What happens when we sleep?
Sleep is an essential means, if not the most primary way, in which we can tend to our body’s needs. It assists us in recovery when we are under physical or emotional stress while improving our overall health. Many people with difficulty sleeping often wonder how they may improve their sleep. The following is a list of sleep tips that might help you improve your quality of sleep.
There are 3 levels of sleep that conduce to the body’s resilience from mental and physical wear and tear.
When we go to bed, our bodies cycle through 3 stages of sleep.
The first stage of sleep is when our bodies start to slow down and we begin to doze off. The first stage is the transition into deeper sleep. We are most easily woken up during this stage.
The second stage of sleep is a more subdued state. At this stage, our body temperature drops and our muscles relax. Our breathing and heart rate slow down. Collectively, we spend about half of our time in this stage of sleep.
The third stage of sleep is our deep sleep and it is the most challenging stage to wake from. Muscle tone, pulse and breathing decrease as the body relaxes even further. This stage is critical for restorative sleep, allowing our bodily recovery and growth. This stage may also bolster the immune system.
There are links between this phase of sleep to insightful thinking, creativity and memory.
We spend the most time in deep sleep during the first half of the night. As the night continues, this sleep stage turns into REM sleep. We have all heard of REM sleep and should be aware that it is the sleep most connected to cognitive function which includes learning, creativity, and memory.
What is the big deal with the sleep stages?
Sleep stages are critical because they help the brain and body recuperate from stress levels that accumulate during the course of the day as well as foster brain and body growth. Disruptions in cognitive activity, such as memory, problem-solving and critical thinking, are traceable to lack of sleep or poor sleep patterns.
People that are frequently woken during the first part of their sleep, such as sufferers of sleep apnea, may struggle to cycle through the stages of sleep properly. People with insomnia may not get enough total sleep to produce the requisite features of each sleep stage.
Our sleep stages evolve as we age. Older adults tend to spend less time in REM and can suffer from more sleep disorders.
How to do a sleep audit
Spend some time checking in with your daily routines and the environment of your bedroom. Are you optimizing your sleep environment and routines? Review this checklist and if you are answering “no” to any of these items, then that is the area that you should be looking at improving. Following our checklist, we discuss ingredients for a good night’s sleep.
A Balanced Sleep Checklist
Sound sleep habits offer us a healthy environment in which to find quality sleep. Take a look at the list below to see how you are doing:
- Do you have a consistent schedule where you go to bed and wake at the same time every day?
- Do you stop work and technology 1 hour before going to bed?
- Do you avoid drinking caffeinated beverages 4 hours before going to bed?
- Do you refrain from taking your technology to bed and turn off notifications?
- Do you keep a room that is cool (18-20 degrees), dark, and quiet?
- Do you prioritize physical activity and integrate 20-30 minutes of exercise into your day?
- Do you spend a full hour out in the sun?
- Do you incorporate about 30 to 60 minutes of transition time between your daily routine and bedtime? This transition period is designed to help you prepare for sleep. Practicing breathing techniques is a way in which we may prepare for sleep.
- Do you set aside “reflection time” in which to write down any concerns or pressing issues felt during the course of the day? Incorporating reflection time as part of your daily practice will help prepare you for your next day.
- Do you avoid or limit naps? It is inadvisable to sleep more than 30 minutes during the day or to nap after 3:00 p.m.
If you answered “no” to any of the items listed above, do not worry as it is never too late to start. Developing sound sleep hygiene is a work in progress and you can always adjust as you go along. Read on to discover the best ingredients to get a good night’s sleep.
What are the ingredients for good sleep?
Paying attention to sleep hygiene is an essential part of getting good sleep. Having and improving sleep hygiene means having a bedroom environment and daily routines that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep.
How dark is the room that you are sleeping in? Can you hear your neighbour’s talking late into the night? Are you falling asleep to the television in your room? Take note of all of this and ensure that you follow a minimalist approach to your room. Ideally, your bedroom should function as a place where you simply sleep.
To maximize uninterrupted sleep, it is important that the temperature in our bedroom is kept nice and cool (18-20 degrees) and that you have a comfortable mattress that adequately supports your body and spinal position.
A weighted blanket is also a great tool to maintain good sleep. Weighted blankets use deep pressure stimulation which is thought to conduce to the production of a mood-boosting hormone, serotonin. The blanket can reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, and increase melatonin levels, the hormone that helps you sleep.
Quality of bed and pillows
Investing in a sufficiently firm mattress and comfortable pillows is a great investment in your overall health. Your mattress should be rotated regularly and replaced every 6 to 8 years and pillows every 1 to 2 years. Having a good mattress supports restful sleep.
What are you wearing?
Wearing comfortable, natural, fiber-based pajamas is important. If you are dressed in comfortable clothing during the night, you are far less likely to suffer midnight waking which does not always allow for a return to sleep.
Adopting relaxation techniques before bedtime is a great way to ease into good sleep. Breathing techniques are an effective way to set your mind and body up to relax and engage in restful sleep. Additionally, engaging in guided meditation is another proven way to calm the mind.
Power of melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland. That is a pea-sized gland found just above the middle of the brain. Melatonin helps your body know when it is time to sleep and when it is time to wake up.
Usually, your body makes more melatonin at night. Levels usually start to go up in the evening once the sun sets and drop in the morning when the sun goes up.
The amount of light you get each day — plus your body clock — determine how much melatonin your body makes.
Certain melatonin supplements can provide adequate support to a person during short periods of troubled sleep. Talk to your doctor if you are thinking about taking melatonin.
Improving Your Sleep Hygiene is a Good Start
We all experience periods in life when our sleep is interrupted or erratic. This is normal and with proper sleep hygiene, this can be corrected relatively quickly. For more long-term sleep disorders, it is important to work with your doctor to find long-term solutions.
Anxiety and stress can impact a person’s sleep in a big way. Working with a therapist or life coach can be a highly effective way to develop tools which will help you persevere during these times. A therapist can help you confront and manage unhealthy thought patterns that conflict with restful sleep in the long term.
Effecting changes in our habits and improving how we sleep is an area of our daily life we can continue to work on and master. Be patient with yourself and if you need to work with a therapist to gain support and techniques, please reach out to our team. We are always here to help at email@example.com