The Truth About Sleep

In case you are not from this planet, or a toddler who has to go down for a nap, sleep is a most wondrous thing. Probably the best thing, ever. Not only is sleep a special (and vital) part of our lives, it is far more complex than many people realize. Did you know that humans are the only mammals that willingly delay sleep? Why would we do that? We trade our time to sleep for extra hours of work or play, but is it really worth it? All arrows point to “No.”

Facts About Sleep

Average adult needs 7.5 – 9 hours of sleep (contrary to popular belief).
Only 3% of the population has a gene that allows them to only comfortably require less than 6 hours of sleep per night.
A Giraffe only needs about 2 hours of sleep, while a cat needs 12+.
Sleep is just as important as diet and exercise.
Sleeping in on the weekends does not help balance your natural sleep cycle.
Lack of sleep affects your health – both mental and physical.
Quantity is important, but Quality is more important.

The Sleep Cycle

Waking up in the morning can be a miserable part of the day. Not only do you have to leave your perfectly warm and cozy cocoon you have been snuggling in for the past 6+ hours, but many times you’re not even mentally awake when it is time to “get the engines going.” When you wake up groggy and exhausted, there’s a chance you are waking up in the middle of your sleep cycle – more commonly in the NREM (or deep) stage of sleep. Waking up with ease is like almost everything else in life, it’s all about timing.

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REM vs NREM (REM vs Deep Sleep)

To maximize your body’s sleeping patterns, you have to understand the sleep cycle. When we sleep, we go through stages of sleep, including: Awake, REM, N1, N2, & N3. It takes approximately 90 minutes to complete a sleep cycle, which repeats 4-6 times per night.
REM: Rapid Eye Movement sleep (your eyes actually move back and forth during this stage) renews the mind, and is vital in learning and memory capacity. This is when your brain goes over all the experiences and information gathered from the day and makes neurological connections in the brain. In turn, you do the most active dreaming in this stage.
NREM: Non-REM, also known as “deep sleep,” renews the body. This is the time when the body is repairing itself. NREM stage of sleep plays a major role in maintaining our health, stimulating growth and development, repairing muscles and tissues, and boosts our immune system. NREM has three stages, each deeper than the previous.
While both types of sleep are very important for our health, our body will take time away from REM sleep and give it to NREM as a restorative mechanism. This could be the reason why, even when you experience a deep sleep, you still are not 100% mentally there the next day.

FUN FACTS ABOUT REM/NREM:
Elephants sleep standing up during non-REM sleep, but lie down for REM sleep.
Snoring only occurs in Non-REM sleep.
The continuous brain recordings that led to the discovery of REM sleep were not done until 1953, partly because the scientists involved were concerned about wasting paper.

When to Play “Catch Up”

We tend to lose sleep in many ways. Of course, there is the typical “staying up late” situation, but things like jetlag and switching to the night shift are problematic, too. A great way to “catch up” on your sleep is to divide up the amount of missed sleep in to 1-2 hour chunks and add them to each day during the week. For example: if you lost 10 hours to jetlag, you can add 1-2 additional hours to your sleep schedule (either by going to bed early or adding in a nap or two… or both) throughout the week to help your body adjust. This is a temporary fix for situations that are just that, temporary. If you try to sleep in on the weekends to make up for lost time during the work week every single week, your body will not respond well.

How to Catch Better z’s

Make sleep a priority. Just like you have to plan time to run errands or workout, plan plenty of time to sleep. Stay close to 90 minute increments for a total of 7.5 or 9 hours to ensure you are waking up at the optimal time for your brain.

Turn off the (blue) lights – I’m talking about your cell phones, tablets, computers, TVs, etc. – at LEAST one hour before bed time. Use that time to read with a dim light, create an evening ritual (brush your teeth, do some yoga, cuddle up on your significant other), or meditate. Take this time to get away from technology, so your brain can produce melatonin, a vital hormone for our sleep.

Restrict alcohol, caffeine, and other substances at night. Believe it or not, alcohol does not help you sleep. It may help you relax, thus making you sleepy, but it actually inhibits the production of melatonin. So while you will fall asleep, you will not achieve deep sleep.

Exercise. Exercising on a regular basis will help you catch those z-z-z’s because your body and brain become more tired. In a society where sitting is the norm (in your car, at work, watching TV), we forget that our bodies are engineered for physical activity. Getting outside or going to the gym to workout will help burn calories and make you tired. You won’t have that extra energy, so your brain will know that its bedtime.

 

Do you have more tips on how to fall asleep? Shout them out to us on Twitter! @BioTerraHerbs #sleep

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Sweet Dreams!

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Resources
http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/important-sleep-habits
http://www.aasmnet.org/resources/factsheets/sleepdeprivation.pdf
http://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/how-much-sleep-do-you-need.htm