What is sleep?
According to Webster’s Dictionary Sleep is defined as “a natural, periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored.” I love the idea that my body’s superpowers are restored every night; but how does that happen? For some it happens better than others, the power is in the sleep cycle.
The Sleep Cycle
When we first fall asleep we enter non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. NREM is divided into three stages: – NREM1 – NREM2 and – NREM3, each stage becoming progressively ‘deeper’.
Stages 1 and 2 are light stages of sleep from which we can be easily roused.
Stage 3 is a deeper stage of sleep from which we’re more difficult to awaken, and some may feel disorientated if woken from this stage.
Generally, after going through the NREM stages, we enter stage 4 which is known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which the EEG shows as being similar to wakefulness or drowsiness. It is during the REM stage of sleep that we dream.
Each cycle lasts around 1½ hours and we need to experience all four stages in order to wake up rested.
A good night’s sleep consists of five or six cycles, whereas disturbed sleep consists of far fewer.
Sleep is mostly controlled by sleep pressure, and the circadian rhythm, or our body clock. Circadian rhythm is a 24 hour cycle that regulates all our biological and physiological processes. It anticipates environmental changes (daylight and darkness) around us so that our bodies adapt to them.
In ideal situations, the circadian rhythm will naturally rise in the early morning, promoting wakefulness and alertness, and will peak in the evening.
After a waking period of approximately 15 hours the pressure to sleep becomes greater and greater, in other words, we get tired. With the coming of darkness, the circadian rhythm drops to the lowest level and helps us to stay asleep.
How much is enough
In March of 2015 the National Sleep Foundation published the results of their study” Sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results.” Here are their recommendations:
Newborn: 0-3 months 14 to 17 hours
Infant: 4-11 months 12 to 15 hours
Toddler: 1-2 years 11 to 14 hours
Preschooler: 3-5 years 10 to 13 hours
School-age: 6-13 years 9 to 11 hours
Teenager: 14-17 years 8 to 10 hours
Young adult: 18-25 years 7 to 9 hours
Adult: 26-64 years 7 to 9 hours
Older adult: ≥65 years 7 to 8 hours
Not enough sleep
What can happen to us if we consistently fail to meet these sleep requirements? Going without sleep for 24 hours will cause your body to function as if it has a blood alcohol level of 0.10% which is above the legal driving limit. Here are a few other consequences:
Higher levels of anxiety
Higher levels of depression
Impaired thinking and memory
Higher risk of hypertension and heart disease
Disruption of our natural time clock weakening our stress and immunity responses
Increased risk of diabetes possibly resulting from an increase in unhealthy food cravings
Increased risk of breast cancer
Higher risk of injury
Not sleeping well can be cause by our own poor habits. However, many times there are underlying medical issues such as, sleep apnea, insomnia, restless legs syndrome, night terrors, sleepwalking, and other problems. It would be recommended to visit your Dr. if you suffer from any of these sleep depriving difficulties.
What can we do to improve our sleep? Here are suggestions from the National Sleep Foundation:
1. Stick to a regular schedule of going to bed and getting up. This will help your body develop its natural Circadian rhythm or internal clock.
2. Develop a relaxing bedtime ritual. Reduce exposure to bright lights and electronic screens. Take a warm bath, a soothing cup of tea, anything that calms you.
3. Avoid naps
4. Exercise daily. Even a brisk 20 minute walk can work wonders. Sunlight also helps regulate the body’s Circadian rhythm.
5. Evaluate your sleeping environment. It should be comfortable, dark and cool, free from noise. Consider ear plugs if your partner snores or if there are other noises that can’t be silenced.
6. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and heavy meals in the evening. If you feel hungry just limit yourself to a light snack before bedtime.
7. If you can’t sleep go to another room and do something else until you feel sleepy. Looking at an electronic screen is not recommended.
These are easy to implement and you will quickly know which ones make a difference for you.
What about sleep aids? Are they safe? Natural sleep aids are safe and absolutely worth a try for occasional sleeplessness. We, of course, are partial to our own Restorative Sleep formula. It is a blend of natural herbs and natural ingredients that work together synergistically to help you relax, fall asleep, and stay asleep longer. You can read more about Restorative Sleep Formula by clicking on the link.
On occasion Doctors may prescribe a narcotic for extreme insomnia. Again, we urge you to visit your Dr. if you experience chronic sleep proplems.