Several years ago, medical experts concluded that sleep was just a passive activity solely to rest our bodies. Vague, right? Thank goodness, curiosity has lead others to investigate the mystery of sleep and why we spend one-third of our lives in slumber. They have uncovered some interesting revelations for this vital bodily function.
Contrary to popular, sleep is far from a passive activity. It turns out that even though your body may be resting your brain is working hard carrying out multiple activities that are necessary to your health and wellbeing.
In short, the better quality of your restorative sleep, the better the quality of your life. We spend countless hours developing ourselves so that we can improve our lives. Creating and maintaining high standards for our sleep is just as important as having standards for our work, exercise routines, organic food, and decluttering our homes.
Let’s give sleep (a pillar of good health) the attention it deserves while getting motivated to get the best sleep that we can. But first…
What Is Sleep?
Dr. Rafael Pelayo, MD, a sleep specialist at the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center, defines sleep as, “…a natural restorative, physiological process.”
Sleep experts at Harvard Medical School of Sleep Medicine take it a step further by characterizing sleep as the following:
- A process where you’re less likely to be responsive to external stimuli
- A state of consciousness that can be easily reversed
- A physiological state that affects brain wave activities, blood pressure, and temperature
- A vital bodily process that maintains healthy physiological and mental functions
The Different Stages of Sleep
As you sleep, your brain cycles between two stages: (rapid-eye movement) REM and non-REM. Each one lasts about 90 minutes.
The first part of the sleep cycle is non-REM, which is made up of three phases:
- The first phase of non-REM occurs as you fall asleep.
- The second, light sleep, is when your body temperature drops and your heart rate slows down.
- The third, deep sleep, is the most restorative when your heartbeat slows down the most.
Next, comes the REM sleep cycle. This is when your eyes dart quickly from side to side because brain activity is at its peak. It’s also when most of your dreams happen, especially those you remember when you wake up. Your heart rate increases slightly, while your breathing becomes quicker and irregular.
During REM sleep, your arms and legs are temporarily paralyzed. Experts believe this is our body’s way of protecting itself in case you decide to act out any of your dreams.
The two most important stages are deep sleep and REM sleep. They play vital roles when it comes to memory consolidation and boosting cognitive functions.
Why Is So Sleep Important?
Getting good-quality sleep is vital for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It’s not a luxury or a guilty indulgence. Quality sleep not only supports healthy brain function and mental health but it’s during restorative sleep that the body repairs itself.
During sleep, your body and mind sift through everything you experienced that day. It gets rid of the junk and stores what’s important. When you’re sleep-deprived, you go through the day unable to focus, your attention span is short, and your ability to make sound decisions diminishes. Not getting enough sleep also affects many physiological processes. So, you end up feeling worn out and exhausted the whole day. It can harm every area of your life, including your finances and your relationships.
Here are some of the other benefits of getting good-quality sleep:
- Feeling refreshed and energized
- Boosted immune system
- Regulated emotions and managed stress
- Memories are reorganized
- Restored cognitive function
- Elevated focus and concentration
- Increased creativity and problem-solving ability
- Increased exercise performance
- Healthier heart
Here are some of the disadvantages of poor sleep quality:
- Difficulty focusing
- Mental and physical fatigue
- Moodiness and quick-tempered
- Memory loss
- Weakened immune system
- Weight gain
- Risk of high blood pressure
- Risk of diabetes
- Risk of heart disease
Now that you are convinced, that improving the quality of your sleep is essential, let’s talk about how to accomplish this.
How To Get a Good Night’s Sleep?
How much sleep you should get differs from one person to the next. It factors in age, gender, health condition, and even genes. Yet, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), adults should aim to get anywhere between seven to nine hours of good-quality sleep each night.
Researchers have come up with several strategies to help you get a peaceful, full night’s sleep. You can turn these strategies into goals, then, eventually, habits. All you have to do is practice them daily and be consistent.
Let’s check them out.
Make Your Bedroom a Sleep-Friendly Zone
For starters, you should dim the lights about half an hour before going to bed. Make sure the room is at a pleasant temperature.
Your sheets and duvet should be snug and cozy. Another important factor to consider is the condition of your mattress and pillow. They should be firm, yet comfortable to help you fall asleep faster.
Establish a Regular Bedtime Routine
Create a routine where you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Try to be consistent, even on weekends.
After a few days, your body will get the message and engage it’s circadian rhythm. When this rhythm is in sync, you’ll fall asleep easier and wake up feeling more refreshed.
Yet, if your circadian rhythms are out of whack, you’ll feel the same fogginess and drowsiness typically associated with jet lag.
Avoid Stimulants and Large Meals in the Evening
Medical experts recommend that you avoid drinking or consuming stimulants for about four to six hours before bedtime. Remember that caffeine has a half-life of four to five hours. In other words, your body takes about five hours to get rid of only half the amount of caffeine you consumed.
Just as detrimental to sleep as caffeine, heavy meals can make you feel uncomfortable. Instead of resting, your digestive system will work overtime to digest all the food you consumed. This will also make it harder to fall asleep.
Ban Screens from Your Bed
The light that comes from cell phones and computer screens is detrimental to sleep. Your brain mistakes this light for sunlight. As a result, it blocks the release of melatonin; the hormone that signals your brain to sleep.
Serious Sleeps Issues?
If you are plagued with serious sleep issues. And by serious I mean you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or constantly waking up feeling fatigued. I urge you to see a health care professional and work to get to the root of your problem. These professionals can guide you on how to level up your existing sleep strategy. They may even suggest, natural remedies to help you. If these problems persist, a sleep doctor can perform a sleep study whereby they chart your brain activity as you sleep. This can give them deeper insight into why your sleep problems are persisting.
Sleep problems and sleep deprivation is becoming widespread in our modern society for several reasons. Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum, do what you can to improve the quality of your sleep today. Your future self will thank you.
Be well + prosper,