes my thoughts take over and I’ll never fall asleep that way. I also can’t fall asleep if my room is messy.
Generally, adults should be getting 7-9 hours of sleep, that includes a nap in the afternoon.
Usually a nap is taken in the afternoon when our circadian rhythm (our body's time clock) is telling us to sleep (our body starts producing melatonin when light starts to dim).
Here are my tips for getting QUALITY SLEEP:
Sleep 7-9 hours
Create a bedtime routine (set a timer if this helps. Put on PJ’s, brush teeth, take contacts out, and do something relaxing like reading, meditation, yoga, bath, etc)
Exercise daily, but at least 2-3 hours before bed
Stick to a sleep schedule (if you get up at 7, aim to get to bed around 10:30)
Limit light before bed
Take a nap, but not longer than an hour, and not after 5pm
Lower temperature in your room
Leave the curtains open so that the sun will wake you
According to Ayurveda, try to get to bed before 10pm (when Pitta time starts) otherwise you will get a second burst of energy and with that, a second burst of appetite
Turn off electronics
Eat a small dinner
Limit alcohol consumption
Neti pot (nasal cleansing will allow you to breathe better at night time, allowing more quality sleep)
Pick a calming scent for your sleeping quarters like lavender
Don't lay in bed if you're not sleepy. Instead, read or listen to calming music
Quality mattress, pillows, and sheets!
If you are having a lot of unwanted thoughts/stress, try writing these down in a journal as a way of “thought dumping”
Try to be positive about sleep and dont concentrate so much on “I didn't get enough sleep last night….” or “I can NEVER fall asleep at a good time…”. Try to replace those thoughts with “I am going to sleep SO well tonight” and “I am looking forward to feeling rested in the morning”. Often, when we get caught in a cycle, we assume it will go on forever thus promoting it to go on forever. BREAK THE HABIT.
Do some research on any medication you are taking, and see if they have effects on sleep
Avoid drinking too many liquids before bed so youre not having to wake up to go and so that you are as comfortable as possible
If your pets are disturbing your sleep, try getting them their own beds next to your bed so you still have room to move if you need to, and so you don't get too hot!
If your partner snores, or moves around a lot, maybe talk about ways to change things up in those areas. I am a pretty light sleeper, and snoring IS ANNOYING.
Deep breathing exercises
Sleep APPs: there are so many! Some that are meditative, stories, ASMR, or just music.
Alrighty then! That is all I have for you on sleep, why it’s important, what affects quality sleep can have on our lives, and my tips on how to get QUALITY SLEEP!
Hope this was helpful for you! Let me know if you decide to implement any of these into your life, or if you have any tips of your own!
Thank you, and be very, very well.