Sleep is so very important to leading a happy, healthy life. The day always seems longer and basic tasks seem harder when you don’t get enough sleep. For me, my productivity drops to pretty much zero. Even if I know have things I want to do and feel compelled to accomplish them despite being tired, I usually can’t make myself do much of anything. My good intentions are there, but not the will to follow through. Today was one of those days where I could barely keep my eyes open let alone get anything done. I get so frustrated because I know I will pay for my unproductive day over the course of the week. What’s done is done and all I can do at this point is do my best to get a good night’s sleep tonight and try to recoup by losses tomorrow. But, how do I go about that exactly?
I’ve learned that I’m not the best sleeper. I don’t fall asleep quickly and I can’t go to bed too early or too late. My particular circadian rhythms don’t allow for much flexibility. I got to bed around 11:00 p.m. and wake up around 7:00 p.m. most days. Slight variations aren’t a problem, but if I push the whole schedule back like last night, in bed at 3:00 a.m. and up at 11:00 a.m., nothing seems to happen like it should. Even when I’m completely exhausted, my body seems to fight sleep. I take forever to fall asleep, I toss and turn, I wake up every couple of hours, I can’t stay asleep in the morning. My circadian alerting system is all thrown off. Clearly, my body has a natural cycle, one that doesn’t take kindly to deviation. Even on the best night, sleep doesn’t always come easily. Stress, alcohol, caffeine, jet lag, too much physical activity, etc., can all contribute to your body’s inability to shut down and repair itself.
During sleep, we pass through five distinct stages. Each stage serves a different purpose and builds upon the previous stage. Below is a detailed description of what happens as part of each of the five sleep stages: (information taken from a National Sleep Foundation article, “What Happens When You Sleep?“):
NREM (75 percent of night): As we begin to fall asleep, we enter NREM sleep, which is composed of stages 1-4
* Between being awake and falling asleep
* Light sleep
* Onset of sleep
* Becoming disengaged from surroundings
* Breathing and heart rate are regular
* Body temperature drops (so sleeping in a cool room is helpful)
Stages 3 and 4
* Deepest and most restorative sleep
* Blood pressure drops
* Breathing becomes slower
* Muscles are relaxed
* Blood supply to muscles increases
* Tissue growth and repair occurs
* Energy is restored
* Hormones are released
REM (25 percent of night): First occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and recurs about every 90 minutes, getting longer later in the night
* Provides energy to brain and body
* Supports daytime performance
* Brain is active and dreams occur
* Eyes dart back and forth
* Body becomes immobile and relaxed, as muscles are turned off
When we don’t get enough sleep or don’t sleep well, our bodies aren’t able to reboot. Sleep is essential for normal, day-to-day functioning. Muscle repair, memory consolidation, hormone regulation, healing, etc., all take place while we slumber. In order to wake up feeling refreshed physically and mentally, both quantity and quality of sleep are important. Here are some tips from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for getting a good night’s sleep:
Set a schedule:
Go to bed at a set time each night and get up at the same time each morning. “Sleeping in” on weekends also makes it harder to wake up early on Monday morning because it re-sets your sleep cycle for a later awakening.
Try to exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day. Daily exercise often helps you sleep, although a workout just before bedtime may keep you up. For maximum benefit, try to exercise at least five to six hours before going to bed.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol:
Avoid drinks that contain caffeine, which acts as a stimulant and keeps you awake. Coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, non-herbal teas, diet drugs, and some pain relievers contain caffeine. Don’t drink alcohol close to bedtime as it robs you of deep sleep and REM sleep, and keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep.
Relax before bed:
A warm bath, reading, or another relaxing activity can make it easier to fall sleep. You can train yourself to associate certain restful activities with sleep and make them part of your bedtime ritual.
Sleep until sunlight:
If possible, wake up with the sun, or use very bright lights in the morning. Sunlight helps the body’s internal biological clock reset itself each day.
Don’t lie in bed awake:
If you can’t get to sleep, don’t just lie in bed. Do something else, like read, watch TV or listen to music, until you feel tired. The anxiety of being unable to fall asleep can actually contribute to keeping you awake.
Control your room temperature:
Maintain a comfortable temperature in your bedroom. Extreme temperatures may disrupt sleep or prevent you from falling asleep.
It’s not always possible to follow the tips above, but we should all strive to get restful sleep as part of a healthy lifestyle. Here’s to a good night’s sleep!