Remember what it’s like being young and never wanting to go to bed, always feeling like you’d miss out on something? Once asleep kids usually don’t have a problem sleeping enough, however as we get older we tend to scrimp on sleep, something that can cause havvoc in our system.
Sleep is an essential part of our lives, and occupies a ⅓ of our lifetime. Many of us often struggle getting in a solid 8 hours a night, staying up late to finish a project, have a second glass of wine with friends or watching another episode on TV. Those lost hours can leave you with feeling sleep deprived and in so-called ‘sleep debt'. When in ‘sleep debt’ it is easy to forget what it actually feels like to be truly rested, and catching up on the lost sleep is not as easy as you may think.
Even though you may feel better after having slept in over the weekend, your circadian rhythm, in other words your body clock, may be out of whack, potentially leaving you feeling wide awake at night. Daytime naps can help reduce the adverse effect, but creating a regular stabile cycle with 7-9 hours sleep is the real solution.
While extra hours of sleep can reduce stress and you feeling sleepy, your ability to focus on tasks will remain reduced until you have paid off your ‘sleep debt’ in full. This can take weeks if you do not get back into a regular rhythm. Short term negative effects can be a foggy brain, reduced memory, impaired driving and vision. Potential long term effects can lead to overweight, heart disease, and insulin resistance.
The old adage ‘beauty sleep’ really does have truth to it. This is seen by The Karolinska Institute published a study in Royal Society Open Science journal that shows “sleep deprivation makes you look ugly and less healthy”. "Having an unhealthy-looking face, whether due to sleep deprivation or otherwise, might thus activate disease-avoidance mechanisms in others and render one's surroundings less socially inclined," the study said.
When we sleep, our body restores the immune system. It also allows our muscles and bones to relax. We define sleep as a state where our body becomes inactive with our eyes closed and consciousness suspended for several hours until we start to dream. If we are sleep-deprived, we dream less as our body replenish it needs.
There are two kinds of sleep, Rapid Eye Movement sleep (REM) and non-REM sleep (NREM). Wikipedia states “REM sleep is "paradoxical" because of its similarities to wakefulness. Although the body is paralyzed, the brain acts somewhat awake, with cerebral neurons firing with the same overall intensity as in wakefulness”. An average person experiences 4-6 sleep cycles per night where they alternate between REM and NON-REM with 60 to 90 minutes intervals.
Did you wake up one morning remembering a dream? You were probably in a REM sleep. The fast flutter of your eyes indicates the brain sending fast waves that form images, and since the brain is busy sending waves, the control of the muscles is relaxed, thus the eye movement.
More than 80% can remember dreams when in a REM state, and if woken up during a REM cycle, tendencies show you are far more likely to remember and describe the dream in great detail, as well as believe it to have lasted much longer.
Lucid dreaming may also occur during REM sleep. Lucid dreaming is when the dreamer is aware they are dreaming, and can somewhat control the circumstances of their dream.
NON-REM sleep, on the other hand, is what we call deep sleep. The brain uses less energy and sends slow waves. The body temperature falls, and the heart rate and breathing speed slows down.
Many people suffer from various kinds of sleep disorders, including insomnia, hypersomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, sleepwalking, and bruxism. These conditions can be taxing and greatly affect daily life. So how much sleep do we really need? As with most things in life, every individual's needs vary. You can assess yourself by asking these questions:
• After your usual hours of sleep are you productive, energized or do you still need caffeine to boost you through the day?
• After how many hours do you feel tired and worn out again?
• How do you feel?
• Are you moody?
In order to plan a good sleep schedule for your body, it is important to plan your sleep. If after the usual hours of sleep still make you feel tired, moody and unproductive, then add a few minutes each day or adjust the time you go to bed and the time you wake up until you get the desired result of your experiment. Then stick to it.
Factors like lighting, temperature, bed type, pillows and bedding can also help you achieve a good night’s rest. Avoiding stimulants like caffeine after 3 pm, eating a light meal to allow your body to rest well, and avoiding too much stimulus from electronic devices is key for a good rest and a natural sleep/wake cycle, also known as our ‘circadian rhythm’.
If you are using electronic devices, it is a good idea to install a screen shader which will gradually increase an amber shade on your screen, which is known to increase your natural melatonin, which induces sleep. Taking a melatonin supplement is also an option.
When you find that your body is still worked up after a long day’s work, drinking water or hot tea and practising breathing exercises can calm your body and relax your mind. Meditation is good to practice any time of day, especially if you are feeling low on energy, however many prefer morning and evening in order to start and end the day in the best way.
Until next week - stay healthy - stay invigorated!