What Does All This Sleep Mean?
Sleep plays a role in many of our bodies functions, such as our long-term memory, cognitive function, alertness and reaction time, hormone regulation and tissue regeneration to name a few. It also accounts for roughly a third of our lives. Many of us think of going to bed as the end of the day, when in reality it is the start of the following day. To assess whether or not you are getting enough restful sleep ask yourself “do I feel rested when I wake up in the morning or more rested before going to bed?” If you feel less rested in the morning you are likely not getting enough sleep or enough restful sleep and should consider implementing one of the following tips.
Researchers suggests that 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night allows the body to appropriately go through the proper sleep cycles for maximum restfulness. The first sleep cycle is known as the non-rapid eye movement. NREM lasts 70 to100 minutes, and accounts for majority of total sleep time. During NREM heart rate and blood pressure begin to drop and allows your heart to relax. During this cycle, motor skills that were learnt the previous day are engrained. Additionally, the body becomes disconnected and is able to achieve a true resting state. During which point, growth hormone (GH) is at its highest. The elevated levels of GH enable tissue maintenance and building soft tissue, immune system support and fat, cholesterol and carbohydrate metabolism. The final sleep cycle is the rapid eye movement (REM) cycle. The REM cycle occurs 4 to 6 times per night and lasts 10-16 minutes. Here, the body is twitchy and the mind races. Heart rate and blood flow to the brain is increased due to the increased brain function. As mentioned previously, this cycle allows absorption of complex thoughts, creativity, and perceptual skills acquisition. As you can see sleep is a complicated procedure that our body and mind must prepare for to allow for restful sleep.
Preparing to fall asleep is just as important as actually sleeping. It’s best to start preparing for bed when the sun goes down and it starts getting dark out. At this time, melatonin production increases. Melatonin is a (natural) hormone produced by the body, which stimulates the urge to fall asleep. Melatonin production can be decreased by blue light. Sources of this light include fluorescent and LED bulbs, and all electronic devices. Because blue lights decrease the production of melatonin it is important to limit the amount of exposure during the time you are preparing for bed; following sunset. Ways of avoiding blue light contact at night include the use of blue light blocking glasses, changing the setting on your phone to night shift or downloading a blue light filter app such as the one from justgetflux.com. Blue light is just one of the many reasons why you may have trouble falling and staying asleep. Here are a few ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ to maximize your sleep.
Get consistent – Creating a routine that promotes you falling asleep each night within a 30-minute window of going to bed and waking up consistently at the same time each morning. Creating consistency allows the body to maximize the production of melatonin, and have it peak at the same time each day. This will ultimately allow the body to maintain a stable circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is our bodies 24-hour clock that dictates when we wake up and fall asleep. Think about those times when you naturally wake up in the morning without your alarm. That is your internal clock that has become programmed to that time.
Get active – Vigorous physical activity during the day will help you sleep. Physical activity stresses the nervous system and the body. By doing so, this promotes the body’s desire to rest from the implied stress.
Clear your mind – If you spend hours thinking about all the things you need to get accomplished the next day this one is important. A simple fix for this is to create a to do list. By doing so this you promote a restful state for your mind, and allows your body to relax because you know longer have to worry about forgetting to do something. Or worrying about what all needs to be taken care of because it’s all written down.
Block out your surroundings – White noise machines are a great way to mask noises and avoid being startled when sleeping. They also can be soothing for individuals, which promotes relaxation for the body. All of which will contribute to a more restful sleep. If you don’t want to splurge on a machine, utilizing a fan is a great alternative.
Optimize your temperature – Prime sleeping temperature is between 65 to 68 degrees. A cool room is in important for restful sleep so that your body can appropriately dissipate heat and get into the rapid eye movement (REM) cycle. Getting enough time in the REM cycle is important because brain function is ramped up, allowing complex thoughts to be absorbed, perceptual skills acquired and creativity to be at work.
Turn your mind off – Reading before going to sleep is a very effective way of turning your mind off and separating yourself from all the events that happened throughout the day. Doing so allows your parasympathetic (rest and digest) system to kick in and aids in maintaining that 30-minute window of falling asleep that was talked about earlier. It is also a great alternative to spending time on social media, which will help reduce your exposure to blue lights prior to bed.
Eat a large meal – Eating a large meal prior to bed turns your digestive system on and delays you from falling asleep. When your digestive system is turned on, it shifts your body’s focus from relaxing to processing what you just consumed. Additionally, avoid high volumes of fluids prior to sleep because the urge to urinate mid sleep cycle will inhibit a full night of uninterrupted sleep.
Consume caffeine – The half-life of caffeine is 6 hours, meaning that the increased heart rate, alertness and energy will take 6 hours to lose half of its effect and can prevent some individuals from falling asleep.
Spend time in front of a screen – As previously mentioned, blue light inhibits melatonin production and therefore it’s important to minimize your exposure prior to bed. It’s also important for our brains to slow down and enter a relaxation state as we get ready for bed. Watching TV is stimulating to the mind, so it is a good idea to avoid TV and your electronic devices for an hour before your established bed time.
If you feel you are not getting enough sleep and aren’t feeling rested in the morning consider implementing some of these strategies. However, while you are mastering your bedtime route and increasing your sleep productivity, napping make help to fill those hours you need. It has been shown that napping has a summative effect and can make up for lost sleep from the previous night. A quick power nap, of less than 30 minutes, is best for a ‘recharge of the battery’. If you are wanting to have a longer nap that fits into the sleep cycle, nap for at least an hour and a half. That length of nap includes both the NREM and REM cycle, so you will achieve the benefits of resting both the body and the mind. Keep in mind, it is important to consider the time you nap and whether it will inhibit your ability to fall asleep in the 30-minute window you have set out for bedtime. Naps should not take away from getting a good sleep at night.
If all else fails and you are still struggling, it’s recommended to seek the care of a trained professional.
Sleep: A Clinical Management Factor. Sleep Sciences and Research