What is Sleep?

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Sleep is a naturally recurring state characterized by changes in brain wave activity, breathing, body temperature, and heart rate. Multiple studies have shown the role and benefits of sleep that are undeniable. When we drift into the world of slumber our brain and organ systems are working hard to help repair and rejuvenate. It is a time for restoring and regenerating ourselves and is vital to both our mental and physical wellbeing. Sleep flushes out toxins, cleanses and repairs, consolidates memory and learning, regulates hormones and builds the immune system. When our sleep is impaired, we are more likely to experience poor health, injuries, take unnecessary risks, lose perspective, have anxiety or make poor decision with far reaching consequence.

What is happening when we sleep?

Every night, dependent on how long we are in bed, we cycle through 4-5 sleep cycles incorporating 4 different stages every 90 minutes on average. These cycles are made up of light sleep and deep sleep, known as non Rem and REM. Each stage serves an important purpose and it is normal to wake briefly after the completion of each cycle. Many don’t actually remember these brief awakenings but we all do it. It is well documented that poor sleepers miss out on a large portion of deep sleep so are very likely to become depressed, gain weight and withdraw from social settings. It is not uncommon for a person to completely change their personality with long term sleep loss. A person, who was once known as the life of the party can, overtime become reclusive or anti-social.  Because REM sleep consolidates memory and cognitive sharpness, many chronically sleep deprived people do not cope well in social settings. They usually have to force themselves to go out in the first instance and then struggle to follow conversations, recall words, recognize emotional cues or read expressions causing them to disengage and become withdrawn. Add a noisy environment and age into the mix and the level of avoidance is increased dramatically.

So how much sleep should we get?

The recommendation for an adult is 7 – 9 hours’ sleep each night and your genetic makeup can play a factor on an individual’s needs. This being said, there are individuals that genetically require a longer sleep of over 9 hours while others cope very well on less than 7 so the recommendation is not set in stone. To add to this, we also have a genetic chronotype that dictates the timing of sleep and wake, otherwise known as an owl (stays up late) or a lark (gets up early). This can also be changed dependent on environment, childhood conditioning and age-related factors. How you feel during the day is a very strong indication if you are getting enough sleep.

Sleep is broken down into two phases, NREM and REM.

NREM: NREM consists of the first 3 stages and involves both light and deep sleep.

Sleep Awake:

  • 10 -20 minutes to go to sleep is normal sleep expectancy.
  • If asleep within 10 minutes, then you may be considered sleep deprived.
  • It is important to have a cool body temperature and relaxed state of mind. The more relaxed you are the easier it will be to fall sleep.
  •   Changes in physiology indicate the onset of sleep: Body temperature drops, heart rate slows, breathing becomes more rhythmic and slower

Stage 1:

  • NREM
  • Considered Light Sleep
  • It is the Transition stage to Sleep
  • Spend 1-5 minutes in this stage
  • Spend about 5% of the total night
  • A person is awoken easily from this stage and may deny even being asleep

Stage 2:

  • NREM
  • Considered Light sleep
  • Spend 25 minutes in the initial part of the night lengthening in each successive cycle entailing approx 50% of the night
  • Physical restoration – builds muscles, restores cells, regenerates tissue

Stage 3:

  • NREM
  • Considered first stage of DEEP sleep
  • Usually occurs about 40 minutes after falling asleep
  • 25-30% of the night is spent in this stage
  • Very difficult to be woken and if disturbed will be very disorientated and groggy
  • The body reaches its lowest temperature, breathing is rhythmic, brain waves reach their lowest level and no body movements
  • Vital for both mental and physical health
  • Imperative for building immunity, producing growth hormone and regulating the metabolism. Blood is redirected from the brain to help repair and regenerate tissue, cells and builds muscles.
  • Typically, when night terrors, sleep walking and sleep talking occur
  • Required for full restorative sleep and optimal health

REM Sleep:

Rem sleep is the final stage of sleep in each cycle and occurs usually just before waking

  • REM sleep
  • usually occurs 90 minutes into a sleep cycle.
  • About 20-25% of the night is spent in REM
  • 1st cycle of the night averages 10 minutes extending up to an hour by the last sleep cycle
  • Up to 5 sessions a night
  • It is characterised by rapid eye movement. Breathing, heart rate and blood pressure are near “awake” levels
  • The arms and legs are temporarily paralysed apart from eye movement and mild jerks
  • Dreaming occurs more in this stage
  • REM proportion reduces as we age
  • Vital for brain health, mental health and cognitive restoration
  • REM sleep is vital for learning and memory function. It is the period when your brain consolidates and processes information from the day so that it can be stored in your long-term memory. REM is mental/cognitive & emotional restoration.

So what does normal sleep look like?

When studying sleep, an overview of the night is shown as a hypnogram. It indicates the length, depth,  and percentage of the night spent in each cycle. The duration of sleep and time spent in bed versus time spent asleep.Most apps that you use for sleep provide a hypnogram in their program.

In this hypnogram, although disrupted with multiple awakenings, the sleeper achieved a fairly normal level of all stages. Deep sleep (N3) occurs for longer periods in the first part of the night whilst REM has shorter bursts. REM increases in the 2nd half of the night, up to an hour and fewer periods of stage 3. Stage 2 is throughout the night

So how can I increase Deep and REM sleep?

There are steps you can take to help you get more deep restorative sleep. Introduce some OR all of these strategies

  • Stick to a regular bedtime and establish a good pre-bed routine prior to attempting sleep.  Keep to a regular rise time as well. This will set your body clock and help it maintain the correct percentages of deep level sleepyou need for optimal health. Refer to the sleep strategies section for more. 
  • Learn to switch off and reduce your stress. Switching off allows you to come into the NOW. If remembering the day produces a negative emotion, then you are choosing the past. If thinking about tomorrow produces a negative emotion than you are already living in the future. You have 10 -12 hours before you have to live that reality. Deal with it then. This time is yours to do whatever you enjoy. By giving yourself this gift, your body will learn to switch off, reduce your stress and you will fall asleep faster and sleep deeper.
  • Stick to a regular bedtime and establish a good pre-bed routine prior to attempting sleep
  • Dance: In particular, learn dance routines that challenge the memory. Dances like the tango and jive. Make it fun and choose the music so it motivates you. Just FYI, don’t do this at night before bed.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the later part of the day and night. These both have a long release time which block the receptors in the brain interfering with both deep and REM sleep
  • Listen to pink noise. There are APPS that have this running in the background. Pink noise delivers a frequency that has an effect on reducing brain wave activity and induces more stable sleep time improving your quality of sleep
  • Use an eye mask and ear lugs to block premature light and block external noises
  • Bedroom environment. Sleep in a climate favorable to solid sleep. I call it a Goldilocks sleep. A room that is too hot, especially high humidity, can increase wakefulness and decreases stages 3 (deep) and REM sleep. A room to cold will cause wakefulness and disruption. Cold exposure does not affect sleep stages but does impact the cardiac response affecting the body’s ability to maintain the core internal temperature. In a nutshell, most of us have eperienced a good nights sleep in the ideal temperature. A common comment you’ll hear is, “it was the perfect night for sleeping”. Sleeping in a room with the right seasonal pyjamas and Doona, comfortable mattress and pillow and some sort of air ventilation will go a long way to achieving a Goldilocks sleep.
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal too close to sleep. A heavy meal increases body temperature and delays the normal processes that the body does when sleeping. Food should be digested hours before sleep.
  • If you use an alarm to wake, set the ringtone as a song that starts low and increases in sound the longer it runs. This will wake you gently. as an example, a slow running river or beach sound is much more pleasurable to wake with compared to peeling yourself off the ceiling from a blasting song or sound

See how you go and if you want to improve your quality of sleep, do the preliminary work @ https://elysiumsoul.net/index.php/preliminary-work-step-1/

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