Sleep can be such hard work

Is 8 hours of sleep really important? Can we get by on 6 hours or do we need 10. The answer is not an exact science but there are good clues to help you. Many of us think that sleep is just a waste of time that does not allow to be productive. But do you really know what happens when you sleep? Why do we need sleep?

First things first, how do we know if we are getting enough sleep. The average adult needs between 7.5 and 9 hours of sleep. If you wake up feeling refreshed and have energy all day long then you are getting enough sleep. If you feel tired during the day and need a nap then you are not getting enough rest. Here are a few simple question to ask:

1. Do you need an alarm clock to wake up

2. Rely on the snooze button

3. Feel sluggish in the afternoon

4. Fall asleep while watching TV

If you answered yes to any or all of these then you are probably not getting enough sleep. You probably don’t even realize you are not getting enough sleep. Do you know that watching TV before going to bed can trigger the release of melatonin which inhibits sleep? Conversely, the lack of sunlight during the day can inhibit the release of melatonin thus causing you to be tired and groggy. I bet you never knew there was so much work to sleep.

How does sleep work and why is it important? Sleep consists of four different stages. Our sleep cycles run approximately 90 minutes as we go through these four stages. During a normal sleep night, you will go through these stages 4-6 times.

Stage 1 lasts about 5 minutes and is referred to as transition to sleep. Your body begins to slow down but you are still easily awakened. We transition to stage 2 which is known as light sleep. Lasting approximately 25 minutes, this is the first stage of true sleep. Deep sleep is stage 3. The important aspect to this, is that blood flow is now being diverted to your muscles to help with recovery. The last stage is what is known as REM sleep. This is when you dream. It is thought to be an important factor in learning and also releasing chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine which help you wake up in a better mood.

Adequate sleep allows us to perform at peak levels. Studies show that short term sleep deprivation have little effect on productivity, especially aerobic type of activities. However long term problems begin to manifest if we regularly deprive our bodies of rest. What this means is that we can cram for that test and be fine. We can miss 1 or 2 nights of quality sleep and not affect our performance, but if you try to cheat your body every night, eventually performance will suffer. Your body will not be able to recover as fast from activity. You will more likely feel moody, confused and without vigor and thus leading to decreased performance and more irritable.

So how do we get a good night sleep? One of the most important aspects is a good routine. We talk about it with our children but it is probably more important as adults. Take a few minutes to unwind before going to bed. Stress is one the biggest hindrances to a good night’s sleep. Don’t go to bed thinking about the day or the next day. Write things down so you won’t worry about forgetting them tomorrow. Limit caffeine and alcoholic beverages close to bed time as they will not allow for a true deep sleep and may cause you to wake in the middle of the night to use the restroom. Limit day time naps if you have trouble sleeping at night and don’t stress about not sleeping. Don’t watch television in bed. You want to condition your body for sleep when you go to bed.

So finally, how do we wake refreshed? I guess the simplest answer is to get enough sleep. Another good idea is to wake up at the same time every day, yes even on weekends. This will train your body over time. A new phenomenon, with some scientific reasoning, is the use of an app to wake you when you are in lighter sleep stage. The studies show that you will be more refreshed and alert if you awaken during stage 1 or 2 of sleep as opposed to stage 3 or 4. The app is placed under your pillow and monitors movement. You to set a time to wake and the app will alert you close to your desired time when you are hopefully in your lightest sleep stages based off your movement. If you don’t have an app, another easy way is to count backwards from the time you want to get up in 90 minute increments because remember, we go through stages in that amount of time.

So hopefully I have shed a little light on sleep. It cannot be overstated in your health and mood. It is important in your performance and life.

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