To put it simply, the key benefits of sufficient sleep are improved mental and physical health. Our blood pressure and levels of stress hormones drop at night during sleep and the brain uses sleep to organize the information from the day. You can actually get smarter as you sleep. Toxins in your body are flushed out and muscles and bone tissue are repaired. You are being rebuilt as you snooze. How great is that!?
“They say sleep is the cousin of death. So my eyes wide open cuz a dream is kin to ya last breath.” .... The Game
As much as I like “The Game” as a rapper, it is rap lyrics like these that send the wrong message when it comes to adequate sleep. We’ve all heard the term, “Team No Sleep” or, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Well let me be the first to tell that if you are not sleeping enough or getting quality sleep you will be dead sooner than expected.
How Much Sleep Is Enough ?
New borns: 14 - 17 hours (half napping)
Infants: 12 - 16 hours (4 - 5 hours napping)
Toddlers: 11 - 14 hours (2 - 3 hours napping)
Pre-schoolers: 10 - 13 hours
Children 6- 12: 9 - 12 hours
Teenagers: 8 - 10 hours
Adults: 7 - 9 hours
My Own Sleep Schedule
My days training clients start early and finish late. As a result, my sleep schedule goes like this: five to six hours on weeknights plus one or two 20 minute naps during the day when I can find the time. I feel it when I don’t make time for my naps. I sleep six to seven hours on weekends, and as long as I can on vacations without ruining them. I admit, it is harder to maintain a regular sleep pattern as an adult. However, do not sleep on the fact it is equally important.
Before doing some research to write this post, I have to admit I was actually concerned I was about to discover that I wasn’t getting enough sleep. By the end of this article you will see why I am a little more confident.
The Sleep Cycle
There are four phases of sleep and they all play a large role in improving your health. They are Awake, Light, Deep and REM sleep. In this blog post we are going to address the sleep cycle in these phases.
Some sources will separate the sleep cycle into to two different categories, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep. Light and Deep Sleep occur during the NREM stage of sleep. On any given night your mind and body will cycle in and out of 90 - 110 minutes of the two cycles 4 - 5 times. These are average numbers and vary person to person. During this process, changes happen in the brain that lock in memories while improving learning and focus abilities.
Awake, 2% - 5% of our sleep cycle is simply the time you lie in bed prior to falling asleep, the times you wake up over the course of the night and the time spent in bed after your alarm clock goes off. If you are waking up frequently throughout the night or waking up feeling fatigued instead of refreshed, it may be cause to check your blood oxygen levels and/or respiratory breathing regularity. It is also possible that you have fallen victim to one or more of the most common sleep disorders. Common sleep disorders include Insomnia, Sleep Apnea, Restless Legs Syndrome and Narcolepsy.
If you are having a hard time getting to sleep or staying asleep reference the conclusion of this article to see what you can do to improve your daily habits to help increase the quality of your sleep.
Remember sleep drugs can help in certain cases, but they are usually not the solution. They can create bad habits and they do not mimic natural sleep. Unconsciousness is not sleep.
Light Sleep which is 45% - 55% of our sleep cycle is a key stage that falls into the NREM category. This occurs in two stages. Think of stage one “Light NREM Sleep” as falling asleep. During this period your muscles relax, your heart rate slows down and your body temperature starts to drop. Your brain waves also slow down to a less frequent rhythm. Stage one normally lasts a few minutes. During stage 2 of “Light NREM Sleep” your muscles are still relaxed though they may jerk or spaz out, haha. Your respiration and heart rate slow and your body temperature drops. Similar to stage 1 yes, but during this stage your brain waves slow down as well as increase in amplitude.
Deep Sleep occupies 13% - 23% of our sleep pattern. Deep Sleep is also referred to as slow-wave sleep. This is the stage your body is at it’s most calm state. Your heart rate and breathing are at their low points. The muscles are fully relaxed and your brain creates long slow waves known as “Delta Waves”. This is the toughest stage of sleep to wake a person up and if you do, that person will not like it or you very much. Deep sleep usually occurs about an hour into sleep and you tend to get the majority of your deep sleep early in the night. Deep sleep is another phase of NREM Sleep.
Finally there is REM Sleep which occupies 20% - 25% of our sleep cycle. Living up to its name, during this stage of sleep your eyes are moving rapidly behind your eyelids, your heart rate is sped up and breathing becomes less regular. Brain wave activity also increases, similar to brain wave activity when you are awake. During this phase it’s also possible to experience jerky muscle movements as you dream and it is definitely difficult to wake up during REM sleep. In order to protect ourselves from acting out dreams, muscle tone during REM sleep is shut down making real movement in the dream state unlikely.
Fun fact; it has been disproven that we only dream during REM sleep, though it has been proven that roughly 80% of dream recounts have arisen from the REM state of consciousness. REM sleep is the realm of creativity and not to be taken lightly. If you come up with that magic idea or solution to a problem in your dreams, do not kid yourself and take it for granted. Wake up! Get up! And write it down before returning to sleep. You may believe you are unconscious, yet in actuality you are more clear and awake than ever. A third of our lives is destined for sleep, so do not dismiss what is happening as you sleep.
Now that you are aware of the importance of sleep and the different stages of sleep, here are few methods I use to ensure I get a good night sleep. As a personal trainer the most effective and obvious choice to improve my sleep quality is an intense workout that tires me out, forcing me into fatigue. Consistent workouts are also great for deceasing your stress levels. Stress is the most common reason why adults everywhere are not getting a good night’s sleep. Find a way to reduce your stress, please.
Sticking to a sleep schedule (nobody is perfect, do your best) is extremely helpful when it comes to sleep. When your body has a similar schedule it gets accustomed to adhering to it, making falling asleep so much easier. I myself have a pretty erratic sleep schedule, none the less when you break it down, it is a schedule that my body has gotten familiar with and can function at a high level on. Break your life down and look for windows of opportunity to sleep and improve your sleep.
Limiting your screen time is a great way to improve your sleep quality, experts recommend shutting screens down two hours before bed for the best sleep, haha! Good luck with that I say, I’ll stick to limiting screen time throughout the day.
Skipping big meals at night is a great trick to getting better sleep. Keeping your sleeping area cool, dark and quiet will work wonders for your sleep. If you live in a noisy city like I do, try a white noise app, or if you have an issue with too much light try an eye mask. It’s only uncomfortable in the beginning.
Limiting caffeine and alcohol close to bed time is huge. Caffeine as we know keeps us awake and believe it or not so does alcohol. Too much alcohol may make you pass out (black out), but trust me that is not good sleep.
“You can knock yourself out with drugs and alcohol. But there’s a difference between unconsciousness and true sleep.”