In my last article I talked about some of the reasons it is important to get a good night’s sleep. We can understand this need a little bit better by going over some sleep basics.
When we sleep we usually go through stages of sleep known as stages 1,2,3,4, and REM (Rapid Eye Movement). I don’t want to get too technical in this article, but in essence stage 1 is a light sleep and we can be woken easily during this time. Each level of sleep puts us deeper into sleep with stages 3 and 4 being the most difficult to wake from if we are disturbed.
REM sleep is where we dream. A complete sleep cycle takes between 90 and 110 minutes, and each new cycle has a different amount of time for each stage with the deep sleep stages becoming shorter with each new cycle until by morning people are spending most of their sleep cycle in stages 1,2 and REM.
These stages run in a cyclical pattern and can explain why we sometimes awake refreshed and ready to go, while at other times we wake up groggy and can’t seem to get moving. Our bodies have natural rhythms and cycles which our modern lifestyles are at odds with so we don’t always sleep and wake when we should. In a perfect world we would go to sleep and awake when our bodies tell us to, but our modern day work and recreational pursuits seldom accommodate our personal body clock.
Electricity allows us to work or play late into the night, and that handy dandy alarm clock will ensure that we are up in time for early morning seminary, or that tedious rush hour commute regardless of whether or not we got enough sleep to get us through the day. But we pay a heavy price for burning our candles at both ends with reduced cognitive abilities, emotional and intellectual, in addition to a compromised immune system.
Your immune system uses sleep to stay healthy. Prolonged periods of lack of sleep can alter the way your immune system responds to infections. Indeed, if you are sleep deficient, you will be more likely to have trouble fighting common infections and may frequently feel a bit, under the weather. When I was growing up, during the days of common sense medicine, that was always my Mother and Grandmother’s first line of defense. If we were sick, especially if we were running a fever, we were put to bed. The result being that with some extra rest and fluids you were usually feeling much better by the next day.
Sleep also appears to ward off disease. Studies have shown that, in addition to overall health, sleeping aides in the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. An increased risk of Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, and Stroke have been linked to chronic sleep deficiency. Given what we know about sleep it wouldn’t be surprising to discover with further studies that sleep heals the body of many ailments.
Sleep also aids us in cognitive function. Our brains are very active during certain stages of sleep. REM sleep stimulates the brain regions used in learning. Studies have shown that when people were taught a skill and then deprived of sleep during the early stages they could still recall what they had learned but people deprived of REM sleep could not. This would seem to indicate that the REM stage of sleep is critical to memory and learning.
So how can we ensure that we get the sleep we need?
Set a schedule:
Establish a set time for going to bed each night, and a similar schedule for getting up in the morning. It is tempting to stay up late getting work done, or remaining in bed a little longer on your days off, but doing this will upset your body’s internal clock and make it harder to get back on schedule later.
Try to get 20 to 30 minutes of exercise each day. It doesn’t have to be intense cardio or anything like that, but doing something active often helps people to get a good night’s sleep. Working out right before bedtime however may interfere with the ability to go to sleep so it is recommended that you try to get that exercise about 5 to 6 hours before bedtime.
Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol:
It is best to avoid things that contain caffeine before bedtime. Some foods and drinks are obvious, but not everyone knows that things like chocolate, various soft drinks, diet drugs, and some pain relievers contain caffeine also. If you are unsure if something you are eating or drinking has caffeine, check the labels or do an internet search. If you are not already abstaining from tobacco products and alcohol you might want to consider these less known facts about these substances and sleep.
On average smokers sleep lightly and tend to wake early due to nicotine withdrawal, and alcohol keeps people from getting their REM sleep because it also keeps them in the lighter stages of sleep throughout the night instead of allowing them to cycle through the normal stages of sleep.
Relax before bed:
Put away your work for the day and try doing something relaxing before bedtime. You could take a warm bath, read a book or listen to music that is calming to your mind. Make it a habit and train your mind to associate these kinds of activities with sleep.
Sleep until sunlight:
Unless your work or school schedule makes it impossible try to sleep until the sun is up. If that is not possible then use very bright lights in the morning. Light helps your internal clock to regulate itself. Sleep experts recommend an hour of sunlight in the morning for people who have trouble getting to sleep at night.
Don’t lie in bed awake:
If you can’t sleep don’t lie in bed stressing over it. Anxiety can actually make sleep problems worse. Get up and do something that will help you relax until you feel tired.
Control your room temperature:
Keeping a comfortable temperature in your bedroom is also important if you want a good night’s sleep. Extreme temperatures will make it difficult to get to sleep and may wake you up during the night when you are in your lighter sleep phase.
See a doctor if your sleeping problem continues:
If you have chronic sleep problems, that these suggestions do not help, you may have a sleep disorder and should see your family physician. If they cannot help you they may be able to recommend a specialist who can.
Adequate, restful, sleep is essential to a healthy mind and body so be good to your body and give it what it needs so that you can be at your best throughout your life!
About Denise Mastrocola
Denise is a Michigander turned Pennsylvanian, who has been writing stories since Elementary School. Denise won an award at the annual Lansing Youth Talent Show, when she was in 10th grade, for a short story entitled Procrastination is Fatal, but didn’t decide on writing as a career until she was 28 years old. While homeschooling her older children she spent 4 years working through a course from The Institute of Children’s Literature. Through the years Denise’s children have had a variety of health issues, many of which have been linked to various sensitives; having spent more than 20 years researching and trying different things Denise has a boots on the ground view on healthier living. Denise currently writes for 2 blogs and has several books in different stages of completion. She is planning to break ground in e publishing, and hopes to have her first Historical Fantasy book which is set during the renaissance, “Lisa, My Lisa?” ready by the first of the year.