It’s 11am on a Wednesday and the day has officially started. You had a full night sleep, a solid breakfast and coffee so your day is off to a great start. Then, out of nowhere you feel like you’ve been hit by a ton of bricks. You can’t stop yawning, your brain seems to have taken the express flight to the Caribbean, and you feel like you haven’t had sleep in days. What?!?!
We all know the feeling, and sometimes it is more than indescribable—and always at inconvenient times. We have been told a million times how important sleep is since we came out of the womb, and for the most part it was always “You need 8 hours of sleep a night.” But do you really?
Just like everything other aspect in life, we are all different. Studies have been done to show the difference in need between men and women in regards to sleep, as well as different age levels. Although they have published the generalities for each demographic, that does not mean one size fits all. Depending on activity level, calorie intake, stress, and any other outside factors, we each necessitate varying amounts of sleep to function at our fullest.
With that being said, there is one thing that has been proven over and over again as well as taught in many fields from psychology to medicine—the power of the sleep cycle.
My Mantra: The Almighty Sleep Cycle
Like everything else in life, sleeping is part of a system–the most powerful astounding system, the human body. There are ways to use the system to its full potential, take advantage of it, and ways to harm it. In order to do so, we need to first fully understand how the process works.
Sleep is a natural cycle of activity which helps to rejuvenate and restore other systems of our body including the immune, nervous, muscular and skeletal systems. While the length of time each species need varies, the sole purpose remains the same across them all.
The average sleep cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes at which point it starts all over again (about 4-6 times for a full night sleep). The two basic states of sleep are REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). Within NREM there are four stages. The breakdown of all is as follows.
- Stage 1: During stage one, you can be awakened easily and feel like you haven’t fallen asleep at all. It is sometimes referred to as drowsy sleep and can be associated with twitches or sudden jerks as part of the commencement of sleeping. While you may not be fully asleep, you become mostly unaware of the surrounding environment and muscles relax. Length of time: 5-10 minutes
- Stage 2: Stage two is a period of light sleep and results in a decrease of body temperature as well as a slower heart rate. Most time sleeping is during this stage—about 45-55% of total sleep in adults. It is a prep period for the body prior to going into deep sleep. Length of time: 10-20 minutes
- Stage 3: The third stage initiates the start of deep sleep. While it only occupies 4-5% of our sleep, it is vital in the fact that the brain begins to generate slow delta waves. It is very difficult to be woken up, and may result in being cranky or disoriented. Length of time: 10-15 minutes
- Stage 4: This is the deepest of sleep full of rhythmic breathing and limited muscle activity. The most healing and recovery occurs during this stage when the brain produces delta waves. While it is the deepest, it is also easy to be woken up. Length of time: 20-30 minutes
Now, the most interesting, complex and ironically the shortest, lightest sleep – REM. I could write articles and articles on REM, but for purposes of keeping this brief, we will leave it as a slight overview. This stage is very active with lots of movement, including “rapid eye movement”. Most intense, vivid and unrealistic dreams occur during REM. This stage is typically shorter at the beginning of a night’s sleep and longer towards the end. Although muscles are relaxing, eye movement is fast, the heart rate increases and breathing is rapid and shallow. While a lot is occurring in the brain and systems, both arms and leg muscles are paralyzed. Length of time: 5-10 minutes.
Tools Better than Counting Sheep:
Download these super useful tools to help you better understand your sleep patterns and get the most out of your sleep.
- Sleep Calculator: Find out how much sleep you need in order to avoid interrupting a full sleep cycle and feel well rested when you wake
- Sleep Cycle: Analyze how you sleep, if you are hitting a deep sleep as well as your movement with this app
Although I am the last person to tell you I have had enough sleep, I have frequently been called the queen of napping whether it be a five or ten minute siesta to a calculated 90 minute slumber, naps are key. They help rejuvenate and give energy to mid-day lull and have been proven effective in stimulating brain activity. Since it has been said that sleeping after learning something new makes it more memorable, if not permanent, a quick nap should help to solidify that information. Here are a few tips to making sure you get the most out of your sleep.
- Comfort – make sure you have a comfortable sleeping oasis with a firm supportive mattress
- Temperature – the ideal temperature to help your body cool down and settle into a deep sleep is 68 degrees
- Environment – having a relaxing environment will help you feel calm as well as you mind feeling uncluttered. This includes turning off the television, lights, and having electronic devices including cell phones more than an arms length away
To some there may be more necessities including personal rituals, unwinding with a book, wine, a glass of milk, or completing certain tasks. As more research is being completed, we can one day hope that sleeping will come down to such a science that we will each be able to understand what our body needs to perform and think at 100%.
Fun Factual Finds:
- The record for the longest period without sleep is 18 days, 21 hours, 40 minutes during a rocking chair marathon. The record holder reported hallucinations, paranoia, blurred vision, slurred speech and memory and concentration lapses.
- Sleeping directly after learning something new will improve your ability to remember it effectively.
- 33% of those who drink 4 or more caffeinated beverages daily are designated at risk for sleep apnea – a disorder in which breathing is interrupted briefly and repeatedly, chronic snoring can be an indicator.
- Dreams, once thought to occur only during REM sleep, also occur (but to a lesser extent) in non-REM sleep phases. It’s possible there may not be a single moment of our sleep when we are actually dreamless.
- Some studies suggest women need up to an hour’s extra sleep a night compared to men, and not getting it may be one reason women are much more susceptible to depression than men.
- After five nights of partial sleep deprivation, three drinks will have the same effect on your body as six would when you’ve slept enough.
- Snoring occurs only in non-REM sleep
- Teenagers need as much sleep as small children (about 10 hrs) while those over 65 need the least of all (about six hours). For the average adult aged 25-55, eight hours is considered optimal
- Most of what we know about sleep we’ve learned in the past 25 years
This is just a snippet from The National Sleep Research Project’s Findings. For more facts and info, read more.