Why should we sleep?
Scientists are still debating exactly why humans need to sleep but at the moment, studies indicate that a lack thereof results in long-term health complications. Blood pressure regulation and heart health are impacted by sleep and better quality rest results in better quality lives. Adults require between 8 and 10 hours sleep at night but unfortunately, 21st Century life is changing our sleep cycles. It is nowadays not uncommon to find a working adult averaging 6 hours of sleep per night. Detrimental impacts of a lack of sleep include a loss of concentration, problems with memory recall and high-stress levels.
Circadian Rhythm, REM and N-REM
Circadian Rhythm is your natural body clock. In South Africa, that body clock is set to wake up between 6 AM and 7 AM naturally. That is if you do not suffer from sleep debt. When you are sleeping, you transition through 4 levels of N-REM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) and 1 level of Rapid Eye Movement. The first 4 levels are for restoration of the immune system and the body as well as for memory building. REM is the stage where we dream. A full cycle of 5 stages takes about 90 minutes to complete. After 90 minutes, you will either wake up or enter another cycle.
Melatonin, the sleepy hormone
Melatonin is released when we sleep and the more melatonin is released, the better quality rest we have. The better your quality of sleep, the greater your immunity and bodily restoration. Therefore, ensure that you create an environment where you will have the best quality rest.
The first way to do this is to ensure your room is dark. Purchase block-out curtains to keep any outside lights out. Secondly, have a relaxing bath or shower before you go to bed. Melatonin peaks, 30 minutes after a hot bath. Finally, avoid blue light. Blue light is part of the colour spectrum emitted by any artificial lights. That includes light bulbs, cell phones, televisions and computers. Blue light confuses the brain into thinking that it is daytime. Your brain, therefore, suppresses the melatonin release and rather releases serotonin, which keeps you awake. The effect of blue light can last up to 3 hours.
Simply put, sleep debt is the expected hours of sleep minus the actual hours every night. That is, your body expects to rest 8 hours tonight but you only sleep for 7 hours. You, therefore have 1-hour sleep debt. This debt builds up over consecutive nights and impacts your concentration levels, immunity and overall well-being in the short-term. Over the long term, your body shrugs off the sleep debt and starts from scratch. This is not necessarily a good thing as it will have negative long-term consequences as mentioned earlier. Here’s the book that Megan refers to in the episode: https://www.amazon.com/Promise-Sleep-Medicine-Connection-Happiness/dp/0440509017
How to Power Nap:
Power napping is resting your body 10-30 minutes, 3 to 4 times a week. During this 30 minutes, your body is in the first level of N-REM and it is primarily to recharge your batteries. If you rest for longer than 30 minutes, you will enter deeper levels of slumber and therefore feel groggy when you wake up. It, however, takes practice to power nap and you should not get despondent when at first you do not feel rested. Even if you do not physically sleep, trying to relax your thoughts and your body in a meditation state will be enough to recharge your energy levels. Once you have mastered the art of power napping, try to drink a coffee before you nap to amplify the effects of the rest. It is important to remember not to power nap later than 3 PM as it will impact your nighttime rest.
A study in Greece indicated that healthy adults who take naps in the afternoon have a 37% less likely chance of developing cardiovascular disease.
How to fix your sleeping patterns
Finally, if you think that you are not sleeping enough, try the following tips:
- Do not go to bed later than 22:30.
- Aim to get 8-10 hours of sleep.
- Avoid any blue light for up to 3 hours before bedtime.
- Make your room as dark as possible.
- Take a bath or shower before you go to bed.
- Try and take a 30-minute power nap, 3 to 4 times a week.
- Eat healthy food and exercise to counter the immune deficiency incurred by insufficient rest.
- Take a 5-7 day holiday every 3 months for recovery.
My guest for this episode, Megan Heuer works with Good Night. She helps parents and babies develop better sleeping patterns. To get into contact with her, follow the links below: