How good is your sleep? A significant amount of people in the US struggle with not getting enough good sleep, which has its consequences. People who tend to skip out on sleep have a higher risk of an assortment of health issues, both physiologically and mentally. For example, according to Harvard , insufficient sleep has been correlated with a higher risk of weight gain and diabetes, higher risk of heart attack and increase in blood pressure, increased likelihood of catching a cold, and increased prevalence to depression and anxiety. While there are significant consequences to a lack of good sleep, there are ways to improve your sleep, most notably by improving the patterns you have around it in order to decrease the likelihood of running into these issues.
Like a lot to do with the body and mind, sleep involves a heavy reliance on rhythm. Humans are intrinsically rhythmic, meaning that the functions of the body and mind follow a relative pattern, or rhythm. For example, the average human heart beats in rhythm approximately 60 to 100 times per minute, the eyes blink 15 to 20 times per minute, and we have a roughly 24hr sleep-wake cycle that is generally affected by light and dark. This 24hr cycle is called the circadian rhythm, and it affects things like sleep, hormones, appetite, body temperature and more. Getting into a good rhythm, or routine, throughout the day can assist with starting to regulate your sleep at night.
When the time comes to go to bed, humans run through the four stages of sleep, going through about four to six cycles of the stages on average per night. Not each cycle is the same, and each one has a specific purpose.
- Stage 1 is associated with dozing off where the body begins to relax, usually lasting 5 or so minutes.
- Stage 2 involves falling deeper into relaxation and the emergence of slow delta waves throughout the brain. It initially lasts about 20 minutes but increases in length after each pass through the four stages.
- Stage 3, characterized as the deepest stage of sleep, involves the presence of slower delta waves and also allows for the body to repair itself. Someone who is awakened during this stage will likely awaken feeling mentally foggy due to the deep nature of the sleep cycle being interrupted. As humans age, this stage becomes shorter and the 2nd stage elongates.
REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep) is most commonly associated with dreaming. In this stage, the body’s muscles are essentially turned off (atonia), but the eyes and diaphragm continue to be active, almost as active as when we are awake. This last stage kicks in around 90 minutes after falling asleep and is initially about 10 or so minutes, but increases to about an hour on its final pass throughIf not enough sleep is consumed and certain stages are not fully processed through, the body keeps that tally and strives to gain it back later (REM rebound), leading to daytime sleepiness and oversleeping.
It is important to be aware of our natural rhythms of sleep and do the best to support good sleep hygiene in order to give the brain its best chance to run through its recuperative sleep processes. Good sleep is not just about the act of sleeping as humans have very little control over that process other than making ourselves as comfortable as possible and decreasing stress. Good sleep habits are more about improving the things you do before going to bed and when you wake up. Things to consider doing during the day and before going to bed to improve sleep include:
- Limiting screen time and highly active music or sounds at least an hour before bed. Screens are often very bright and emit blue light which suppress our brain’s ability to produce melatonin which is naturally produced by the brain when it gets dark, making us more tired.
- Engaging in enough physical stimulation during daytime hours. If the energy in the body is not fully utilized, it will begin to affect the ability to slow down and engage in sleep.
- Receiving enough daylight during the day. Daylight naturally awakens the body by suppressing melatonin production as well as increasing other neurotransmitter productions such as norepinephrine and dopamine which are more activating.
Overall, insufficient sleep has negative effects on human health, but by implementing better habits around sleep, the risks significantly decrease. Take a look at the behaviors you tend to engage in before going to sleep and during the day to determine where to make changes in your routine to improve your sleep.
-Jackson Wall, Registered Associate PCC #8154,
Registered Associate MFT #120524 is under the supervision of Curt Widhalm, LMFT #47333
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