So why do we need sleep?
Although the precise mechanisms and functions of sleep are still being studied and some questions remain without satisfactory responses, one thing is certain: without sleep we do not function properly.
Sleep gives our body a quiet time, away from the demands of daily waking functions, to clean, repair, replenish, regulate, restore itself and prepare for another day.
Why We Need Sleep: What Sleep Does For Us…
Here are some of the processes taking place during our sleep:
- cells, damaged by free radicals during the day, are repaired
- waste products from the nervous system and elsewhere are removed helping to restore the nervous system
- energy stores are replenished
- hormone levels are regulated (such as leptin, ghrelin, insulin) helping with appetite regulation, glucose metabolism, prevention of diabetes
- levels of growth hormone rise, stimulating children’s growth
- bacterial growth is impeded, thereby enhancing the immune system
- memories are consolidated and made permanent (we make sense of the day, sort our memories, classify them, in other words turn new memories into long-term ones)
- creativity and new problems solving are enhanced
With the correct amount of sleep, you wake up refreshed, mentally sharp, emotionally balanced, full of energy, ready to face the day.
What Happens If You Do Not Sleep Enough?
If you do not sleep enough, you weaken your immune system as the white blood cell count is affected and you may hasten the onset and severity of many ailments: diabetes, hypertension, obesity, breast cancer (due to hormone imbalance).
You’re also more lethargic, irritable.
You won’t cope with stress as well.
You’ll find concentration, creativity, problem solving, decision making more difficult.
You’ll start experiencing memory loss.
You will also look tired and your skin will show premature signs of aging (lines, wrinkles, dark circles).
What Is The Correct Amount Of Sleep?
It is believed to be 7 to 9 hours for humans (interestingly, the bigger the animal, the less sleep is needed – an opossum would need 18 hours sleep, an elephant just 3!).
But it’s not just the quantity of sleep that counts, it’s the quality of it.
By this, I mean that you need to reach deep restorative sleep.
Sleep goes in cycles: from stage 1 to stage 4 where you go deeper and deeper into sleep (slower breathing, lower blood pressure and temperature, no eye movement, calmer wave brain pattern). Stage 3 and 4 are the deep sleep stages you need to restore your body.
This cycle lasts for about 90 minutes after which you enter the REM (rapid-eye movement) stage where your breathing speeds up, blood pressure and temperature increase, brain waves increase, you dream. You’re then in a state close to being awake but you’re still asleep and your body is now ready for another sleep cycle starting again with stage 1.
This will repeat 4 to 6 times in a night.
How Do You Make Sure You Get Enough Deep Sleep?
If you get less than 8 hours of sleep a night, feel the need to sleep more at week-ends, feel drowsy after a meal, fall asleep within 5 minutes of going to bed, have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, you are very probably sleep deprived.
If you are sleep-deprived, don’t take it lightly. Make sleep you number 1 priority:
- aim for 8 hours of sleep and schedule them in your routine
- go to bed at a time that will allow you to complete your full 8 hours
- make that time regular
- if you sleep less one night, make up for it the following day by taking a nap during the day (limiting the nap to 30 minutes)
- limit factors that can disturb your sleep (noise, light, too hot or too cold temperatures)
- eat at least 2 hours before going to bed, avoid alcohol in the evening, keep caffeine to the morning only and don’t drink too much liquid just before going to bed
- before going to bed, make an effort to divert your mind from your daytime issues
- avoid thinking about your daytime problems or things to do the following day (make a note of them if you need to – then make a conscious effort to forget them reassured that you’ll be able to get back to them when the morning comes)
- install a relaxing habit (taking a bath, listening to music, reading a book,…)
- practice relaxation
- if you wake up during the night, don’t feel anxious about not sleeping, try and relax, make a deliberate effort not to think about what worried you. If you still can’t sleep, read a book. Don’t do anything demanding.
How To Use A Sleep Diary
A good place to start changing your sleep pattern and installing good habits is to hold a Sleep Diary.
Use Your Sleep Diary to record the following information:
- at what time you went to bed
- at what time you woke up in the morning
- if you woke up in the night
- at what time and what you did to go back to sleep
- how you felt when you woke up
- how you felt during the day
- if you felt drowsy & when
- if you took a day nap, when & for how long
Little by little you will see a pattern emerging. Change things around until you find the perfect time for you to go to bed so you feel happy, refreshed, energized and ready to face the day when you wake up!
If you want to know more about sleep, here are some interesting articles and links: